FROM GREY-HAIRED ladies to bawling babes, you’ll find life at all its stages in axis: Ballymun.
An arts and community resource centre, it’s located opposite a green where once stood one of the Ballymun towers. There is only one tower left in Ballymun, which can be seen directly across from axis.
The demolition of the towers is a sign of Ballymun’s regeneration, and the work that axis does in the local community – and, by extension, the rest of Dublin, as it is not a resource solely for those living in just this area – has contributed to the changes.
This shows in how it is put to use by the very community that founded it. It has a creche (where the children take part in art classes), offices, conference room, a recording studio and dance studio.
On the day TheJournal.ie visited, the dance studio was being used, as it is every Thursday morning, by local young people with learning disabilities.
Upstairs, there was an art exhibition showcasing the work of local children who had teamed up with professional artists:
In the café, mums chatted over cups of tea, their babies on their laps; nearby sat older women, grey-haired and bespectacled.
This week, the play Cleaners opens at axis: Ballymun. It’s a comedy about two women working in a four-star hotel, with one woman full of “psychobabble”, and the younger a “slightly more damaged ingenue type, streetwise but not really, who gets pulled into this battle of the wits”.
Fair City actress Stephanie Kelly plays the younger woman, and her progress as an actress is an example of how axis has nourished local talent.
Axis’ director is Mark O’Brien, who said his work is not about fulfilling quotas, but nurturing performers and putting on high-quality shows. “We always talk about excellence and inclusion – where those two points meet.”
It’s not just casting Steph because she’s from Ballymun. That is key – Stephanie was cast because she went through an audition process, because she’s right for the role, and the blend between herself and Anne was perfect.
He explained that what axis does is try to “replicate the Ballymun community inside the building”.
“We’re inviting the community in to take it off us in a weird way,” he outlined. “I can see the impact that it’s had when you see people coming back. When you see someone growing from a young girl into a woman, and developing into an artist, you go ‘wow – that’s magic’.”
Here’s O’Brien directing Kelly through a scene in the play:
Kelly began acting with a Ballymun youth theatre group. Her generation of actors have forced axis to look at how it can bring them through the next steps in their career.
“When Steph and the rest of them were emerging it was after a really strong period of artistic growth, and they wanted somewhere to go to,” explained O’Brien.
And I would feel very much our role here is to try and find a space where they can… artistically explore themselves. So we’ve worked with them and given them opportunities and facilitated workshops. But really it’s about giving the space for them to create their own work.
Acting has been a passion of Kelly’s since she was young, when she used to act out scenes from television programmes in the playground.
“There are so many young people out there who really want to sing or act or dance, and they don’t know how to do it and they don’t have an outlet,” she said.
When I was younger and I was in primary school, I remember saying ‘I want to be an actress’ and people kind of laughed at me. There was no local drama group; there was no youth theatre. It was dream that was too big – it was like a fantasy that would never become a reality.
Stephanie Kelly and Mark O’Brien.
Going beyond youth theatre
When Kelly was finished at the youth theatre, she was unsure what was to happen next. But she remembered something that O’Brien told her: “Mark always says give him the opportunity to say no – that’s always something that has stuck with me”.
O’Brien clarified that it’s not that he’s guaranteed to say no; it’s that people often anticipate the negative reaction before they even ask.
Kelly and others approached axis to see what could happen next.
They said we can give you a space but it won’t be part of the youth theatre. And they put us in connection with Mark, and Ray who was here at the time. So we came here and they were great, they gave us support, they gave us space.
This has in turn inspired O’Brien, whose plan over 2014 is to “create a mechanism where we can create a space for all these people to come and explore, and see what’s there.”
O’Brien doesn’t say that axis’s work is about ‘breaking down barriers’ “because those days are gone”, but points to the fact that it was the community that built the centre. This means that it’s up to the community to decide where it goes.
“It’s not about me,” said O’Brien. “It’s what this role can do and what the other roles in the organisation can do. Because the talent is here.”
Cleaners runs from 11 March to 15 March. For more information, visit the axis: Ballymun website.