Let me take you back to the beginning.
It was Christmas 2013, and I had recently come across the wonderful singer, musician and character that is Georgie Gorman.
Indeed I’ll never forget the day he sat down in my sitting room to rehearse Desperado for Theme Night #8. I really felt I was in the presence of greatness – he gave me chills, goosebumps, tears – the whole lot.
Anyway we got to know each other a bit over the next while and he asked me to meet him one day to listen to a couple of ideas he had. And so when I met him that December afternoon he said – ‘you know those theme nights you put on for adults – have you ever thought about putting one on for teenagers’?
I knew it was something I wanted to do immediately, and so the very first Teenage Theme Night took place almost 6 years ago now – on March 21st 2014. It took place in the foyer of the Model, with no more than 50 in the audience. Some performers had to take on 2 songs to fill out the set.
Here’s the setlist.
It’s really interesting to see the names on this list – most are in their mid-20s now – many finished in college. Plenty studying or playing music still. Some working, others travelling the world.
I met two of the above participants last night (I was gigging with one – the other was watching just back from Guatemala) and we were reminiscing about how the nights started. I told them about the weekend we had just had and how they have grown and developed since and they couldn’t believe it.
But the principles behind it remain the same. Give teenagers a shot at performing a song of their choice with professional backing (should they want it) in front of an attentive and appreciative audience. Encourage and guide them, expose them to other people who are into what they are into, and watch them go.
And bit by bit they have grown. This weekend last year was the first time we put on three shows. And this weekend for the first time we had to put on four shows. Not to cater for the size of the audience – although thankfully lots of people came to watch the shows over the course of the weekend – but to give everyone who has expressed an interest to participate a shot at doing so.
If the numbers continue to rise I genuinely don’t know right now what we will do. But it’s a great problem to have.
I have had numerous messages from parents thanking me for giving their children the opportunity and telling me what it has done for their confidence and personality and they are lovely to get. I often think of how much I would have got from them if they were around in my teenage years. But they weren’t, and if I’m honest that’s probably part of the reason I enjoy this side of my work so much.
Joe Gorman and Nell Kelly were the first two emcees. From two famous Sligo families, they actually hosted 5 shows – 2 in 5th Yr and 3 in 6th Yr as we all found our feet. The standards they set remain today.
Indeed some of this year’s emcees remember them – particularly Joe’s dry wit. They were in primary school at the time, and these people seemed so old to them. As the current emcees (pictured below) do to the many primary school children who came over the weekend.
But life moves on and their time will come. And the current crop will get older and possibly come back to the shows and marvel at how confident the teenagers seem and how high the standard is. As some past participants did last weekend. But they all play their part. Especially those who lead and raise the bar in their own way and show what is possible to others.
And so to the 100+ teenagers from this weekend and all the teenagers who have taken part in the past – thankyou. It may have seemed like fun, and it was, but what you were also doing was helping to create something special in our community. And that’s where making positive change in the world begins.