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Moving toward a new ‘Theatre of Crisis’.

For the past few months world news has been dominated by sweeping revolution across the Arab world. It has been incredible to witness the youth of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and most recently Lybia take to the streets in protest and in a unified voice declaring change is both wanted and needed. With these events in mind, it is interesting to note how and where theatre and the arts are responding to these seminal moments of political and social upheaval.

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa despotic regimes have been challenged and toppled by what has popularly become known as ‘Facebook Revolutions’. The disenfranchised and un-institutionalised youth took the stop forward to initiate change. Ideas and debates spread and were disseminated through social networks, beyond regional and national boundaries and it would be a natural reaction that revolution would be born. The key ingredient was information.  Now, in the instant wake of these events, it is the reactive agency of theatre that can assess and respond to these seismic social upheavals.

The power of theatre as a tool to astutely capture and represent social shifts is in its immediacy. It can capture the rawness, the tragic and the hope. The role of theatre as a conduit for independent thought and resulting change is not lost on the current crises the world has faced.

Seven Jewish Children by Caryl Churchill

Seven Jewish Children

Playwrights such as Caryl Churchill penned and saw produced her work Seven Jewish Children in the immediate wake of the 2008-2009 Israel military strike on Gaza. It was first performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre on 6th February 2009. This play was also staged at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin at a free performance in March 2009. The Abbey would again return to the barricades when it staged a season of works to reflect on the national crises of institutional abuse of Irish children. The Darkest Corner was a brave and also disturbing account of the torture these forgotten children endured. An interesting note is the play reflecting on the complex Gaza/Israel issue was staged almost immediately and in time with the conflict. The Darkest Corner would follow a full year after the publication of the report of “the Commission to Enquire into Child Abuse in Ireland”.

No Escape at the Peacock Theatre

No Escape, image courtesy of The Abbey Theatre

The question of timing such plays is tricky. Stage the work too soon and it can lose its focus and become overtly emotionally or politically aligned with a certain cause or side. Stage the work too late and the real immediacy and impact of a work will also be distorted. On the recent RTE documentary series From Stage to Street, Prof. Chris Morash made the point regarding the original staging of the Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre in February 1926: The Plough and the Stars was written and staged ten years after the 1916 Rising and still provoked near riots. It is the equivalent, Morash said, of a play being staged today depicting the firemen of New York in the aftermath of 9/11 acting in a drunken stupor and cavorting with prostitutes in brothels. This incredibly astute observation opens up debate on when indeed are we as a society and audience ready to engage with the fall out of such global events.

This also raises another question. What form, should this ‘Theatre of Protest’ take? Mary Raftery’s No Escape, produced as part of The Darkest Corner series, took the form of ‘verbatim’ or documentary theatre. This form is possibly the purest in content as it is the words, and solely the words, of a particular group or viewpoint, retold verbatim. It is a hugely powerful form of theatre and engages an audience with the primary source rather than news stories or political spin.

Staging works as world events are unfolding does allow a unique viewpoint. Theatres become agents of debate and information but perhaps this is inevitably to the detriment of artistic and dramatic thought and creativity. The normal processes of creativity involve the gestation of an idea, reaction to thought, a play is written, a theatre is found to stage it, an audience witnesses it and reaction begins. Creating a play in reaction to a particular crisis and watching it gel with its cast, see its form change and keep up with world events is a radical departure from the traditional.

Closer to home, can we pinpoint a specific new play or work staged professionally or otherwise in Ireland that adequately tackles the demise of Irish society in the crash of our economic sovereignty? There are few.  Fewer works look at the involvement of the Irish in international conflict situations, such as, international peace keeping missions for which they have been highly commended for decades. Works such as Colin Teevan’s How Many Miles to Basra and others that comprised the Bearing Witness series at the Abbey Theatre commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights in December 2008 are excellent and notable exceptions to the lack of debate, pushing the Abbey Theatre once more to the front of reaction to international conflict.

Love and  money at Project Arts Centre

Love and Money

Looking back on March 2008, The Project Arts Centre staged Dennis Kelly’s Love and Money which was a stylish and slick production that examined the high-capitalist, materialist classes emerging in London. At the very precipice of Irish and global financial crisis, the Project Arts Centre was critiquing and commenting on the very greed and fiscal incompetency that set forth to shatter our national sovereignty.

