Amateur drama holds many attractions for farmers. It’s one of the more accessible art forms to see live or participate in anywhere in rural Ireland. Whether you’re from Kenmare, Carndonough, Cootehill or Clonroche, there’s probably a drama group within your reach.
Going to the next level, and becoming an integral part of a play on the circuit is another matter.
It’s akin to the difference between playing junior B with your club and playing senior, or even county. The relentless schedule of rehearsals can be hard to commit to in the spring months. Punctuality is a must, landing in 45 minutes late because a cow is calving holds everybody else up, and can only be a rare occurrence.
Of course, it can be done.
Farming and acting
Tommy Moyles is a member of the Kilmeen group in west Cork. He managed to combine acting in plays that took part in the circuit while calving a suckler herd for four years running. The challenges are similar to any time – demanding off-farm activity, Tommy confirms, having previously been heavily involved in Macra. In fact, it was in Macra that Tommy discovered he enjoyed acting.
“You need to have back-up,” he says. “I was lucky in that my parents could pick up the slack when I was away – the calving cameras help this as my parents live 20 minutes away. It also helped that we have bred for ease of calving, so intervention is only needed on a handful of occasions.”
There was a sequence in 2018 where Kilmeen performed eight times in 16 days in March – slap bang in the middle of calving for Tommy – with 36 cows calved during those days.
“We were in Kiltyclogher in north Leitrim one night, having been in Ballyduff, Co Waterford, the night before,” Tommy recalls.
“Then there was a night in Scariff (Co Clare), and on to Glenamaddy (Co Galway) for the next evening. The heavy lifting had been done prior to the first staging of the play. We rehearsed five and six times a week.”
There were some advantages, however. With farming not being a nine-to-five job, it was possible to make a very early start, have a day’s work done and be ready to head off mid-afternoon for a performance in some far-flung corner of the country.
That said, Tommy recalls one difficult evening in particular. “It was one of those days where everything went wrong on the farm. I missed the soundcheck, only getting there half an hour before opening time.”
To practice his lines, Tommy recorded rehearsals where the cast read through the script and then played that back in the tractor or on the phone around the yard.
“The cattle were treated to countless run throughs of scenes, in a variety of accents, as I tried to ‘get’ the character,” he recalls.
And it wasn’t only accents. Tommy would also try to perfect the walk of the character as he tended to the herd. That ranged from a hardy Dublin gambler and drinker (playing the Devil a game of cards for his soul) to a camp Londoner in an English farce. Not something you could do working in the bank.
Perhaps all method actors should become farmers. And many have: Hayden Christiansen owns a mixed farm in Canada; Roseanne Barr a nut farm (insert joke here, folks) in Hawaii; Zach Galifianaikis (the odd one in the Hangover movies) calls his horse and honeybee ranch “Farmageddon”; Julia Roberts keeps chickens on her holding; Russell Crowe has spoken to the Irish Farmers Journal about his ranch in Australia, where Nicole Kidman also owns a farm.
So maybe there is a link between farming and acting. Or maybe it’s the total contrast between the two. Acting is the art of artifice, where you become someone else, immersing yourself in their essence. Farming, in contrast, is always real and hands-on.
Then there are those actors who just play themselves in every role, like Seth Rogen, Jennifer Aniston or Vinny Jones. Actually, Vinny Jones owns a farm too. I doubt he practices a different walk in front of the cattle, but who knows.