Category: Archive

Origin has hit with 1st Irish Festival

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

“Then, when I came back in 2004 and was looking around, I discovered Origin was doing the sorts of theatre I had just seen in Ireland,” she said.
Soon after her arrival back in New York, she met Origin Theatre Company founder and artistic director George C. Heslin at an Irish event. He asked her to help out.
Nowadays, Farrelly is chair of the volunteer board of directors that has put together the second annual 1st Irish Theater Festival, which has begun its five-week run.
“I didn’t think it would take off quite so fast,” Heslin said. The 2008 festival had an impressive 86 percent capacity over three weeks. Origin would be happy if that figure was matched in this year’s expanded version, which showcases 21 productions at 12 venues.
Origin’s own mission is to introduce the work of emerging European playwrights to New York audiences. In its other role as host of the 1st Irish Festival, it has brought over three theater companies from Ireland this fall — Fishamble, Wexford Arts Centre and Making Strange.
Although the emphasis is on the new, some very well known literary figures — notably Sebastian Barry, Billy Roche, Dermot Bolger and Conor McPherson – are also featured.
Heslin got 43 applications from Irish companies for this year’s festival.
“We had to up the vetting process in terms of quality,” he said. “We wanted plays that we thought would be interesting to New York audiences.”
In turn, Origin used all its expertise to ensure that the Irish sojourners wouldn’t be playing to nearly empty venues.
“We can offer a full marketing structure,” Farrelly said.
The company’s work on visas and its negotiation with area unions have made it possible for overseas actors to work here. Indeed 1st Irish is just one of five East Coast festivals that has made such a deal with unions.
“The companies are creatively autonomous in terms of what they do they do, but when it comes to the actual mechanics, we provide an awful lot because we know what it takes to fill a theater,” Farrelly said.
Origin believes that 1st Irish should showcase work from all over the island.
“We want to make sure that were not just getting companies from Dublin, that we’re not just getting writers from the Republic,” she said.
Works by three Northern Ireland playwrights — Lucy Caldwell, Rosalind Haslett and Rosemary Jenkinson — have been combined with those of Geraldine Aron and Belinda McKeon, both originally from the Republic, for an Origin production called “The Spinning Times.” Their short plays were inspired by stories the five women read in New York’s newspapers.
“George seems to have an eye for new and innovative playwrights,” said Norman Houston, director of the Northern Ireland Bureau, one of the festival’s main sponsors. “And that gives us a platform to promote all young playwrights.”
Houston added: “The Irish government has been very successful in using culture as a tool to encourage tourism and investment.” He said that that kind of “soft diplomacy” could also help the Northern Ireland economy
In terms of New York companies that produce 52 weeks a year, Heslin’s strategy is to ask them to consider staging an Irish play to coincide with the festival. So, for example the Mint Theater, which specializes in the work of almost forgotten playwrights, began its run of Lennox Robinson’s “Is Life Worth Living?” on Aug. 18.
The Origin-run festival also brings Glucksman Ireland House, the Irish Repertory Theatre and the Irish Arts Center under one umbrella for a few weeks.
For the rest of the year, Origin differs from those institutions in its mission.
“Irish playwrights are looking for their voices to be heard beyond Ireland,” said Limerick City native Heslin.
It helps that Origin also produces drama from England, Scotland, Wales and various parts of Continental Europe. “They [Irish playwrights] are inspired by competing with the best in terms of playwriting,” he said.
Despite that diversity, the board is mainly Irish-born; the others, like the Pennsylvanian Farrelly, are Irish American.
“The board is very hands on,” she said.
“We made sure we had a variety of skill sets,” Heslin said, adding that most members are female and younger than 45.
“It’s important for the board to reflect the kind of dynamism and energy of the writers we’re producing,” the artistic director said.

For more information go to www.1stirish.com.

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