First Fortnight Festival Europe: Arts & Culture 2019



This year, First Fortnight is hosting Europe’s Mental Health festival in Ireland. The festival, a celebration of creativity and mental health, showcases the vibrancy and diversity of modern Ireland with an emphasis on the European community.

Held in the first few weeks of the year when suicide rates are high, the festival serves as a beacon of light in a dark time. Ground-breaking artistic events bring a diaspora of mediums together with the unified goal of reducing the stigma around mental health issues.  The events in the programme this year feature dance, theatre, music, comedy, circus, spoken word, literature and more.

Aoife Hynes gives us the lowdown on three spoken word shows.

The Truth Is . . .

Writer and poet Stan Notte produced his show ‘The Truth is…’  to share his story, techniques and theories on how creativity can positively influence our mental health. This interactive show about using creativity as the foundation to recover from depression is just one example of how important a festival such as First Fortnight is for the writers and the audience. His direct and honest approach proves to be the looking glass into the mind of an unhappy man struggling to understand the world and outlines the journey that brought him to the moment of diagnosis, and the winding road, he travelled while getting well. 

The audience will gain insight into Notte’s experience, the euphoric highs and crushing lows, the show containing poetry spanning from years ago to more recent pieces. Notte has expanded the experience, however, interspersing the poetry with video art and dance pieces. Behind it all is a backing band, adding another layer to an already multi-faceted performance. Notte emphasises that creativity is an outlet and an ongoing process that helps him to positive and balanced.

If you missed ‘The Truth is…’ in The Kino you can catch it again at Bespoken Word in Clonakilty on the 15th January.

The Crossover

To challenge a stigma that has silenced generations of Irish people is no small feat and each year First Fortnight brings together artists from around the country to produce events that promote the importance of talking openly and without shame about one’s mental health. The spoken word community of Ireland took a hit this year with the loss of Dublin poet Paul Curran. The Crossover event is dedicated to him.

The multi-disciplinary performance art project was started in 2018 in Cork City featuring collaborations between Cork performance poets, rappers, musicians and visual artists. After collaborative adventures in Cork City and Vancouver, ‘The Crossover’ comes to The Kino in the spirit of promoting positive mental health. It aims to highlight expression as a vital activity for someone experiencing mental health difficulties. Collaborators for the event include Spekulativ Fiktion, Alana Daly Mulligan, Bubba Shakespeare, Conor Clancy, Sillk, Matthew Moynihan, Cara Kursh, Dave Mathuna and Eileen Healy.

Event organizer of ‘The Crossover’, Ciaran MacArtain has said to have found that poetry is a tool of expression and an invaluable outlet in times of mental health difficulties. It’s a way to expunge the toxicity from yourself, and in doing so change that energy into something positive; in this way, poetry can build a safer state of mind. What he has seen in rehearsals mirrors the entire motivation of First Fortnight. Although the material may at times challenge an audience, it is also important that these voices are heard. Expression is a way to alleviate these feelings.

‘The Crossover’ is on the 18th of January in The Kino, Cork

Raven and the Crone

Raven describes his time travelling spoken word play ‘Raven and the Crone’ as a rigmarole, “Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in Bringing up Baby, on the T.A.R.D.I.S., helping people to get rid of emotional and psychological garbage”. Based off a dream by co-star Nicole Rourke, the play could be summarised as a musical, but with spoken word instead of songs. It deals with serious themes like mortality and handling emotional baggage with a zesty counterweight of comedy during this “mad cap romp through darker corners of the psyche”.

Raven believes that First Fortnight is an incredible opportunity, and it allows art to serve a higher purpose, as it is meant to do. He encourages people to attend any event at the festival to see moving moments, to find enjoyment in the art as well as something that is “more than a bit of entertainment”. The high quality of material means that the performances are solid, and the stigma around mental health is addressed in a variety of creative ways that align with the ethos of the festival.

On several occasions an audience member has approached Raven to tell him that they feel like their experiences have finally been captured in a piece. This is what First Fortnight Festival is all about.

Raven and the Crone is in the New Theatre in January, starring Raven and Nicole Rourke, co-directing with Deirdre Walsh.

First Fortnight could be called an extravaganza of art, a rollicking good time, food for thought and a homage to mental health awareness. Whether you attend a single event or religiously absorb every event in the festival, it will be a valuable and enlightening experience. There’s something to empathise with, to gain insight from, or be inspired by. First Fortnight produces an outstanding standard of art, with a message that matters.

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Written by Aoife Hynes