Internationally, works such as Black Watch by the Scottish National Theatre, produced at the 2008 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival and Tony Kushner’s Homebody read at the Abbey Theatre in March 2003 highlighted the impact and power these reactive works infused on their audiences. Conflict and immediate reaction to conflict has been relevant to the Irish stage and has been more than important and essential to understanding the global consequences of these actions.

Now, in North Africa and the Middle East, revolution has taken the form of Web 2.0.We have witnessed protests on stage. Is it now time for the crisis to be put on stage? This means engaging directly with the event and making a response relevant and which creates debate and understanding. If the highest role of theatre is citizenship then a new ‘Theatre of Crisis’ may be needed to match the experience of its audience. Theatre makers must keep up with the pace of this revolution. The thought, energy and emotions are palpable as the world looks on. If we keep looking without engaging, the real threat is that it can pass us by. The stakes are that high.

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From Stage to Street on RTE Radio

From Stage to Street

A new radio series on the history and controversies in Irish theatre is underway on RTE Radio 1. “From Stage to Street” airs on Saturdays, 7.30pm and is hosted by Colin Murphy.

The engaging series focuses on the times when what was happening on the Irish stage reverberated on the streets outside.

From the Playboy riots of 1907 to more recent controversies, the series takes a fresh look at key moments in Irish theatre. Why did Lady Gregory’s nephew lead a drunken chorus of ‘God Save Our King’ at the Abbey in 1907? And why, fifty years later, was Brendan Behan to be found leading a drunken chorus of ‘The Auld Triangle’ outside Dublin’s pocket theatre, the Pike? Was O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars an unpatriotic slur? Who was Anew McMaster?

Find out about the players and passions at stake in the most provocative moments in Irish theatre history, and recapture those moments with the aid of actors and archival gems.  The show presents archival material from various Irish institutions and theatres that has often never been viewed by the public, bringing to life some of the most riotous and turbulent moments seen on and off the Irish stage.
The show can be listened back to here: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/stagetostreet/ and you can view archive material, keep up to date and join in the conversation on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FromStageToStreet and Twitter http://twitter.com/#!/stagetostreet

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Culture, History, Theatre, Uncategorized

 

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Round up of news and events: 9 November 2010

  • Purpleheart theatre company, in association with the Focus theatre present the European premiere of Men of Tortuga at the Pembroke Street based Focus theatre. Written by Jason Wells. “Highly original and blisteringly relevant, Men of Tortuga exposes the barbarism encoded in corporate bureaucracy and is tailor-made for the age of terrorism, surveillance and corrupt global organizations”.

http://www.focustheatre.ie/?page_id=480 http://tiny.cc/vk1z7

 

  • Limerick’s refurbished Belltable theatre will reopen to the public with a performance of Anything but Love, written by Mary Coll. The play opens on 29 November. The winter and Spring season at the Belltable has many highlights including children’s Christmas tale The Fourth Wise Man presented by Johnny Hanrahan, Rabbit Hole written by David Lindsay-Abaire and presented by the Quarry Players and The Mai written by Marina Carr and presented by Changing Times theatre company. Download the new programme of upcoming events at the Belltable here.                        www.belltable.ie http://www.quarryplayers.ie/ http://www.changingtimestheatre.ie/

 

  • Following on from the success of Follow a Museum Day and Follow a Library Day on Twitter, November 12th is the next day to mark on your Twitter event calendar. Follow an Archive Day will be a useful imitative for archive services to promote their on line presence and forge links and relationships with new users and other organisations. For all you need to know on Follow an Archive Day go to http://www.archivesnext.com/?p=1699

 

  • Dublin’s Smock Alley theatre will host the new production by the young and interesting Company D theatre company.

    Company D's "Oedipus" at Smock Alley

    Their production of Oedipus at the stone walled and winding Boys School space at Smock Alley should be one to catch. With David Scott at the helm this company is always worth catching.   http://www.companyd.ie/ http://www.smockalley.com/theatre/

 

  • This past Saturday saw the “1916 and After” symposium held at the Moore Institute at NUI Galway and in conjunction with Trinity College, Dublin and Queens University, Belfast. A host of guest speakers include Brian O Conchubhair (University of Notre Dame) Mary Daly (University College Dublin) Nicholas Allen (NUI Galway) and Catriona Crowe of the National Archives of Ireland made the event a hugely engaging and successful commentary and assessment of the legacy of 1916, its causes and effects.

