Making A Mark

by Rose Barrett
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He is articulate, witty and living the dream. As an actor, he is literally making his mark and will soon launch a national tour of ‘Making a Mark’, an insightful commentary on Mark’s own life.

World Down Syndrome Day falls on Monday next. Mark was born with Downs Syndrome, one of six siblings born to Jacqueline and Vincent Smith.

Born at Railway Avenue, Inchicore, the family comprising of Vinny, Gary, Ruth, Mark and the youngest, twin sisters Yvonne and Rebecca, later moved to Mulhussey on the Dublin Meath border.

“Sadly, Dad passed in 1999 and last year, 2021, my brother Vinvy (47) died of a brain haemorrhage. He was so young, and married with three young children,” said Mark.

Losing his father was traumatic for Mark, and it’s one of the black experiences he covers within ‘Making a Mark’, along with some unwarranted bullying/name calling over the years.

“Throughout my life, during school to people who didn’t know me at all, I experienced some name calling. These people don’t know me, they don’t know my capabilities and achievements – yet they call me names?”

Making a Markaspires to articulate Mark’s incredible journey to date alongside the more complicated facets of his lived experience.

And Mark has had some notable experiences. He won a silver medal – “Second in the world,” he enthused at the Special Olympics World Games in North Carolina in 1999, in the 100m backstroke event.

Swimming was not Mark’s only talent. At an early age, he showed a gift for characterisation and acting.

“John Fox was my teacher in St Raphael’s, Celbridge and he saw my potential,” said Mark. “I did 8 or 9 shows from an early age to adulthood, met Aisling Byrne in 2009 and from there, we started Run of the Mill Theatre.”

Since then, Mark has been a staple performer in all her shows from Mamma Mia (he played Sam Carmichael) to King Lear, to Making a Mark.

His friendship with Aisling has had a major influence on his life and acting career.

After watching The Late Late Show one night where he saw Robbie Lawlor talking about a show called Rapids, the bold Mark put it up to Aisling, to know when was she going to make a play about his life! 

Aisling grew up in Celbridge, which hosts a major disability service provider, St Raphaels. Aisling’s own mother worked there as an intellectual disability nurse for years.  

“When I graduated from Trinity in drama, I began working as a facilitator with the St John of God centre in Celbridge. I met Mark, and we went on to do a lot of productions together,” said Aisling. “I had a professional practise in documentary theatre. I suppose Mark’s ambitions were always leveraged beyond the smaller community, and hence, we founded Run of the Mill Theatre.”

Having studied anthropology at Maynooth University, Mark subsidised his living as a bag packer at Tesco Maynooth but he knew it would always be acting and stage work that would give him a sense of fulfilment.

“For the past two years of the pandemic, we couldn’t do any drama live at all. It was all home schooling and zoom, etc. We had to defer the tour in 2021 so we’re delighted to be back up and running with live audiences again,” he said.

“It’s totally electric performing on stage; I get this tingling inside, I feel the response from the audience, I just love it all! I have a lot of friends and family who come to the show.

“I have many actor friends, including George McMahon who plays Mondo in Fair City and Devon Murray who plays Seamus Finnegan in Harry Potter.”

Making A Mark had a sell-out premiere production at the Dublin Fringe Festival in 2019, and the actor is looking forward to commencing a national tour later this month, commencing atDraíocht, Blanchardstown on Friday, March 25.

Never afraid of a challenge on stage, Mark has introduced aspects of Harry Potter – he is a big fan – to the lead role in the Shakespeare classic, King Lear.

“I’m a big fan of Harry Potter and I love playing different characters so I brought aspects of Professor Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape,  Lord Voldemort, etc into the lead role.”

Aisling noted Mark will often find an analogy from Harry Potter or something he likes to watch, and draw them into his characterisation.

“Drama has been a great outlet for me, and given me plenty of wonderful opportunities,” said Mark. “After we did the Tommy Tiernan Show, Aisling and I had a brilliant holiday at Euro Disney in Parish. We did all the big rides, Space Mountain and more, about four times each at least. I loved it, Aisling had to come with me,” he laughed.

“I was terrified,” replied Aisling but he peer-pressurised me to go with him!”

Ironically, the stewards queried Mark’s entitlement to a disability pass, which Mark found hilarious. “But the disability pass did mean we could skip the queues!” he laughed.

When asked if there was any significant other or romance in his life, Mark quipped: “Romance, are you mad. I haven’t the time!”

To catch this engaging autobiographical piece, the lived experience of an artist with an intellectual disability, book your ticket now for Making a Mark.

Draíocht, Blanchardstown preview night, March 25, tickets€18/€16/€14
Opening night, Saturday March 26, commencing 8pm. / 01 885 2622

Axis, Ballymun, Friday 29 April, 8pm. Tickets €18/€16/€14 / 01 883 2100

Project Arts Centre, Templebar, Monday, May 2 – Saturday, May 8 at 7:30pm; matinée on Saturday, May 7 at 2:30pm Tickets €18/€16/€14 / 01 881 9613

Also venues in Drogheda, Carlow, Kildare, Galway, Limerick and Sligo.

MAIN PHOTO – Aisling Byrne and Mark Smith, who have collaborated in many productions

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