Curious Tail was established in 2008 in County Wicklow by Maggie Gallagher. There are two strands to the company – professional experimental performances and outreach programmes. Both stands are informed by the company’s methods and retain a commitment towards excellence and an open and innovative approach to the work.

The working method – the Here and Now – owes much to and is a development on her experience with Sam Dowling and Praxis Theatre Laboratory, London.

The company puts a strong emphasis on tapping into Group Creativity where the boundaries of time, space and task are given great importance.

To develop a high level of commitment to the performance work the company seeks to encourage a sense of ownership in participants, both actors and audience. Each project group will be self-managing and self-directing, within the boundaries set and monitored by the Artistic Director.

The company seeks to mobilise the complete person for the work, and so will ask for a deep giving to the work of the self and one’s professional skills.

Working Method

The creative tool the ‘Here and Now’ informs all stages of creativity, from discovery through to performance, of our participants.

The ‘Here and Now’ was adapted by Sam Dowling from the Grubb Institute of behavioural Studies, London, (Link to website) of working with ‘complete freedom within clearly defined boundaries’. The idea of boundaries, for example time, place and task, play a huge part in our working method. During a ‘Here and Now’ session participants are asked to get in touch with the group’s unconscious creative processes so as to encourage a highly creative state.  Participants need to be flexible, to live with uncertainty and confusion, and to take risks.

We do not use a director but we do accept the value of a trusted outside eye.  There is direction, it comes from our intuitive responses to the events happening in the space.  We do not block or fix our moves, we allow possibility to happen. In our work, the adage ‘less is more’ holds true, and so the company seeks to cut away unnecessary movement, props, set, lights, decoration .

The group will set up intensive periods of work. There will be a preference for a 2 week ‘live in’ rehearsal structure where cast arrive off script and work intensively and intuitively in a creative explorative manner to develop the final production.

In its project work the company will seek to test its working assumptions, and will employ the following tactics:

Experiments with Interactive Theatre and the idea of A Working Audience.  Breaking the ‘fourth wall.’  All Actors on stage at all times. Use or creation of ‘alternative spaces.’ Touring as a major part of most projects.

Emphasis on importance of good recruitment. Good advance information on the project, our ethos and methods. Workshop auditions.

The physical and emotional safety of the group will be monitored by the Artistic Director who reserves the right to exclude any person/persons from the group / project.  Confidentiality of the group is of utmost importance at all times.

The performance work may be unsuitable for people who are seeking medical attention and/or medication for psychological issues. Acceptance of an invitation to join one of the company’s project groups will be taken as agreement to work with the company’s assumptions and using its methods.

Maggie Gallagher – Founder of Curious Tail

I have been involved in the practice of making theatre both as an actress and technician since 1993.  During this time I have also facilitated the creative practice of professional artists and young people.  Since 2007 I have engaged all my energies into researching and establishing my own experimental theatre company – Curious Tail.

The reality of managing  an experimental theatre company is that you need to acquire skills that have nothing to do with your creative life but that your creative life depends on to survive.  Completing a diploma in computer applications, office skills and bookkeeping are tools that are invaluable to me in my administrational role within the company.  Likewise completing my diploma in Youth and Community Work and a course in multimedia and digital film have provided a strong backbone to inform the outreach programmes I deliver.

I have thirteen years of drama facilitation skills. I also have a trusted and respected reputation in my previous roles as Productions Manger and Youth Theatre Director at the Courthouse Arts Centre, Tinahely.

I first came in contact with the experimental work of Praxis Theatre Laboratory, London and Sam Dowling in 1993 while taking a weeks’ workshop with them as part of the Boyle Arts Festival.  I was fortunate enough to get to work with the company that summer on two projects, Cauldron of Bronte’s playing the role of Emily Bronte and as an ensemble actor in Lament for Art O’ Laoghaire.  I have since worked with them as an actress on many productions and as an associate director since 2000.  A highlight of this work was a production of Women and the Trojan Horse which toured to New York for 10 nights as part of the NY Fringe festival in 2006.

The professional experimental company that I have established takes it working method from the Praxis model. The method of work has a theoretical basis in a psychoanalytical view of art, groups and creativity, and an intuitive rather than a technical approach to the practicalities of theatre. It also draws to some extent on the educational theories of Paulo Freire (The Pedagogy Of The Oppressed) and the theatre work of the Polish innovators Grotowski and Kantor.  It works to release the actor from the constraints of a director and allow the actor spontaneous creative freedom, however, it also demands the actor to accept the personal and group responsibility that comes with this freedom.  Sam Dowling has written/devised and produced over 30 plays in this method which creates a very powerful theatre experience.

In 2008, through an Artlinks bursary, I was afforded the opportunity to receive mentorship/master-classes with founder Sam Dowling and Maria Straw-Cinar, current artistic director, to develop my understanding of the praxis method.  During this time we also got the opportunity to explore their theory of a ‘working audience’, untested until then, at a venue in county Wicklow.  The success of the event surpassed all our expectations and gave us much ‘food for thought’.

A working audience – A process of working/performing that involves and embodies rather than detaches.  Where participants are invited, with professional practitioners, to engage physically and emotionally with the work/performance.  This is the principle that underpins the theory and practice of ‘A Working Audience’.

In November 2008 I was afforded the opportunity with funding from the Arts Council, travel & training award, and a bursary from The Grubb Institute to take part on an eight day residential conference, Being Meaning Engaging, to explore new narratives of leadership and transformation.

The idea of taking part in this conference emerged during the mentoring sessions I received with Sam Dowling in London.  He suggested that it would be an opportunity for me to explore the ‘ancestral root’ of the working method of my new company.  Also as a number of years had passed since his involvement with the Grubb he felt that by attending a conference I would be able to experience the principles of their current practice.

An international conference attracting consultants and participants from around the globe, it was a different kind of conference.  No lectures, no presentations, no review of the past or prediction of the future.  Instead an opportunity to be present in the ‘here and now’ and engage with other leaders to explore, enquire and discover new ways to take up our leadership roles in organisations.

It is hard to accurately describe what transpired during those eight days yet the transformation within each of the participants and consultants was tangible. As a lived experience it is having a huge impact on both my professional and private life.

One of the main areas this conference helped me with was my problem with ‘role’.  Up to now I had always been an actor-manager in the praxis event.  Now I am both Artistic Director and actor in my own company.  As artistic Director it is my role to oversee the boundaries of the event.  As actor is it my task to be in the here and now in order to get in touch with the unconscious creativity of the group.  Can I do both?  The most important learning that emerged from the conference for me was that my duel role need not be seen as a problem but as an opportunity to develop an even greater link to the unconscious forces within the space.  How can I combine and harmonise these roles.  What has emerged is the role of ‘seeker’.  A link between audience and actor but with creative possibilities. Someone to constantly challenge the work and keep it true to the tasks at hand.