Friday, December 4, 2015

Abbey Theatre Board and Senator Mac Conghail working to become irrelevant

This is a rant of sorts, with little substance because I simply don't understand.
And since I consider myself  an incredibly average person in every way, I presume I'm not alone. What is Senator Mac Conghail and the Abbey Board at ?
Let's look  at where the voices of women playwrights currently stand, a mere 5 weeks after the disaster that is called #WakeTheNation , Senator Mac Conghail's programme for The Abbey Theatre in 2016.
Well, a lot has changed. The most crucial change has happened within the hearts of female Theatre partitioners. It has changed quickly as was warranted. And it is spreading across the Arts.
But lets look at number 2 and 3 on the Theatre funding scale. Theatres that get less than a sixth of the funding of our National Theatre; The Gate and Druid ( remember The Abbey gets 6.2 million euro.)
Well,  as per Waking The Feminists posting on their FB page both companies are engaged. To what extent we don't know yet . Certainly Garry Hynes has been out front in calling into question her own company and supporting WTF. And it will be interesting to see the numbers from Druid, as I suspect they may be horrendous regarding female playwrights , and indeed female directors other than herself. But Ms Hynes seems to have a fire in her belly , and that bodes well for us all. Because Ms Hynes reach is long.The statement from the board is also wonderfully encouraging. They seem eager for action , and critically , engagement with WTF. The West may be awake. I predict a wonderful out come. ( disclosure ; Ms Hynes is a friend, although we have not discussed WTF or any issues in this past 5 weeks. Nor have I worked with her in over 15 yrs, maybe longer. Sadly. )
This means we should all buy tkts for Druid productions! And encourage our friends .... once we see what their actions are.
We are also notified that there is a meeting with Mr Colgan from the Gate. This is also fantastic news, although WTF haven't said anything about the board there and I haven't read any statement from The Gate. But after his disastrous performance on the Finucane radio show, his immediate response to WTF for a meeting is admirable. My fantasy is that the #Gate6 are  wearing WTF badges around the hallowed corridors of The Gate. The Statement reads that WTF is meeting Mr Colgan, I presume he will have some of the #Gate6, perhaps all, with him. He certainly spoke as if they were decision makers in the Theatre, so it would be very odd for him to be meeting WTF on his own. I'm sure that's not what is happening, it's probably just incorrect wording on behalf of WTF. I hope. He wouldn't be that silly.  Surely.
So applause for number 2 and 3 !!  And I apologise to using numbers, it  only signifies position on funding.
 By the way , could they release their numbers of female playwrights over the last 15 years? Female directors? Could they release number of plays commissioned etc ? And later for another date, could we also be told how much a commission is etc ? I read an incredible figure for an Abbey commission, that    must be surely incorrect. ( the process of commissioning must also obviously be opened for viewing so discussion with our National theatre can be held)
And word is also filtering through that the other beneficiaries of tax payer's money, i.e. smaller companies, are also in planning stages of action. I believe they may be waiting, although I would suggest them leading. and gaining the plaudits for being out in front with their actions.
Because thats what it's all about, action.
Which brings us back to the Abbey. And Senator Mac Conghail.
The WTF statement reads that they are waiting to here about a meeting date? Why?
Yes , the Abbey responded quickly ( after the vacation silence)  opening the doors for WTF to meet. Yes, Senator Mac Conghail read a statement from himself and the board. We all thought , Hurrah! He's back from his vacation, that was obviously distraction free, and is rested, ready to engage. But no. Lets think about it. There really wasn't an engagement. He listened (  and I do recall one board member passionately speaking from the floor  ) and then read a prepared statement. A statement made before he listened to the voices from the stage. And now he hasn't made himself available for a meeting? really? Engagement ? I don't think so.
So whats going on? Well obviously I have no idea, I'll just have to speculate. Maybe he is working at his other job. Which I also find bizarre. Do you? The head of our National Theatre is also a Senator. Is the head of our National Theatre not a full time job? The Board must think so , at least now, as they have hired two people to do the job. Two people to do the job one person didn't need to do full time. That also seems very odd.  I presume  the board gave the ok for Senator Mac Conghail to take up his political appointment. Do they think the head of our National Theatre was not a full time job? And if they did think that, what does that say about their engagement in our National Theatre?  And why do they now think two are needed? ( I wish the incoming men the best, they come highly regarded)
Why did the Board approve the 2016 programme ? I presume they approved it. If they  now think it's wrong , have they asked for it to be changed? If they haven't , why not?  Do they support it? And if they do, should they be asked to resign? Why is #WakeTheNation not changed? The largest beneficiary of Arts Council money has offered up a shameful programme, the dogs on the street know that (I'm sure all involved will be wonderful at what is presentedby the way, but the programme is a disaster) but we are supposed to say "ah, it's grand". No its not! And since this disastrous programme by Senator Mac Conghaile is funded by our Govt, why has our Minister not been involved in any way? The Arts Council? Does anyone have oversight on anything?
 Mr O'Toole's article in the IT a number of weeks ago suggests that money was acquired for the Abbey in an unusual manner for the 2016 programme. Is that grand, Minister? Or is 500k no big deal? It is to a female playwright. Or a director, designer, actor, stage manager. An audience member.
So we have a Senator who created the programme, went on vacation and is now, what we Yanks would call, a sitting duck director. What's happening with our two new men I wonder. Are they engaged and with whom ?
Is the Senator readying to become a full time Senator , has he already left the building? Does he not care? is that it? Rather like my RC  confessions of old , has he mumbled his quick penance and gleefully kicked on with his life? Or am I wrong , and has the meeting with WTF not taken place because he is working day and night to announce the changes in #WakeTheNation. Is he in Scotland working with the two men waiting to take over his part time job? I guess we'll see.
And the Board, after making a brief statement to work with the Senator and the two incoming directors , whats happening ? Will we get a "it's very near Christmas" statement. Or a "we'll tackle it in the New Year "? . You were able to jump with the Senator when the heat was on a number of weeks ago. When passions were boiling. When 600 women were demanding simple equality. To quote a man who goes to sleep at night in a onesey ,with teddy bears and has a fondness of rubber ducks , " we haven't gone away you know" ( you have got to follow Gerry Adams on twitter ! ).
I am sure its difficult to organize so many board members , and a busy Senator. But here's the kicker, it's your job ( yes I know the board aren't paid) But being a board member carries a weight, a responsibility.
Being a Senator carries a responsibility. Being Director  of the Abbey carries a responsibility. Being incoming Directors of the Abbey carries a responsibility.  A responsibility first and foremost to the people of Ireland. WHO ARE 51% FEMALE. And to the artists who create for the stage.
And those who do not act immediately to this crisis in the Arts world should be called out. Of course it's not just the Abbey, or Theatre . It may be worse in TV and Film.  I call on the people who were at the Abbey, who supported WTF , indeed WTF themselves to not let up.  I call on them to demand a new programme. It turns out the Nation is Awake. The worry is the #AbbeyStillSleeps
If the Abbey Theatre and the Senator start playing with calendars , or using excuses about changing regimes to delay immediate action, I suggest stronger protests should start.  Much stronger.
Once again I applaud Druid and The Gate . I look forward to their concrete proposals before Christmas.  And Theatre workers and audiences members endorsing them with full theatres. A perfect Christmas gift .
We are all in this together. I hope.


