Creating drama for the airways

A new three-part children’s radio drama airs this weekend, EMMA CONNOLLY talks to the Ballincollig mum behind the shows about her latest production, why kids are the best critics, and the drama workshops she teaches in schools and Cork’s libraries.
Creating drama for the airways

BY HER SIDE: Ann Dalton with her daughter Shahla Aslam, aged 10, who has been involved in her mum’s productions to-date. Picture: David Keane

A CORK mum who started out making up stories for her kids at bedtime is now looking forward to her fourth radio drama being performed on our national airwaves this weekend.

Ann Dalton, originally from Ballincollig, heads up an all Cork team who are behind a three-part drama What About The Children, which will broadcast over Easter weekend — Good Friday, Saturday and Sunday — on RTÉ Jnr.

Ann, who spent 12 years in London where she pursued performance poetry, came home 10 years ago and is mum to 10-year-old Shahla and eight-year-old Sami.

Her first radio drama, The Lonely Flower, began as a bedtime story for Shala while a subsequent production Adventures Of A Stripy Pyjamas was created for Sami.

The shift from having a captive audience of two to thousands came when as part of a two-year course she did in Creative Media and Production in Colaiste Stiofain Naofa, Ann was required to adapt and produce a drama so she chose The Lonely Flower — which she on a whim she sent to RTÉ.

They picked up on it and she was successful in the hugely competitive process of securing Broadcast Authority of Ireland funding which saw it produced and broadcast.

That was two years and since then Ann has had resounding success with subsequent radio dramas.

She describes What About The Children as a docu-drama aimed at children aged nine to 12 which looks at the ‘displacement of children both in the present day in Syria and in our own history, 100 years ago.’

“The drama begins with Katie and her Great Gran Peg tuning in to a report of war in Syria. In an attempt to ‘make sense’ of things, Great Gran delves into her box of memories, drawing us in to the world of young Peggy and her friend, Frankie as they figure out what happened to the deported children, and avoid the rage of Schoolmaster Madden. Their everyday dramas are mingled with news and ads of products from Ireland, over 100 years ago, some of which are still available today like Chiver’s Jelly.

“It’s a great story that embodies a typical moment in history and draws kids to a global situation.”

She describes her own kids as her best critics — and mentors.

“Kids are very honest – they will tell you straight away if they like something or not; you have to leave your ego outside the door. My daughter, who reads about 10 books a week, is my best mentor and I suck lots of ideas from Sami.”

Another important element of Ann’s work are the audio drama workshops she runs both in primary schools and in Cork’s libraries.

As part of this she’s noticed that children’s listening skills are deteriorating and she’s working to counteract that with different types of storytelling and visual stimuli as she says ‘not every child is a reader or a writer.’

Director of Ann’s dramas and well known Cork drama teacher Judi Chalmers agrees that children’s listening skills and vocabulary are declining which she says ‘is bizarre’ as there is more access to information than ever before. “However good quality writing will give teach children the skills they need to know and help them define their identity.”

Eibhlin Cassidy, head of children’s and young people’s library services in Cork City Libraries adds: “Working with Ann allows us to give children an experience of audio drama workshops. Exposing children to as many types of storytelling experiences as possible is important for developing their literacy skills and their own creative abilities.

“Ann’s workshops allow children to focus on listening rather than on other visual prompts. In a world where children are bombarded with visual stimuli the art of listening can get lost, as can the art of imagining.

“Ann’s audio dramas require children to create their own pictures in their minds in response to what they are hearing. To do this they have to focus and to listen. Not only does this help to develop vocabulary and literacy skills, it also gives children the space to create their own response rather than a response that is influenced by someone else’s visual interpretation of the story.”

In 2016 Cork City Libraries issued 374, 110 children’s books and had 8,198 members under the age of 12 and 1,438 teenage members.

Their website is currently being redeveloped and as part of that are offering access to Ann’s first drama ‘The Lonely Flower’ and her educational resources including language and drama activities.

“The resource will be available for children, parents and educators free of charge.

‘What about the Children’ is due to be broadcast on RTÉ Jnr over Easter weekend- Good Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7pm ‘Starboy’ which was first broadcast on New Year’s Day, 2017 will be repeated over the Easter Weekend, also on RTÉ Jnr.

The Child Actors:

Mia Jones: Aged 11, from Douglas, attends St Columbas GNS, enjoys dance, drama and musical theatre classes at Cork Arts Studio. Appeared in musicals and panto at the Opera House and shows at Cork Arts Theatre.

Fiachra O’Driscoll: Aged 13, from Dillon’s Cross, attends Coláiste Daibhéid. Was spotted by Ann a couple of years ago when he played the part of Willy Wonka at Gaelscoil an Ghoirt Álainn in Mayfield.

Caoimhe Hickey-Barry: Aged 13, from Rochestown, attends Regina Mundi. Has appeared on screen in numerous comedy sketches alongside her father, well known Cork comedy writer and actor, Tadhg Hickey.

Shahla Aslam: Aged 10, from Dillon’s Cross, attends Gaelscoil an Ghoirt Álainn. Shahla has been behind the scenes on all of her Ann’s previous radio dramas, critiquing. For this production, she takes on a role.

The Adult Actors:

Dominic Moore: Master puppeteer who has had a l

ong association with RTÉ and TV puppetry, recently appeared in ‘Jack’ at the Everyman and is touring with his show, Mr. Punch.

Antoinette Hilliard: Stared in The Factory Girls and The Sunbeam Girls and more recently in Cork movie, The Young Offenders.

Darragh Keating: Darragh started acting in his late teens with Cork School of Music Youth theatre. He has worked both in front of and behind the camera on many local short films such as Epic and Thinking Cog.

Fionula Linehan: Appeared in movies, The Young Offenders and Banshee, also on stage in ‘Marrying Dad’ and ‘The Factory Girls’.

Paschal Scott: Has starred in films such as Strength and Honour, Grabbers, Mickybo and Me and Intermission, The Young Offenders and as Sergeant Dick O’Toole in Killinaskully.

Judi Chalmers, Director: Well known Director and drama teacher.

Rupert MacCarthy-Morrogh, Editor: Rupert has worked in the media and entertainment industry for over 25 years.

Brian Nammock: Sound engineer for RTÉ and RnaG.

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