    1916 and After

    Two more symposiums will take place on Saturdays of 13th and 20th of November at Trinity College Dublin and Queens University Belfast respectively. Be sure not to miss.http://www.nuigalway.ie/mooreinstitute/site/view/773/

 

  • In Cork, a programme of Civic Events to Commemorate the 90TH Anniversary of the Deaths of Former Lord Mayors MacCurtain and McSwiney and of the Burning of Cork. For a programme of events see: http://corkheritage.ie/?page_id=348
  • Today sees the Theatre Forum Ireland-organised Open Space event hosted at NUI Galway Bailey Allen Hall. Theatre professionals from all over Ireland will meet to discuss the future for the performing arts. Though unfortunately could not make the event, Staged Reaction is anxiously awaiting feedback and will keep you posted. For more information see:   http://tiny.cc/b8l85

 

  • As Bank of Ireland’s sale of key works from Ireland’s artist heritage continues to stir controversy and comment, one of the featured artists, the modernist Louis le Brocquy will be paid homage at Dun Laoighre’s Pavillion theatre. Cold Dream Colour celebrates the life and work of this masterful artist in an evening of dance inspired
    by his paintings. Artistic Director, Morleigh Steinberg, brings together an international company of dancers and choreographers, including Liz Roche and Oguri, to create this new  production on the occasion of le Brocquy’s birthday. Original music by The Edge of U2 and Feltlike with Paul Chavez has been composed especially for the event. For more information see: http://tiny.cc/zqq86
  • John Boyne

    Ireland Literature Exchange in association with Culture Ireland, UNESCO City of Literature and the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon present a talk by novelist John Boyne as part of the ‘In Other Words’ series, which discusses translated Irish Literature in Irish libraries. Dublin City Public Library, ILAC Centre, D1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2010 in Archives, Culture, History

 

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Round up of the week’s news and events, 15 Oct 2010

Yet another busy week and here is a round-up of some goings on at home and abroad that came across the desk of Staged Reaction in the past week.

  • Two major exhibitions and archive events are taking place in Limerick. Photographs taken by Franz Sebastian Haselbeck, which went on display at the Museum Hunt include pictures of Home Rule meetings, farmers’ demonstrations and meetings of volunteers leading up to the War of Independence.
    In another ceremony in Limerick yesterday, the diaries and photographs of Cecil Mercier, a former manager at Ranks Mills for over 40 years were presented to the Limerick City Archives. Limerick City Archivist, Jacqui Hayes, said it was an important addition to the city archives because Ranks Mills had such an impact on the economic and social development of Limerick.  Read more: http://tinyurl.com/3xme87j

 

  • Corn Exchange Theatre Company are receiving sell out performances for their production of Freefall. Nothing new there you might rightly say. Well, these performances are in Mexico! Corn Exchange are taking part in the celebration of 200 years since Mexico’s independence and have set up residence in the city of Guanajuato. Reports so far from Corn Exchange say they are the first Irish company to perform in Mexico for forty years. Here is a video promo for Freefall. http://tinyurl.com/2wc4qm7 http://www.cornexchange.ie/index.php

 

  • This Saturday 16th October at 4pm the artist Gerard Mannix Flynn will give a talk about his work and practice at Dialogue Art Space, 43A Vyner Street, London E2 9DQ. Flynn’s talk will focus on the politics and culture of the ‘performance of inclusion’, a cause which he has championed through his art, his theatre and his work as a councillor. Always engaging and always powerful, Flynn commands his audience’s attention. http://tinyurl.com/35f5qwj

 

  • The Abbey Theatre will tour to New York early next year when Frank McGuinness’s John Gabriel Borkman will be staged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. 12 Jan – 6 Feb 2011. McGuinness’s version of the cautionary tale by Henrik Ibsen is proving a huge success as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival and is proving a huge point of interest for eager audiences at the Brooklyn Academy. http://tinyurl.com/2wyfvny

 

  • Next week is Research Week at NUI Galway. Numerous events are taking place to mark this new event to promote new digital research resources and research and archive collection held by the NUIG James Hardiman Library and Archives. ARAN and RIAN are programmes that allow access to research at NUI Galway and a single portal for national research containing resources from the seven Irish universities and DIT. A series of talks and seminars are planned to help you maximise your research across all disciplines.

             http://www.library.nuigalway.ie/support/supportforresearchers/researchweek/

  • Irish Museum of modern Art (IMMA) will launch a new exhibition marking the contribution and works of Irish modernist artists and explore the development of modernity in Ireland through the visual arts in the period 1900 to 1975. Professor Luke Gibbons will hold a lecture to mark this event next Tuesday 19th October at IMMA, Peripheral Visions: Rethinking Irish Modernism, which explores the transformations of visual culture in relation to Irish modernism and the Revival. http://www.modernart.ie/en/page_212281.htm

