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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Action on Archives

Action on Archives

Archives in Crisis: 

A Symposium to Debate the Future of Archives in Irish Society  

Saturday 10 April 2010, 3 PM to 5 PM 

Robert Emmet Lecture Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity College, Dublin.  

Moderator: Diarmaid Ferriter 

Speakers: Fintan O’Toole, Catriona Crowe, Eunan O’Halpin 

 In 1922 the bulk of Ireland’s documentary heritage was destroyed. This symposium poses a stark question: what will be the state of Irish archives in 2022 on the centenary of the Four Courts blaze? 

Presentations will discuss the cultural significance of archives in Irish society and the proposed merger of the National Archives of Ireland into the National Library. This will be followed by an open forum, during which audience members will have an opportunity to pose questions and share their views on archival policy in Ireland. 

The meeting will conclude by taking nominations to a new Action on Archives committee, which will seek to make representations to appropriate bodies. 

 Admission Free – All Welcome  

Courtesy of Action on Archives

For further information, contact Dr Peter Crooks, pcrooks@tcd.ie (01 896 1368)

Organized in association with the Irish Chancery Project, Medieval History Research Centre, 

Trinity College, Dublin

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The Last Daughter of Sodome

“Do you remember Sodome, a city of ruined excess. . . . .Sodome, all you have heard of it is true”.

The resonating voice of the woman in this work performed and translated by Olwen Fouere speaks of a tale of mystic, of memory, of death and resurrection. The Space Upstairs at the Project Arts Centre was transformed by the imaginative brilliance of John Comiskey into a mirrored, metallic and saline prision, in which the Woman awakens and from which she strives to escape.

This work is a translation by Fouere of a French text written by Laurent Gaude and which was published in France in 2009. Fouere was born in the West of Ireland to Breton parents. She has grown up with a duality of language and culture that allows for Gaude’s text and haunting narrative to be transposed so elegantly onto the Project stage. The space becomes an environment rather than a set in which the Woman reawakens as the rain falls and she comes back to life following years suspended buried in salt at the hands of her would be executioners. She is the last daughter of Sodome.

As she escapes her tomb, the contorted body of Fouere holds the gaze of the audience with every controlled movement in an intense and disciplined performance. Her legs, her fingers, her ankles, her toes, the salty stone on which she walks all bear the crippling stiffness of the excess, the shock, the conflict and the ruin that led to the downfall of her beloved Sodome.

The story by Gaude tells of the siege, contagion and slow but deliberate devolution of a city. It is a tale foreboding of innate amorality. A city that has hitherto thrived on excess, hedonistic sexuality and trust is shatteringly brought to a halt by a patient and silent assassin. “I was killing you as I greeted you”. This chilling admission reflects on the conflict and wars that plague our contemporary world, as contagion of distrust, fear, ignorance and intolerance threatens to rule in our world, every bit as forcefully as it did in the mythical Sodome. This is key to the excellent direction by Lynne Parker in a co-production by Rough Magic and Fouere’s own companythe Emergency Room. She creates an atmosphere of where memory is the link to past and future. The present is cyclical. Fouere opens the play by talking in the present, declaring she has always been here but we, as audience and as people in a nation and world have been blind to her presence. 

Olwen Fouere in "Sodome, My Love"

The excess of the past, once again threaten to ruin our world. The multimedia backdrops are a montage, a cerebral premonition of what could come and what has come to our society that is dominated by blinding, loud media, over sexualised images and a smothering pursuit of commercialism. The transformation of the Woman in the later cantos of the play reflects the cyclical nature of this. It has brought about the downfall of Sodome. It CAN happen again.

The nature in which Fouere delivers the narrative demands a sensory awareness and response from the audience. The voice of the woman, the water that falls on her skin, the fire that burns Gomorrah, the smoke of the ruins of Sodome, it is an extremely sensory delivery. If one was to shut their eyes, the performance could almost be inhaled from the stage.  

While the later cantos lack the intrigue, imagery and resonance of the opening sections, it is an extremely powerful production. Fouere astounds as does Comiskey’s staging and environment. The resolution is somewhat disjointed, the transformation from mythical past to current and present does not hit its intended mark. The building and rolling tension frustratingly does not spill over into climax as it so often threatens to do. Perhaps this is the only thing that is lost in translation.

