Davy Nelson and the link between football pitch to theatre stage
There is a saying Davy Nelson heard many years ago - and it remains indelibly etched in his consciousness.
"We have a great line in the world of business that says: 'Your comfort zone is a lovely place to be but nothing ever grows there.' I think that's so true. I remember being told 30 years ago to make sure that you read at least two books a year, make sure to attend at least two or three courses a year. To make sure to keep stretching yourself, don't say: 'Sure I'm grand I know this, I don't need to learn more.'
"The day you take that attitude you are going backwards. In life you're always learning, never the finished product, you're always looking for new influences, at least I am."
During his 56 years, Nelson has taken many steps outside the comfort zone. He knows it can be nerve wrecking - and a hell of a buzz.
He has stepped outside the zone in business (the family's company is Royal County Furniture) and took risks "not always successfully." He certainly took a gamble when he, without any experience, first accepted an offer to become manager of Navan O'Mahonys in 1997. It was a risk that paid off handsomely.
Now the Navan native has done it again. Currently Nelson and the cast of players in the Navan Theatre Group are in the throes of rehearsals. They are working on putting together a production of Arthur Miller's 'All My Sons' - a play that was written in the 1940s and explores corruption in American business - among other things.
This is the first time Nelson has directed a full-length play. He has taken charge one or two short productions in the past but this is different. This is one of those occasions when he has firmly stepped outside the comfort zone - and felt that familiar frisson of apprehension and anticipation down his back. And it's not that he has nothing else to do. As well as helping to run the family business he and his wife Geraldine also operate a health and well-being enterprise.
You will have to travel far to find a more affable and friendly man yet within him there clearly beats the heart of a warrior; someone driven by the desire to achieve; someone who is not daunted by the challenges presented by life.
It's why he won six SFC medals with Navan O'Mahonys (mostly in the 1980s) despite not being the tallest of players. It's why he won four Keegan Cups with O'Mahonys as a manager and one SFC title in Monaghan with Latton O'Rahillys. This year he has no long-term GAA commitments so he opted to take it easy and direct a full-length play instead!!
"I remember being the only non inter-county footballer from eight to 15 on the O'Mahonys team and being fully aware I wasn't the biggest player on the team and knowing that corner-forwards like me were dispensable, especially small corner forwards. I remember that fear absolutely but it used to drive me through walls to perform and hold up my end of the bargain. Sometimes fear would paralyse people but it energises me."
He corrects himself as he talks of "half-time" in a play when he means "interval" and "pitch" when he means "stage," indications of how integral sport and theatre are to his life.
Both pursuits, he points out, have a lot in common. He knows, for instance that even the greatest manager or director (or businessperson) no matter how experienced or talented is only as good as the team he or she has working with them.
"You can have all the great actors and directors you like but if the production is not right you won't have a show," he insists. "As someone said to me the other night when it comes to putting on a play a great deal of work goes into making something look so simple. That's what you are trying to do. You are trying to make it so natural, yet there is a colossal amount of work, set design, set construction, make-up, hair, sound, music, lighting, all that's crucial.
Cast Photo L-R (Standing) Pádraig Mc Laughlin, Cathy O’Brien, Jerry Comyn, Ciara Cassoni, Seán Flanagan, Siobhán Mallon, David Nelson (Director), Pádraig Browne, Caitríona Heslin, Nigel Ryan. Seated: Dylan and Cian Buckley. Photo: David Mullen cyberimages.net
"There are so many comparisons between managing a GAA team and directing. You have, after all, a bunch of players and what do you want to do? You want them to perform and get the best out of themselves but without a good background team, a good support team, you are not going anywhere.
"I remember when I was manager of Navan O'Mahonys we had a lovely woman who used to wash the jerseys. She would wash them every week, wouldn't take a penny for it. That was her input and I valued it tremendously because all these things have to be done. Without a team behind you, you are nothing."
For 25 years Nelson has been a member of the local theatre group. He points out there is a rich tradition of theatre in Navan going back to the early years of the last century. He recalls how his father Frank told him when he was a youngster how he used to attend productions put on by the local Pioneer Players in the 1940s and '50s.
Young Davy was intrigued. Later he was encouraged by people such as the great, late theatre-lover Billy Goonan to get involved. As someone who loved all aspects of theatre Nelson didn't need to be asked twice. "Billy was a great man who would do anything to stretch himself. I remember in the mid-1990s he wanted to do Henrik Ibsen's 'A Doll's House' and at the time there weren't too many theatre groups doing Ibsen but we carried it off and I thought this is real good, this is what you should do and not just play it safe."
Over the years football commitments prevented Davy from taking part in more productions. This year was different; he had the time and the opportunity to direct a full-length play simply proved too alluring.
He has a huge collection of programmes from plays he has attended over the years. When it was suggested to him he should direct a play in the Solstice he sifted through the programmes very carefully before picking 'All My Sons.' Then he took a deep breath and stepped out of the comfort zone.
He recalls how in 2009 he acted in a play - 'Lady Windermere's Fan' - by his favourite playwright Oscar Wilde. He wasn't supposed to be in the play but a week before it opened in the Solstice the actor who was playing Lord Augustus Lorton (a leading role) broke his leg. Could Davy step in?
"There was only a week to go, a week!!, but the director Caitriona Heslin asked me if I would fill in. I went home to Geraldine and said do you mind not seeing me for the
next two weeks, the kids were still small. 'Am I mad to even consider it?'
"She said: 'Go for it if, Caitriona thinks you can do it I'd trust her judgement.' I took days off work to learn the role, I was working for myself so I could do that and it was one of the best things I ever did. It was a brilliant part and the other players were brilliant, but I remember thinking I could let everybody down here and that's a scary thing."
Davy Nelson stepped out of his comfort zone then - now he's doing it again.
Davy Nelson on
...LEARNING LESSON FROM BUSINESS
"You learn from business. I've been in the furniture business 38 years yet I never made anything, which is a bit of a regret, I didn't learn how to make something, I didn't learn the craft. Maybe when I was younger I didn't see the bigger picture. I thought my skills were in management and marketing and I would like to think it helped the family business over the four decades."
...WHY HE PICKED 'ALL MY SONS' TO DIRECT
"In early January I was asked would I direct a play and I said yes. I always loved theatre as a social night out and I've been collecting programmes for many years from wherever I saw a play, the Ramor, Solstice, Abbey. I went through them, cut them down to 10, then five. I picked 'All My Sons.' In the play the main character, Joe Keller, takes a quantum leap and risks life to save his business and his family's wealth. He took the ultimate risk and there were devastating consequences for everyone in the family. The play is set in a Sunday morning, everthing appears rosy in the garden and as Arthur Miller takes us on a journey it all gradually unravals into a shambles. At first glance the Kellers look like they have everything but as we all know behind the front door reality is a lot different."
...CONQUERING NEW HORIZONS
"Like in life, business, the GAA, theatre you are always learning, constantly learning, you're never the finished product, I'm always looking for new influences and having encouragement at home is vital in doing that but I would be conservative enough by nature. During the Celtic Tiger I didn't buy six houses. Thankfully I made my own mind up on that but I thought it was all a bit of a crazy bubble. I didn't understand it all either but for every bubble there's a pin. Having said that I would take risks that would stretch myself personally.”
* All My Sons appears in the Solstice Arts Centre from Wednesday 28th November to Saturday 1st December. Tickets €18/€16, students €13 9092300 or www.solsticeartscentre.ie