 

  • A letter to The Irish Times this week highlighted the plight of the former residents of the Bethany Houses who suffered in these homes and suffered in their lives outside the homes. Exempt, like the Magdalene’s, from the 2002 Redress Board, a new resurgent call for all complete archives and records of these institutions and people be made available to scrutiny and research.

             http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/letters/2010/1014/1224281062031.html

  • Finally, a national broadcaster has recently used a song as a backing track on a programme advertisement. The 1970 track, The Revolution will not be Televised by Gill Scott Heron is an aptly timed use of a powerful call to a people to stand up and be heard. An anthem certainly for our time and certainly worth a listen.
 

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Behan’s “The Quare Fellow” at the New Theatre

The Quare Fellow, Image courtesy of the New Theatre

In a letter to Ernest Blythe, Director of the Abbey Theatre on 18 May 1946, Behan explains the theme of his new play, The Quare Fellow, “Two men are condemned to death and waiting for the rope – I would send it but better not scare the Department of Justice before we have anything done. There is nothing political in it of course”

The Quare Fellow opened at the Pike theatre on 19 November 1954. Blythe would not take Behan’s play, perhapsin fear of  provoking, as Behan warned, ‘The Department’. It turned out quite obviously that The Abbey’s rejection became the Pike Theatre’s gain. The Pike opened on 15 September 1953 and paved the way for Behan to be  recognised in an international capacity as playwright with the first staging of The Quare Fellow.

The Quare Fellow, provisionally called Casadh Sugain Eile or ‘The Twisting of Another Rope’  was intended to be a homage to Douglas Hyde and his Irish language play Casadh an tSugain or ‘The Twisting of the Rope’. Behan believed a play in recognition to Hyde’s work in title would stand a chance of getting in at the Abbey Theatre. That particular plan would not end in success.

Today the play finds itself in the New Theatre, which by all accounts is as near to the original Pike Theatre in size and fabric as one could imagine. The play is based on the last hanging permitted in Ireland in Mountjoy of prisonor Bernard Kirwan. The title character of Behan’s prison drama is never seen on stage but holds a deity-like presence over the other prisoners. The day in the life of the prisoners is distorted with the overhanging (no pun intended) death and the tense and overwrought expression of punishment through execution. The cast finds itself halved in numbers from the original twenty-eight, but the stage is far from empty and loses little of its intended image of cramped prison life.

Behan’s snappy, dark and at times often-humorous dialogue is handled and delivered well through a capable cast with fine performances turned in particularly from PJ Brady, Conor O’Riordan and the deadpan Luke Hayden whose warder Regan represents the humanist Christian element in the play. The Warder has overseen hanging after hanging and is stoical in his expressions and opinions on the sentence of death for a prisoner.

 Jer O’Leary’s rendition of the Auld Triangle tingles and amazes every audience member cramped into a full New Theatre. What should be revised for future production is the rather pointless interval that disrupts the flow of time, tension and intimacy leading up the eventual death of the Quare Fellow.

In 1954, the columnist for the Evening Press described viewing the first performance of The Quare Fellow, “When he (Behan) finds himself technically the Irish theatre will have another, and I believe, greater O’Casey”. The Irish Times wrote, “One of the positive qualities – and there are many – of Mr. Behan’s work is its power of provoking thought. Like a modern novel, it rounds off neither character nor situation but passes the buck, as it were, to the customer”.

Behan’s plays are O’Casey-esque in their sharp critique of idealism. The rejection by the Abbey was often been said to be for this very reason and also owing to its likeness to the modernist works of Beckett and Ionesco. The ‘idealism’ of serving in an Irish prison to that of a British prison where ‘hard time’ was as pleasurable as it sounded is also explored. Dunlavin, the elderly lag, experiences both in his time as a career prisoner:  “I smoked my way half-way through the book of Genesis and three inches of my mattress. When the Free State came in we were afraid of our life that they were going to change our mattresses for feather beds….but thanks be to God, the Free State didn’t change anythin’ more than the badges on the warders cap’.”

On the opening night of the play at the packed Pike theatre, Behan addressed the audience and said “I didn’t write this play, the lags wrote it”. The stage of the New Theatre mirrors in so many ways the original production in the intimate and miniscule Pike theatre. The stage though restricted in physical size is enlarged by Mark Wheatly’s inventive design which creates a space for the lags that seems to expand beyond the prison walls to the realms of their past experiences and imagination. This helped to bring out one of the play’s themes: The attempt by prisoners to create in words a sense of spaciousness and open possibility that is openly denied them in their daily routine.

