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Tom Hickey - A Eulogy from Mary Elizabeth Burke-Kennedy

Tom Hickey - A Memorial 

The first time I visited the Stanislavski Studio was in the spring of 1964. I knew little or nothing about Stani-slavski, other than that he had something to do with The Method, a style of acting which I had just seen being given breathtaking expression in the film On The Waterfront. I had never seen acting of that nature in Ireland. And then, low and behold, I was told there was a Stanislavski Studio in Dublin and together with a few friends from college went along one Saturday afternoon to a basement studio on Fitzwilliam Square. I did not expect to see Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Eva Marie Saint or Karl Malden in the basement, but neither did I expect what I did see: a group of young, raw, Irish actors setting the dark little room alight with their performance. And my awe was increased by the realisation that I was not watching a play but they were making it all up as they went along. Every action provoked a reaction and every line was the spring board for the next response. This was living theatre - the art of Improvisation, which was the point in the training process at which this group of young actors had arrived, and which they were exploring with evident relish. Different scenarios, relationships and incidents were agreed among each group setting up their improv. They then explored the conflicts inherent in the agreed situations. It was clear that some of the actors had greater control of the po-tentially volatile situations than others. With some players the fireworks would begin as soon as they stepped foot on the stage, and the agreed scenario would explode or implode before it had even begun. But the more experienced would take their time to get to the point of the conflict and so have a greater insight and experi-ence to bring to it. 

While the newcomers to the process were popping and exploding all over the place, the more experienced were taking their time to understand what they might be popping and exploding about - if they were to do any of that at all. It was to this category that an intense and thoughtful young actor belonged. I was struck by the way he considered and weighed every proposition that emerged from the improvisation. With him it wasn’t all about anger which was the common emotional currency of the 1960s. He could be stern. He could be em-phatic. If he raised his voice he could intimidate. But he also had humour which infused his eyes and a gentle laugh which always reconciled and never mocked. Which is not to say that he shied away from emotional in-tensity. He weighed things up and then made his emotional investment, freighted with truth. This was the mo-dus operandi which I saw Tom Hickey develop over years as an actor, first in Focus Theatre which was the outcome of the years in the Studio and later on the many stages on which he preformed throughout Ireland and abroad. Whether he was swinging on a gate as Tarry Flynn or contemplating his lost love in Uncle Vanya, there was always an undeniable sense of truth, sometimes sad and always implacable. Acting was a serious business for Tom, a profession to which he dedicated himself with no sense of cost, only fervent commitment to uncovering the textures and levels of the human experience. 

But this seriousness did not preclude a sense of fun and mischief, which was always ready to bubble up. 

He demonstrated his commitment to his profession no more completely than when he was struck with Parkin-son’s Disease. He continued to address his audiences, acknowledging as he did so the strictures imposed upon his movement and his speech. Acting always takes courage on the part of it’s proponents, but it was at this stage of his life Tom revealed the extent of his courage in continuing to present himself as the essential Tom Hickey, Actor. His was a unique talent and one which he shared generously with his fellow actors. He will be greatly missed.  
Mary Elizabeth Burke-Kennedy / 02.05.2021