Amy Redmond spent the ’90s working as an actor in New York. “I loved it, but I wanted more,” she says, on a Friday afternoon at the Irish Film Institute cafe in Temple Bar.
So she came back to Dublin, where she worked as a journalist. Later, while interning at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, she had an idea.
She realised she could use acting and creative writing to help adults with mental-health issues, and that drama classes aren’t just for children.
For the past eight years, Redmond has been behind the crudely drawn stick figures pasted onto lamp posts around the city, challenging passers-by to “Act the Maggot”.
Act the Maggot offers classes in acting, at four levels, as well as creative writing, mindfulness, pencil drawing, and public speaking.
Redmond is trying to appeal to people who are “intimidated by doing something artistic”, she says. “Creativity is beaten out of us in school.”
Shane Lynam met Redmond at a conference about a year ago, and was taken in by the “unusual name” of her set-up. He signed up for classes.
“I had the money in my pocket at the time. It was quite impulsive,” he says, laughing. “Adults don’t get to play because you’re not supposed to.” But in class, you’re not an adult, you’re a maggot.
Lynam has plenty of public-speaking experience, but it’s all been scripted. He didn’t know what to expect.
“I was worried I’d be too rigid or formal. You wouldn’t label me as a fun person,” he says. “But in improv, I get to be someone else.” It could start with a humming noise, or word association, he says.
Being a facilitator is the opposite to conventional teaching, says Redmond. “You have all these people in one room who know a lot already,” she says, so she prefers to draw them out, allowing them to develop in a positive, safe environment.
At the beginning it can be challenging, and others can seem funnier than you, says Irina Negrila, who has been going to acting classes for over a year. But after a while, it began to feel like a safe space.
“I started to hear phrases come out of my mouth that I didn’t expect. I gained confidence being foolish or silly,” she says.
Over the summer the level-four class, including Negrila, put on a show for friends and family, about private conversations had on public transport.
“Don’t label it as an acting class,” says Lynam. “It’s lighter and more fun, but there is structure. You’re feeding your inner child.”
In the early days, Redmond’s idea was to run a beginner’s acting class with a slant on mental health.
Lynam is self-employed, and works in health-and-safety training. His job can get a little mundane sometimes, he says. Working for himself was taking its toll on his mental health.
“Stress is one of my things. I tried counselling. It works for a lot of people, but it didn’t work for me. I needed a distraction from the stress; this was a distraction,” he says.
Redmond says that “more than ever people are feeling the need to tap into creativity”. “People are so busy and stressed. They need engagement with people that has nothing to do with a device,” she says.
Lynam remembers in the first class he attended, beginner’s acting, they had to switch off their phones. “That was the first bit of relief,” he says.
Now, acting classes are his anchor, his “balance”, he says. “Without that, I’ll spin out of control.”
Acting the Maggot Elsewhere
After a recent move to the midlands, Lynam will find it hard to get to class regularly.
But he’s already started looking for something similar closer to home. He’s considering célidh classes, but hopes he can get back to acting the maggot soon.
“My dream is to have a little Act the Maggot centre in every little community in Ireland. Like the GAA. To indulge creativity,” says Redmond.
“I could do it, but I really think cottage industry is the only way,” she says.
There are lots of possibilities, but she wants to wait. Things will start to emerge she says, and if it becomes unmanageable, she’ll end up an administrator, rather than a teacher.
Most of all, though, she wants to see people taking better care of themselves mental-health-wise, she says.
“People are taking better care of themselves with exercise and going to the pub less, but I would like to see people on their phone less,” she says. “What could be so important?”