As with all good theatre, which this undoubtedly is, its connection to the present time makes it all the more accessible and relevant as a production and to an audience. The last hanging in Ireland on 20 April 1954 added to the public reception of the play’s original production and its anti-hanging propaganda. Behan, who stated that this work was written for and by other inmates, created a damning critique of capital punishment and general observations on Irish prison sentences. This past week we witnessed one of the largest media frenzies regarding the release of a prisoner in Ireland. Larry Murphy served just ten and a half years of a fifteen year sentence for a brutal and horrific sexual assault. The case is but one example of many of late where the Irish prison and sentencing system failed in its duty to protect its citizens. In 1954, as the Pike stage belonged to Behan, Irish prisons were being critiqued and examined. The failure to prisoners, the failures to the public and the failures to the State were at critical levels then in 1954. Over a half century later, obvious failures still exist in our prison system. This is a powerful and evocative production of a highly charged and emotive piece that has for too long been absent from the Irish stage.

At the New Theatre until 4 September 2010.

http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/home.php

 

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New archival resource guide for Smock Alley Theatre

A new research guide has been published on-line detailing an extensive catalogue of archival and reference sources for the exceptional Smock Alley theatre in Dublin’s historic Templebar. The guide comes as a new website has been launched specifically for Smock Alley. Prior to this, Smock Alley was placed only within the Gaiety School of Acting’s website. The Gaiety School, under the direction of Patrick Sutton and management of Niamh Byrne retains ownership and management of the spaces and buildings of Smock Alley.

Opened in 1662 by the Scottish John Ogilvy, Smock Alley is one of the oldest theatres of it’s kind in Europe. It is celebrated as one of the great English language and post-Restoration theatres and flourished in the late 17th century. Within its management, designers and repertoire of actors it can boast Thomas Sheridan, Colley Cibber, Peg Woffington, Spranger Barry, Louis de Val, Charles Macklin, Richard Brinsley-Sheridan and many others.

Smock Alley grew and developed its own very rich reputation as a place of immense spectacles, colourful performances and rich history. The building, more recently known as SS Michael and John’s church, has been completely redeveloped and a full archaeological examination has unearthed original structures, walls and vaults. Smock Alley has now been restored to much of its former glory and mystic but even more exciting developments lie ahead. It is envisioned to reinstate the main auditorium to fit the design of the original Smock Alley theatre while also maintaining the black-box studio space and utilize the amazing spaces of the Boys and Girls School adjacent.

Smock Alley is running full time as one of the most exciting and challenging theatre spaces in Dublin. It is a cultural asset beyond measure in value and provides an experience for actor, director, designer and audience member that they will long struggle to forget. A recent production, Knives in Hens, by Landmark productions is one such production that will live long in the memory for those lucky enough to see this powerful and striking production. Smock Alley regularly stages works and participated in various festivals and city-wide cultural events.

Scene from “Knives in Hens” by Landmark productions at Smock Alley.

The guide to the archival sources for Smock Alley is an extremely beneficial tool to any researcher of Irish theatre or social and urban history of Dublin. The guide contains a detailed written history of Smock Alley, a listing and archive/library call numbers of plays and play texts that were produced by the numerous playwrights of Smock Alley, original posters from Smock Alley productions, newspapers which carried coverage and reports and general text and reference books on Smock Alley and on Irish and international theatre of the period. The guide can be downloaded in full from the Smock Alley website along with the full archaeological report and media and press coverage.

http://smockalley.com/theatre/

www.gaietyschool.com

 

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Examining the Project Arts Centre Archive

The Irish history blog, Pue’s Occurences, has published an article detailing the history and archive of the Project Arts Centre. The article discusses the processes of archiving a performance and artistic archive and its value to Irish cultural history. 

http://puesoccurrences.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/building-an-archive-the-project-arts-centre/

The Project Arts Centre is one of Ireland’s most important and contemporary arts venues in Ireland and has been so since its insception in 1966 and continues to promote and develope new and emerging Irish artists, playwrights, actors and dancers. The archive is a vital addition to the documented heritage of Irish culture and is  housed in the Manuscripts Department of the National Library of Ireland.

Full details on the archive are available via the article on Pue’s Occurances and via the National Library of Ireland.

 

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