Staff Spotlight - Lynn Brehony
Every Friday we feature a member of our staff in our Staff Spotlight! This week, we spoke to Head of the Drama Department Lynn Brehony.
What interested you in teaching?
You know I was thinking about this, and I never really chose teaching - I just sort of fell into it. I know a lot of people have been saying that but realistically, when I look back, my life has been peppered with teachers who if I hadn’t had them, I probably wouldn’t be here. When I was 10, my mother had tried getting me involved in everything but nothing stuck until she found a drama class. There were these two extraordinary teachers who ran a drama youth club in Cork, and I got hugely involved in that. They nurtured us, and I was hooked - I remember getting an award when I was 16 for having never missed a class in 6 years! From there, I had an incredible teacher in school; through 4th, 5th and 6th Year we did a Shakespeare play, this incredible production that was about World War I through the eyes of poets, The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge, and a musical, and she always made it look easy. She has no idea really how much she changed us, I suppose. Then in college I also had these amazing tutors who were working theatre people, and who especially gave us a love for theatre history. We had this wonderful teacher, Christopher Fitzsimon, who was on the board of The Abbey Theatre at the time, who taught us theatre history and it just blew my mind. Another incredible teacher was Bernadette Garvey when I was in the Leinster School of Music and Drama. I had no idea what I wanted to do after I finished college, and she took me under her wing and it’s because of her that I’m in Alex. She was an examiner for the Leinster School and I then became one as well, and we were sent here to Alex for an exam session. The following year there was a position open for sick leave cover in Alex, and Bernadette put my name forward! So that’s how I fell into teaching drama, and I really wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for all these amazing teachers in my life. It felt like it came from nowhere, but I think it was always there.
What makes teaching drama exciting?
Everything - it’s never boring because there’s always something new. Creativity doesn’t stop, and there’s always a different way you can do something, or a new play, or a new show, or something exciting you’ve heard on the radio that you can pass on to your students. It’s also one of the great things about teaching in Alex, because the leadership in the school is incredibly supportive of that creativity. We can take things that are new, or a little bit edgy, and use our creativity to look at controversial issues through the Arts and know that we have that support. It’s also exciting to see how the students engage and respond to the work; it’s really about that one student who can’t stand up in front of people at the beginning of the year and by the end of it will actually deliver a poem or a speech confidently.
Why did you choose to teach at Alex?
I remember the moment so strongly; I came here to examine during the 1990s, as I mentioned before, and Patricia McHugh who was the drama teacher for 30 years was with me, and she was saying “Oh, Special Assembly is on so we’ll wait for that to finish before we go down to the exam room.” So we went out to the Concourse and I remember the whole of the school was sitting out there, and there was a girl playing the most incredible classical piece of music on the violin. I knew that if it had been my school, there was no way the students would have actually listened to a classical piece but the girls were all listening and I thought, “This school is amazing!” I was just totally blown away by it, and that Drama was seen as a subject in its own right with a full time teacher during the school day, and this was the case even back in the 90’s. So when the teacher here needed some time off, I jumped at the chance to be a part of it.
How have you adapted your teaching for Covid-19?
Well, there’s a lot of filming - we’re learning how to be filmmakers! To be honest at the beginning we thought it was just going to be impossible. At the start of lockdown we were having the girls film their performances, and then we would send back comments to them but that wasn’t really working, it was just really boring. So that’s when we decided to take the Virtual Festival of Poetry & Drama online and that they would make films. That changed the way the girls performed, because performing to camera is so different to performing in front of a live audience. We and the girls have learned so many new skills in the last year, and that’s been a huge change. There’s so many things that I didn’t know before this last year. But it is still possible, and that’s what’s been amazing - we thought that we would be able to do so little during the pandemic, but we’ve been able to do so much by changing the way we look at it. Drama is one of those subjects where you have to be open to change all the time because there’s always new techniques to learn, or new practitioners to be following, so adapting was maybe easier for us because we’ve always had to do so.
Now you can adapt most things, but sometimes you just have to say “That’s not going to work” and let it go, and that’s unfortunately what we had to do with the TY musical this year. What an extraordinary group of girls we had this year for the musical, and we were truly heartbroken that we couldn’t make it happen because we tried everything to get the show on its feet. Even when we went into lockdown in January the girls were showing up to rehearsals online, and they were incredibly enthusiastic and resilient. They were heartbroken but they also just got on with it, and we’re incredibly proud of them for that.
What has been the highlight of your teaching career so far?
There’s loads, really. Sometimes it can be a moment when all the stars align. One of them was our production for the 150th Anniversary because we produced The Women of the Rising and we had 170 girls on the stage speaking together all at once, and it was so powerful! One of our current 6th Years was a 1st Year at the time and she fainted (we won’t mention names, but in her favour, it did look like part of the action), but it was just so brilliant, that whole night. To see 170 faces looking at you on the stage at the National Concert Hall, all speaking Yeats’ poem, and we had two alumnae who are working actors who performed with us, it was the most thrilling experience ever. We also did a production of a play called Girls Like That by Evan Placey when it first came out, and we entered that for the festival in St. Andrews and later performed it in the HWC. That was a great highlight because we had 4th and 5th Years in it, and they just totally got on board with it. We were all in it together, and the show had such a strong feminist message, and it was just the right cast at the right time with the right script. It was quite a controversial play as well, and we were so grateful to have been allowed to do it. The opening of the HWC was also incredible - we opened with this mad show called The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Rupert Holmes that was completely bonkers and had multiple endings that the audience had to vote on. We did the whole show in about 9 weeks from start to finish! The week of the opening we were waiting for a pulley to arrive for the Front of House curtains, and there was a huge storm that delayed the boat so the pulley arrived literally on the day the show opened.
There’ve been lots of little highlights, as well. It’s always a highlight when girls get really passionate about drama and continue on into drama school. We’re building up a bit of a network now of alumnae who are in the business as stage managers, costume designers, set designers, actors, and directors, which has been brilliant to see. The most important thing though, is something that a voice coach once said that’s stuck with me - you never own your students’ talent. It’s not yours, you’re just there to facilitate and support it, allowing it to grow and develop. So it’s not about us and our work, so much as what we help the girls accomplish and that is by far the biggest highlight.