The New Electric Ballroom Study Guide

ENDA WALSH

Since his success in 1997 for his play Disco Pigs, Enda Walsh has become one of the most lauded playwrights and screenwriters of his day. He won the Fringe First Awards at two consecutive Edinburgh Festivals for his plays The Walworth Farce and The New Electric Ballroom and a Camera d’Or for Hunger, his film about the IRA soldier Bobby Sands. Walsh’s adaptation of the film Once garnered eight Tony Awards, a Grammy and two Laurence Olivier Awards. He co-wrote the script for the musical Lazarus with David Bowie.

The New Electric Ballroom was first produced by The Druid Theatre in Galway. In 2008 it won the Edinburgh Fringe First Award and in 2009 had its US premiere at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.

WALSH’S STORYTELLING

Walsh has said about his plays:

Basically all my plays are effectively, you know, the structure of a good night out in Ireland. Because people sort of meet, they talk banalities, they sort of chit chat chit chat it’s going nowhere particularly, it’s sort of drink is taking it, it becomes a little bit more sort of abstract…It becomes completely abstract and we think like how the hell did we travel in this sort of short distance and to this sort of, you know, this new vocabulary. And then it becomes sort of like, you know, two o’clock in the morning, you know, darkness, the whiskey sort of hits you and goes Jesus Christ, who the hell am I, you know? And deep sort of existential, you know, analysis. I’m effectively just writing a sort of an Irish night out probably. In the shape of these plays I can sort of see that.

In Walsh’s works, storytelling is both a compulsion and an entrapment for the characters, establishing the narrow parameters of their lives. The Walworth Farce, Walsh’s companion piece to New Electric Ballroom, concerns a father and his sons endlessly re-enacting their family mythology. In Penelope, Walsh’s retelling of Homer’s Ulysses, Penelope’s four remaining suitors are unable to alter one of the founding story of western civilization in which they are allowed only a bit part. There is very little “chit chat” in New Electric Ballroom. In lieu of conversation, the characters exchange stories—the same stories they tell themselves.

Whether told as comedy or tragedy, the high drama and rich language of the characters’ stories contrast with the tedious existence that follows in the wake of these narratives. Walsh colors the dreary repetitiveness of these stories with a dazzlingly lyricism that the characters themselves do not seem to notice.

Possible Discussion Questions
  • Walsh says that “all sort of drama is all about denying information.” What information are the characters in New Electric Ballroom denying and is there any information that could change their lives?
  • Regarding New Electric Ballroom and The Walworth Farce, Walsh told the LA Times, “the lines are only about 25 to 30% of the piece.” The remaining 75%, he feels is what the actors and director bring out on stage. What choices did you see in this production? Could these same stories be told differently?
  • What is the effect of the contrast between the characters’ tedious lives and the precise and beautiful language they use for their mythology?
  • Are personal mythologies always fictional? What about national and cultural myths? What purpose do they serve?