What exactly is a Show In A Bag? Fishamble's Gavin Kostick tells the story behind one of Irish theatre's most exciting (and popular) initiatives. 

Some time in 2009 I was talking to Róise Goan, then director of Dublin Fringe, and we were thinking about new writing ideas for the festival.

As Literary Manager of Fishamble: The New Play Company I'm always interested in that sort of thing. But then she said, but is there anything we can do with performers? At the time, in addition to the traditional challenges of a career in acting, the crash and cut-backs across the sector mde the outlook even more alarming. Then she launched into various initiatives world-wide which Festival Directors tend to hear about. But I said, let's see if we can think of our own way of doing it.

Somehow or other the thoughts she gave and the general proposition bubbled away in my mind so that by the time I arrived back in the Fishamble office I blurted out to Jim Culleton, artistic director and generally good sort, “I'm going to ask actors, solo or in pairs, if they have an idea for a tourable performance, take five projects on and write five new plays for Fringe. Then the performers can own the work. What do you think?”

I could be funny about this – the unlikeliness of it – but what gave the project real impetus from the start was that three organisations; Fringe, Fishamble and The Irish Theatre Institute, immediately got behind it and backed it both morally and with real, skilled in-kind support. The quality of mentor directors of each project also suddenly set a new standard.

There are now over 30 Show in a Bag shows and the tricky bit is that I am very proud of them all, so in writing this I hate mentioning one and not another. But suffice it to say that they have achieved far more than we ever expected with probably over 1,000 performances, many now published and picking up awards as they go – including this year an Irish Times Special Judges Award nomination for the three partners together: making work for the performers, theatre artists involved and bringing the work to perhaps 40,000 audience members nationally and internationally.

I think one of the key things, which I hadn't really grasped at the start, was that by tapping in to ideas that performers really wanted to communicate the Shows in Bags had something that came across as engaging and compelling to the public. RTE listeners will recognise a few as radio dramas.

Listen to The Wickedness Of Oz by Kate Gilmore:

I will just mention two. In the first year, Fight Night with Aonghus Óg McAnally showed that the template worked and spawned a trilogy of work for his own RISE Productions, each increasing in scale and ambition, and in the second year, crucially, Sonya Kelly's Wheelchair on My Face was the first that was written by the performer and set a new way of making the work that has spread as each year has gone by: I write fewer and am more likely to work with the performers to help them create their own work.

Because the project is repeated annually, the three partners have been able to learn and do our best to tweak it each year to improve it.

To all performers reading this, Show in a Bag is now open for 2017 applications via the Fringe website - the deadline is Monday 27th February.

The Humours Of Bandon by Margaret McAuliffe, a Fishamble Show In A Bag presentation, tours nationally throughout February and March - find out more here