A NEW era at An Taibhdhearc was formally unveiled at a reception on Monday, ushering in new artistic director, Anne McCabe, and disclosing details of this year's programme.
The line-up boasts a heady array of drama, readings, dance, music, storytelling, workshops, and exhibitions to cater for all tastes from those with just a cupla focal to fluent Gaelgoirs.
At the helm of the enterprise is Anne McCabe who has decades of experience in the media and has won much acclaim as both a novelist and TV director, with her credits including the likes of Fair City, Glenroe, and Ros na Run. She made her initial bow with An Taibhdhearc during last year’s Galway Arts Festival when she directed the production of Tom Murphy’s An Tioranach Drogallach (Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant). It was that experience that prompted her take on the challenge of the artistic directorship, as she tells me over a morning phone call.
“It was total serendipity getting the job,” she begins. “I directed the Tom Murphy play last summer and absolutely loved it, it was like going back to my roots because I had done a lot of directing when I was in college. Then I heard from one of the board members that the artistic director job was available and I immediately thought ‘Ohh! I’d like that!’ It was like a big penny-dropping moment.”
Originally from Dublin, McCabe moved west when Telefis na Gaeilge was established, where she was employed as a commissioning editor and initiated the long-running series Ros na Run.
Her screen credits also include co-writing the scripts of Jack Taylor, the TV3 crime thrillers based on Ken Bruen’s novels, and two years ago she published her own novel, Under the Avalanche. So what is her vision for An Taibhdhearc as she takes up the directorial reins?
“I see this as the beginning of a new era for an Taibhdhearc after the theatre had been closed for five years,” she declares. “I see this as an exciting time for the theatre to bring it and its traditions forward into the future.
“Our primary mission is to produce Irish language drama and our secondary mission is to fill the theatre and keep it open which means it will be available for hire so we have a range of genres, from music, to comedy, to entertainment, ballet and literature.
“Our budget only lets us do about three Taibhdhearc productions per year. Our first show will be on during in early March during Seacthain na Gaeilge and is aimed at secondary students and is a series of sketches based on the oral Irish exams, Pictiur A la Cheart, it will be fast, furious, funny and entertaining. There will be a couple of stars from Ros na Run in it.
“After its run here it will go on tour, taking in venues from Moate to Belmullet. I think it’s a show that will appeal to audiences beyond just students, it’s a bit of craic.
“Our major production for the year is the co-production with Moonfish Theatre Company of Jospeh O’Connor’s Star of the Sea which will go on during the arts festival.
“Then next year we will be marking the Walter Macken centenary. The message I want to get out there is that An Taibhdhearc is open to everyone, regardless of whether you have Irish or not. Our plays will have surtitles or else be bilingual to make them accessible to everybody.”
Playwright Tom Murphy has agreed to be An Taibhdearc’s official patron and he has a keen interest in its work, as McCabe reveals.
“He loved what we did with Reluctant Tyrant last summer,” she says. “He came down to see the final night of the show and he said it was one of the warmest experiences of his life. He is very supportive of Irish language, though he confesses he is a little bit rusty himself.
“He adds a sense of importance and stature to the theatre. He said he would love to be looking at the work of Padraic O’Conaire, something like Deoraiocht with its themes of exile and sex which are in Tom’s own plays. I haven’t got around to asking him yet whether he would adapt it himself though!”
McCabe is also very keen to unearth new voices for An Taibhdhearc stage.
“I see it as part of our mission to look for new Irish writers,” she asserts. “When I started Ros na Run we had to find new writers for television and now there is a whole bunch of them so I am going to try to attract some of them back into writing for the stage. We’ll have a competition and a series of workshops in the autumn to assist that process.”
She is also intent on bringing an international dimension to the company’s profile.
“I am going to New York to speak to the Irish consulate at a business breakfast in March,” she says. “I really think An Taibhdhearc has to reach abroad and my ambition would be to bring a play to New York within three years, there is a lot of respect for the Irish language abroad and we are already in talks about that.”
It seems that exciting times are ahead for Galway’s oldest theatre. And Anne’s final words? “The doors are open, fáilte isteach!”
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