Sodome, My Love. At Space Upstairs, Project Arts Centre until 27 March 2010.

http://www.projectartscentre.ie/programme/whats-on/876-sodome-my-love

http://www.roughmagic.ie/Home

 

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Gaiety School of Acting plays on at Dublin City Archives

Gaiety School Archive 

The Gaiety School of Acting’s latest production was not on a usual Dublin stage but it did feature its largest ensemble cast.  Dublin City Library and Archive on Pearse Street has acquired the archive of the Gaiety School of Acting, the national theatre school of Ireland. On 22nd February, the Dublin Room of Dublin City Library and Archives hosted an exhibition and evening of talks to mark this transfer of the Gaiety School’s records into the Irish National Theatre Archive. 

Some of Ireland’s most celebrated actors, directors and writers have graduated, taught at or are simply associated with the Gaiety School of Acting. Managers, staff and past students such as Joe Dowling, Pat Laffan, Mary Elizabeth Burke Kennedy, Don Wycherly, Karl Shiels, Eva Birthistle, Catherine Walker, Keith McErlean, Orlaith Rafter, Stuart Townsend, Flora Montgomery, Rory Nowlan and countless others have made the Gaiety School an established and essential part of the Irish theatre scene. 

Founded in 1986 by renowned actor, director and teacher, Joe Dowling, the Gaiety School evolved to meet head on a distinct lack of acting training in Ireland. Originally offering just a nine week evening course the Gaiety School has grown beyond all realms of belief. According to Joe Dowling, “When we started, there was a dearth of training [available in Ireland]. We wanted people in the profession to train the next generation of actors. I’m very proud we began it”.   

The collection contains all administrative, financial and Board of Directors records from the schools inception in 1986 up to early 1997. This ten year span was crucial in the development of the Gaiety School. It oversaw its growth from a single part-time course to offering full time actor training as well as part time acting courses. This period also records two changes of premises, from humble beginnings on Baggot Street to the move in 1995 to the Gaiety Schools current home on Sycamore Street in Templebar.   

The move to Templebar highlights the Gaiety School as another major cultural institution that relocated to Templebar during the redevelopment of the area in the early and mid 1990s. The correspondence, building plans and other records document the immense planning that went into such a move and are a vital resource for any social researcher or historian of urban redevelopment. The Templebar project grew from transformation of premises that were bought en masse by C.I.E. This urban redevelopment was happening in a period of Irish governance that saw three different Taoisigh from Charles Haughey, to Albert Reynolds to John Bruton, ranging from a Fianna Fail to Rainbow Coalition led Governments that took charge in pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland. 

The history of the Gaiety School, however, runs a lot deeper than 1986. A Gaiety Theatre School existed in the 1940s and was headed by the celebrated actress and director Ria Mooney. Very little documented evidence of this original Gaiety Theatre School exists. However, the archive of the Gaiety School of Acting proudly holds possibly the only documented account of this school. A prospectus of the school from the year 1944-45 in immaculate condition lists a detailed account of the acting training offered by the then Gaiety School and also a statement by the school principal Ria Mooney. Also present is a letter from Ria Mooney to a prospective student who was not successful in her desire to claim a place in the Gaiety Theatre School in 1945. The National Library of Ireland does hold a collection of Ria Mooney papers. These records do not contain any mention of her time at the Gaiety School and pertain only to her capacity as head of the Abbey theatre school, the position Mooney took up following her time at the Gaiety School. This fact acts only to emphasis the importance of the two items relating to the original Gaiety School. 

The Gaiety School of Acting archive also contains all records of graduate productions and showcases from 1986 to early 2010. There is an extensive collection of programmes, flyers, posters, press cuttings, reviews, scripts and ephemera from these productions which present a stirring and visual snapshot of the success and productivity of the school. Scrapbooks of marketing and press information highlight the challenge of promoting an actor training school and also document how Irish media and expectations of advertising also grew during the twenty four years covered by the Gaiety School archive. 

