Posts Tagged ‘ireland’

Regional theatre and new writing are inextricably linked. Compare for a minute that sort of theatre you see in London’s West End, to the theatre you see in Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and even Hull and Scarborough, these places boast some of Britain’s best contemporary playwrights: Alan Bennett, Alan Aykborne, John Godber. Would the work of these men have seen the light of day on a West End stage? What producer is willing to take that risk!? Regional theatre offers new writers an important opportunity to shine, and therefore holds a key position in discovering and developing the talent of tomorrow.

So. Ireland. I’ve ranted before about the lack of performance infrastructure, but there’s more to say. Where are the development plans for regional theatre? Where are the theatre in education departments? Do they exist at all!? Take my local theatre, The Hawkswell Theatre in Sligo. Last September the position for Director came up, I applied, having enough ‘senior management experience’ and skill to meet the requirement, obviously I didn’t get it (Arts in Ireland are very nepatistic) less than six months later it came up again. In my letter I mentioned briefly that audiences can be developed through building active relationships with schools and other institutions educational and social. I briefly outlined the benefits of working with third level institutions both in terms of reaching new audiences but also in presenting material. There is NO money and very little benefit in theatres operating purely as receiving houses in the regions, they just don’t create the community buzz that producing houses do. A perfect example of this is Druid Theatre in Galway an organisation that not only the city is proud of, but the country; They have an international reputation. Of course Druid is entirely producing, but Sligo needs a theatre that people can get excited about, theatre that attracts the student population, and producing in-house productions in association with Sligo IT, offers a real opportunity to generate income and develop links with education. Is this too progressive? It’s difficult to get people to think out of the box… particularly in the regions. Why is that? Is it all about empire building? Key players enjoy the control they have over organisations, they don’t want to relinquish their control and so any newcomer that has a good idea is an immediate threat. I really wish this wasn’t true, but it is, and when I was a teenager it was the reason I was so keen to get out of amateur theatre -apply a business model and flat corporate structure and like alchemy, theatre becomes a lot more creative and communication flows a lot easier.

Regional Theatres need to work together strategically, and on a more local level arts organisations need to collaberate more, create clash diaries, share marketing and where possible resources. Theatre in the regions will never be the money spinner that it is in the West End (no appropriate Irish equivalent) but it can become more economically self sufficient, more robust and most importantly, it can revitalise tired communities, generate income through cultural tourism and create employment. Win win.

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I once attended a meeting with a number of regional arts practitioners in the UK, I remember one lady saying ‘we need to move away from our preoccupation with infrastructure’, that’s all well and good, but first of all you need to have the infrastructure to move away from. A theatre isn’t just a place to perform, it’s a cultural focus point, a point of contact between artists and the community in which they work and live.

Despite having a culture of culture, Ireland has a distinct lack of performing arts infrastructure. Aside from the recently built Grand Canal Theatre, there are few venues in Ireland that can accommodate large scale productions. Even the two big producing houses in Dublin (The Abbey and The Gate) are tired venues, in desperate need of a complete technical update. So out of the five big theatres in Dublin only the Grand Canal Theatre offers a great deal of potential to producers of large scale theatre. If Ireland is to compete with Britain in terms of cultural tourism, then a great deal of investment needs to be put in to building new venues and redeveloping existing venues across the country. I was very surprised to discover that even Galway doesn’t have a large theatre with a fly tower and large amounts of wing space.

The last tourism and culture minister said that Ireland needs a ‘broadway’… I’d like to contradict that, Ireland needs a ‘West End’. But further than that it needs infrastructure in the regions, major theatres in every gateway city in the country. Investment into the cultural economy pays dividends not only in money generated by tourism, but in the community enrichment that happens as a direct result of culture and creativity. The world knows that Ireland is culturally rich, isn’t it time that the full potential of this was realised?