It was a dark time; a time before hair-straighteners, mobile phones, t'internet. I stood before Mrs Galassi, in all of my twenty three years and under a mop of dangerously wild, late 80's/early 90's 'big' hair. "Are you looking at me, dahling? I can't tell." She said. I brushed my curly bangs out of my face and smiled nervously. Mrs Galassi was the drama teacher around these parts, a legend, even in her own time. I had been summonsed to her parlour following the resounding success of The Sound of Music, a show I had directed for our local amateur musical society and she had decided to take me under her wing. Mrs Galassi was, and still is, the epitome of easy confidence. She was dramatic to her fingertips, and she used these dainty ring-clad digits now to categorise the order my young life would henceforth take:
1: I'd study with her and get my teaching diploma. 2: I'd set up my own drama school. 3: I wasn't concentrating anymore, so I can't remember. I was dizzy with excitement that anyone - let alone Mrs G, would consider me worth investing in.
I studied drama and a whole new world opened up to me. The more ancient the Greeks were, the better I liked it. Where was Euripides when I was in school? Wherefore the absence of Sophocles? My mother bit down on her knuckles with glee; her little girl was getting her act together at last. When I first picked up a script and planned the course of direction, I felt like Cinderella slipping her tiny foot into the glass slipper (although there was nothing tiny and cute about me back in those days, I was a tyrant if truth be told. In my defence I got nicer with each subsequent production, and the sure knowledge that all would, in fact, be well.) In those early days, teaching was intended to supplement my career as a theatre director. But some things began to happen: as I grew through drama, so did my students. The joy and pride I felt in them as they overcame personal obstacles took precedence over theatre career plans. I came to see the endeavour as the power behind the person, and creativity as a golden key. Emer Halpenny School of Drama, born in 1990, bred in Stillorgan in the backstage canals of amateur theatre, was doing good work. Mrs Galassi was right to take a chance on me all those years ago.
By 2014, the school had long since become one big happy family. Generations of youth theatre students took over as teachers and I enjoyed the extra time this gave me. However, whilst resting on my laurels, I had overlooked one thing: resting doesn't come easy to me. Teaching is a high energy occupation and a little time away from it seemed enticing after twenty nine years. But rest? Not so much. I threw my rekindled energy into building a business - natural skincare, no less - with my long time pal Caitriona, and that pretty much took me over the hills and far away from the wonderful world of drama for a while. I loved almost everything about business - the challenges, the opportunities to be creative and tell our story, even, to a point, standing in 'dragon's den' type pits - but money has never driven me, and here I would stall; everyone loved me until it came to the numbers, and then, quite simply, I crumbled. Why though? I set and managed budgets several times a year when I ran my school; the numbers meant something to me back then - they manifested into big lovely bums on hard plastic seats. That's the bottom line (if you will) for a theatre practitioner. Growth, in the world of business, it seemed to me, had an insatiable appetite and the dragon could never be satisfied. It would have broken me if the pandemic hadn't gotten there first.
For almost two years I sat locked in my tower, overlooking the Kilmacud Road, reading and re-reading What Color Is Your Rainbow; taking courses to fill in the gaps I had managed to avoid during my fine life in a creative world. The brand of 'me' bounced around LinkedIn like Zebadee until I knew, at least, what it was that I did NOT want: to give you my soul, you insatiable monsters! You want too much, employers! Where is the time to dream? To plan, to create? If I took on what I know I could do, it would destroy me. There it is, in a nutshell.
What the pandemic did do, was lead me back towards the yellow brick road, which I walked up and down for a while, until I remembered that the road leads to silly places. Eventually though, I looked down at my feet, and realised why they had been so sore: I was wearing red glittery stilletoes - totally unsuitable to tramping up and down any kind of road, yellow or otherwise. My first thought was that they'd be darling in a costumes room and so I took them off, banged them together thrice, and ended up back where I started: teaching drama to amazing people.
Thirty two years after I opened my school, I'm back doing what I love and what I'm good at.
I'll be back building confidence in people from September 2022.
I closed my drama school and stopped teaching & directing in 2019 after 29 years building confidence in people of all ages through creative endeavour. But a true Drama Queen never forgets so here I am, back teaching again after all this time :)