The archive also proudly boasts framed posters from productions directed by Gaiety School founder Joe Dowling at various Dublin theatres including The Gaiety Theatre, the Abbey Theatre and the Peacock Theatre. One of the most striking of these is a poster from the 1988 production of Translations by Brian Friel and directed by Joe Dowling. This production is often noted as being the definitive production of Translations and also starred the late, great actor Donal McCann. 

At Dublin City Archives the launch evening and exhibition was made all the more special by an exhibition featuring highlights from the Gaiety School past that was wonderfully orchestrated by Ellen Murphy, senior archivist at Dublin City Archives. Cllr Kevin Humphries, Deputy Mayor of Dublin addressed the assembled crowd of past and present Gaiety students, Gaiety staff and Board of Directors and those who had fond memories of the School. The event was completed by the presence and speech by school founder Joe Dowling who travelled from his current position as director the Guthrie Centre in Minneapolis, U.S.A. Dowling spoke of how the school came to be and of the effort required on so many fronts to see the school evolve into what it is today. 

At the Gaiety School of Acting Archive launch: Joe Dowling, Gaiety School Founder, Ellen Murphy, Senior Archivist, Dublin City Archives, Patrick Sutton, Director Gaiety School of Archives and Barry Houlihan, Gaiety School Archivist.

Current Gaiety School director Patrick Sutton spoke passionately about the challenges of running such a school in an economic climate that is often quick to forget the Arts when for so long Arts and culture was and is one of the main attractions of foreign tourism and investment to these shores. Sutton also addressed the students and described how to carve a career in the acting industry is not for the ill-committed and how it is not for the long established to call the shots in the industry but how it is ever more important for new creativity to rise and be noticed. 

A video montage, expertly assembled by past student Simon Stewart presented the skill and talent of past and current Gaiety School students. Rounding off the night, Patrick Sutton added: “We are delighted at becoming part of the documented theatre history of Dublin and hope that the archive will prove to be of interest to researchers in the coming years.” As many theatre companies are unfortunately falling victim to funding cuts and suffering as a result, the Gaiety School, which also manages the magnificent Smock Alley theatre is going from strength to strength and the commitment of its archive to a public institution is a great addition to the documented theatre heritage of Ireland.  

Gaiety School of Acting, National Theatre School of Ireland

 http://www.gaietyschool.com/

http://www.dublincity.ie/RecreationandCulture/libraries/Heritage%20and%20History/Dublin%20City%20Archives/pages/index.aspx

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gaietyschool/sets/72157623493226772/

 

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Blackbird Sings Loudest at the Project

“The Army is no place for politics!” cries a battle-hardened and yet war-weary Private McLaren in David Duggan’s play about the last few years and months in the life of the war poet Francis Ledwidge. Born in county Meath, Ledwidge, often known as the ‘Poet of the Blackbirds’, was killed during World War I at the Battle of Passhendaele in July 1917, serving on the front as a member of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Still the Blackbird Sings was commissioned by and previously premiered at the Playhouse Theatre in Derry.

At its opening night at the Project Arts Centre,  Duggan’s portrayal of the Meath born and Nationalist Ledwidge presents a visceral and powerful insight into the confrontations and conflicts of the soul and heart experience by Irish men in the service of the British army at a time when Irish Nationalism by non-constitutional means had reached fever pitch.

The play is set at Ebrington barracks in Derry in 1916. Ledwidge, who had succeeded to the rank of Lance Corporal had returned to Ireland following several stints on the war front in Eastern Europe, including Serbia, Turkey and France. Now home, Ledwidge along with his regiment members are coming to terms with the heavy losses sustained at the Somme and also on the home front following the Easter Rising.

Noted as a staunch Nationalist, Ledwidge struggles with a bitter conflict of cause and conscience as his fellow poets have died for the cause of Irish freedom on the streets of Dublin at Easter 1916. He speaks of McDonagh, Plunkett and Pearse as friends and poets and dreamers. Indeed, the title of ‘poet’ seems more important to Ledwidge than does the title of ‘soldier’. When he is questioned about his loyalty to the English crown, its army and cause on the European battlefields, Ledwidge states that causes of freedom are fought on many fronts and not always in Europe, but here at home too.

