The grey skies and drizzle that greeted the opening of 35th Galway Arts Festival did nothing to dampen the good spirits of those who attended the Radisson Hotel on Monday evening to mark the occasion.
Speaking of good spirits, the assembled guests were treated to complimentary drinks from festival sponsor Absolut Vodka, which went down the proverbial treat. As did the music supplied by the wonderful West Cork Ukulele Orchestra, who delighted the audience with their distinctive versions of pop classics by everyone from The Beach Boys to The Cure to Talking Heads.
Among those enjoying the opening party were artist David Mach whose spectacular exhibition Precious Light opened on Sunday at the Absolut Festival Gallery and playwright Julian Gough whose play The Great Goat Bubble opened later that night at Druid Theatre. The play’s director Mikel Murfi and actors Wil Johnson (from Cracker ) and Ciarán O’Brien popped into the party to wish the festival well before returning to the stage at Druid.
Also present were the cast and crew from Chicago’s Northlight Theatre, including director BJ Jones and producer Tim Evans, who had arrived in Galway over the weekend and were catching up with old theatre friends who have travelled from all over America for the opening of The Outgoing Tide.
The National Theatre of Scotland had just arrived from a hugely successful tour of North America with The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart. NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone, who is soon to depart for London’s Royal Court, was delighted to be back in Galway for the opening.
Musicians Daniel Figgis and Jack L, artists Brian Maguire, Joe Comerford, and Jennifer Cunningham, and the new director of the Arts Council Orlaith McBride also attended alongside a number of international festival directors visiting the festival.
Commencing the opening speeches, Galway Arts Festival artistic director, Paul Fahy declared:
“This day has always been one of my favourite days of the year, a day when artists from all over the world arrive in Galway to join forces with Irish artists as we offer to you, our audience, what we believe is our most exciting programme in the 35-year history of the festival. I love seeing the roof of the Festival Big Top appear on the skyline of the city and it such a great visual statement that the festival is about to begin.”
Festival chief executive John Crumlish commented: “The festival programme in 2012 is one of our most ambitious yet and we are projecting an attendance figure of 170,000 approximately.
“The economic impact on the local economy in 2011 was €17.5 million and we would hope to build on this figure in 2012. There are 160 shows, exhibitions and talks in 27 venues over 14 days from July 16 to 29 and we believe there is something in this programme for everyone to enjoy.
“Our job is to create two weeks of a holiday in July and you don’t have to leave the parish. It’s a holiday in your own head in which we hope that you hear things, see things on stages, on screens, on walls, on streets and you go home much better for the experience.”
Galway’s new mayor Terry O’Flaherty entertained everyone with the story of how her mother, the late councillor Bridie O’Flaherty, had, somewhat unwittingly, set the arts festival on the road to success when her protests at the nudity of an Els Comediants play in 1986, immediately triggered a feverish demand for tickets and ensured full houses for the entire run.
The opening proper was officially performed by Northlight’s John Mahoney and Rondi Reed, both of whom fondly recalled their prior visits to the arts festival and expressed their immense enthusiasm and affection for the event.
John Mahoney commented: “Whenever I do a new play, I don’t wish for a Broadway transfer, I wish for an invitation to take it to Galway Arts Festival. I have been fortunate to participate five times in the festival over the years, and the joy never palls. Galway is such a beautiful city and to be there during the arts festival is sheer magic.”
With the speeches concluded one and all ventured forth to revel in that special brand of arts festival magic.