By Olivia Tracey
Irish spring has newly sprung in Hollywood, with Celtic culture bursting forth like a freshly grown field of daffodils. The Celtic Arts Center, the West Coast sibling to the New York Irish Arts Center, has found a new home on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, complete with, surprise, its own little pub.
Of course, the pub is merely incidental, a social facility that also happens to enhance the center’s Celtic brew. Above all, the center is a theater, but a theater with plans to teach as well as entertain. Its aims are to reestablish an awareness of the artistic expression of all Celtic people, from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall to The Isle of Man, Brittany and Gallicia in Northern Spain. In fact, the center is already realizing its dream with a generous schedule of classes, including Irish language, arts and crafts, calligraphy, tin whistle, ballads, ceili and Highland dance, and, not surprisingly, voice and acting workshops. Also on the cards is the opportunity to explore Celtic history, mythology and spirituality, and the Monday night music "seisiuns" are undoubtedly a weekly treat, not to mention the monthly Celtic Concert Series. There is also the exciting possibility of a charter school, offering a wide-open curriculum to students from kindergarten to high school, not to mention evening adult education classes.
The theater company itself is entitled "An Claidheamh Soluis" (pronounced "Un-Clive-Sullish and meaning "The Sword of Light"), and is a membership-based group with 120 annual dues-paying members. Participation as either a performer, teacher or board-member is on a voluntary basis, fueled by a passion for their respective subjects. The company originally operated from the nearby Raven Theater, under the executive directorship of Sean Fallon Walsh, who, sadly, passed away last year. However, his love of all things Irish certainly lives on in the newly elected board, which includes, among others, Tim Owen as president and Thom MacNamara as stiurthoir, or executive director. Patrons and sponsors are of course always welcome, and all contributions can be sent to Thom MacNamara, An Claidheamh Soluis, The Celtic Arts Center, 4843 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Studio City, CA 91607-3747.
They are currently looking at several plays for their first season and plan to embrace new writing as well as tipping the hat to veterans of the past. The summer season kicks off on June 2 with a six-week run of Don Creedon’s hit comedy "Celtic Tiger Me Arse." Also coming up are a series of one-acts, including a one-man musical show in the form of an epic poem, written and performed by Mick Lynch, while the more immediate future brings us "A Tribute to the 1916 Rising," April 21 and 22 at 8 p.m. All submissions from actors and writers should be sent to the above address to the attention of director Barry Lynch, a talented Brooklynite of Connemara and Derry ancestry. For further information, call The Celtic Hotline at (818) 752-3488 or visit their website at www.celticartscenter.com.
While the business of stage is treading the boards nicely, the big screen is also looming large in the home country, according to Sile de Valera, T.D., and the Screen Commission of Ireland’s chief executive, Roger Greene. The Screen Commission recently paid their annual visit to Los Angeles, and although the event was well doused with a California spring downpour, it certainly didn’t dampen the sunny spirits of the gathering at Spago Beverly Hills. All were in fine fettle indeed. De Valera announced a strategy of action rather than reaction for the next 10 years of Irish filmmaking, along with full government support and the extension of Section 481 (formerly Section 35).
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Greene focussed on their target to increase four-fold film production in Ireland, clearly announcing to the producers in the room, "We want your business.’" He also celebrated the busy film schedule back home, with Ardmore Studios near capacity until the end of June.
Irish-Canadian producer Scott Kennedy of Highwire Entertainment Inc. spoke confidently about a June shoot in Ireland of "The Toymaker," followed by a fall shooting of "Rebecca’s Room," co-produced by Tristan Orpen Lynch of Sobotica Films and written by Tony Philpott, an Irish-Canadian writer living between Canada and Ireland. Philpott also wrote "On the Nose," shot in Ireland last year with Brenda Blethyn, Robbie Coltrane and Dan Aykroyd.
Scots writer Paul Pender was equally excited about his script, "Evelyn," which is set for a fall 2002 shoot in Dublin with no less than Oscar-winning director Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy" and "Double Jeopardy") and Pierce Brosnan’s Irish Dreamtime Productions, the 007 hero in the lead. This time Brosnan will be stepping out of his glitzy bondage to play struggling Dublin father, Desmond Doyle, which seems appropriate as the dashing movie star had to miss the Screen Commission gathering, where he was to be the special guest, to become a father to his new baby son, who was born that night. As Greene put it, "babies have no respect for punctuality."
Nonetheless we had quite a few familiar faces in the room, including Patrick Bergin, Brian Dennehy, composer Patrick Cassidy and his brother Frank, talented writers Kyle Fitzharris and Audrey Arkins, and actors Tim Murphy, Kevin Kearns, Chris Byrne, Donal O’Sullivan, Geraldine Hughes, Jennifer Lamar (whose boyfriend, budding star Gerard Butler was in Ireland shooting "Reign of Fire"), and Blue McDonnell, who was tickled to have been nominated to appear in a book on Irish immigrants worldwide entitled "Shoot the Scattering." No doubt the author was captured by the pretty redhead’s unique career move from truck driver to actress.
Also, there was The Irish Screen’s Paul Balbirnie, assistant director Andrew Ward, The Irish Film Board’s Kevin Moriarty and Andrew Lowe and The Irish Tourist Board’s Tom Heneghan. Last but not least was the joyful opportunity to reconnect with my RTE colleague, news reporter Colm Connolly, over specially for the occasion, not to mention the welcome return to L.A. of the gorgeous Dee Murphy (daughter of my other RTE colleague Mike Murphy). Yet again, another great PR job by Maggie Begley and her associate, Laurane Sheehan.