 Ledwidge’s support of the ‘insurrectionists’ of the Easter 1916 leads to growing suspicion of Ledwidge himself from his company and regiment. Colm Gormley is excellent as Private Caddon as he squabbles and comes to blows with Mark Fitzgerald’s Ledwidge over politics and the commemoration of those Ulstermen that died at the Somme as greater patriots than those who died in Dublin at Easter. The tension between Unionist and Nationalist is palpable and explodes on more than one occasion within the confined and claustrophobic barracks designed by Sarah Bacon. 

This theme of the ‘right’ cause for Irishmen and Irish Nationalists is teased out and explored by Duggan and avoids becoming too polemic in its treatment of the case. In conversation with Irish Times, Duggan recounts: “Irish nationalists joined the British army during the first World War because a carrot was dangled in front of them in the form of the promise of Home Rule,” he says. “They wanted to prove themselves capable of looking after their own country in the face of German aggression. They joined fellow countrymen of a unionist persuasion in a tense resolve, aimed at achieving unity and justice in Europe and a future for Ireland. But at the same time as Home Rule was being offered, a pledge was made to the Ulster regiments that Ireland would always remain within the United Kingdom. For a deep thinker and a committed nationalist like Ledwidge, these mixed messages proved extremely problematic and he grappled with the difficulty of squaring the circles.”

The words of the poet Ledwidge are an escape from the constant threat of death by bomb, bullet or court martial and from the soul destroying wait to be called to the Front. Private Gamble, well characterised by Conan Sweeney typifies the soldier driven to the brink of madness from shell shock and hears the command whistle and guns even in his sleep. As Ledwidge forges a close relationship with the servant girl, Rosie, their romance is short lived and Ledwidge and his company again face the war front.

Still, the Blackbird Sings.Image courtesy of the Project Arts Centre

Ledwidge laments the death of the 1916 martyrs as much as Private Caddon laments the death of so many Ulstermen men at the Somme. The irony in Caddon’s desire to have died there too reflects the Blood Sacrifice espoused especially by Peasre before the 1916 Rising. Mark Fitzgerald more than capably handles the difficult role of portraying the struggles within Ledwidge as he fights for realisation of his true self, be that soldier, Nationalist or poet. Ledwidge’s feeling towards the dead of 1916 and indeed the dead of war in general is truly evident in his Lament for Thomas MacDonagh:

He shall not hear the bittern cry
in the wild sky, where he is lain,
Nor voices of the sweeter birds
Above the wailing of the rain
 
Nor shall he know when the loud March blows
Thro’ slanting snows her fanfare shrill,
Blowing to flame the golden cup
Of many an upset daffodil.

The presence of sand seeping from hand to ground at random times during the play is a clever device in portraying the imagery of death and ashes returning to the earth as it also counts down an irreversible death clock for so many Irishmen in the British Army, including Ledwidge. The poetic imagery of the blackbird with its yellow beak, the strength of the river and beauty of the Irish landscape are expressed effortlessly by Fitzgerald while Packy Lee delivers a strong performance that is as humorous as it is heartfelt.

With North-South relations currently dominating Irish news headlines for once again tragic reasons, coupled with the extended recent talks at Hillborough regarding policing and justice in the North, Duggan’s play is right on queue in making a willing audience rethink the ethics of conflict and the assertion of when and whether it can be discerned that a war is justified. Can freedom be truly won through war? Does a uniform define an Irishman and make his cause worthwhile? Duggan wrestles with these questions at a vital time for the future of peace in Ireland and justifies the Project Arts Centre as one of the most relevant and important of Irish stages.

At the Project Arts Centre until 6 March and tours to Ballybofey, Co Donegal; Belfast; and Ebrington Barracks, Derry.

http://www.projectartscentre.ie/programme/whats-on/875-still-the-blackbird-sings

Visit the Fancis Ledwidge Museum in the cottage birthplace of the poet in County Meath. http://www.francisledwidge.com/

Rehearsals for 'Still, the Blackbird Sings'. Image courtesy of totallydublin.ie

 

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