4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the wise words Brian. Having just been in the audience for a recent theatre piece in Limerick called Separation by a local company called Wildebeest about the role the city's women had in 1916, seems like the time has never been more prescient for an inclusive, equitable and I dare say 'national' national theatre. The stage is set.

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  2. Hey Liam , Thank you for reading the post and taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it. The odd thing about these few posts I've made , despite being viewed over 7k times there are only a few comments. I wonder why.
    Thanks for highlighting the Limerick production, seems like they're more enlightened Shannonside !
    best to you
    Brían

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  3. Cheers Brían.

    I get the feeling some people are very careful over here when engaging in any kind of discussion of the industry. As you well know, it's such a small community in Ireland and I suppose I understand some people's fears of being perceived as being critical of any potential future employer - especially when the field of opportunity is limited to begin with.

    But I do remember an interview Aaron Monaghan had in the Times where the headline was something like "If you can't be honest then nothing will change". I think that stayed with me for good or bad, but I think what's been so positive about the WTF movement is that when you are speaking unified as a singular voice, you can't get singled out.

    The reality is though any national institution that receives the lion's share of our woefully under funded arts infrastructure will get scrutiny, and I think debate and opinion are not only far from being critical, but actually being responsible. Especially seeing as we the tax payer fund them. I've still ambitions to someday work in the Abbey or Gate or Druid instead of largely in the UK or Europe where I've worked more, and I'd hope engaging in intelligent questioning of any policy wouldn't negate that possibility as much as my perhaps dubious talent! So to thine ownself be true and all that jazz.

    While I have you, I must thank you for a production I saw as a mite in '95. It was my first time at the Gate - on a break from my first lil bit of tv - and I was brought to Sharon's Grave. I believe you played Neelis? And I think it was also the first time I saw Pat Kinevane on stage. Mark O'Regan strapped to his back. And possibly Catherine Byrne. Was quite mesmerised and it stayed with me, and provided a real taste of what the professional theatre had awaiting while dipping the toe in the other medium. Was three years before I worked in the professional theatre with Limerick's Island, who sadly like the other 15 or so companies were a casualty of the cut backs during recession. But that'd be another rant...

    So thanks for that, your response and may I wish you continued success over yonder!

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  4. Have you ever thought to share or at least store your ideas and articles in secure virtual data room ? It might be a good idea.

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