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The Abbey Theatre – Part 2 by Michael Clemenger

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Michael Clemenger

Michael Clemenger

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In 2015 somebody came up with the bright idea that maybe rescue of the Abbey Theatre could come from outside the state.

But it was also recognised that the task could prove too difficult for just one person. Thus burst on the Irish scene two artistic directors from Scotland, Mr Graham Mc Laren and Mr Neil Murray. They took up their appointment as co-artistic directors of the Abbey Theatre in Jan 2017. For this playwright there was a deep anxiety about how they could fulfil the noble aspirations of Yeats and Lady Gregory. Many in the Abbey fraternity were also on tender hooks as to what might happen. They did not have long to wait.

The ghost of Mr Blythe reappeared within a year when the number of actors directly employed by the Abbey were reduced from 123 to 56. Actors salaries were also cut by 25% . Co – productions became the norm with less need of Irish actors, directors, set designers and of course the life blood of the Irish theatre new plays.

The new artistic directors had little regard for the devastating effect their actions were having on the Abbey Theatre community. They were seen as following the Blythe model of dispensing with the services of many actors that worked in the Abbey Theatre for years. They were cold ruthless and arrogant but they had miscalculated. They did not get away with the Blythe formula of 1941 – 1967 era.  The Abbey Theatre community erupted in frustration in Jan 2019. More than 300 actors, directors, designers and playwrights complained in a letter to the Minister for culture Ms Josepha Madigan about the direction the artistic directors were taking the national theatre.

They contended that the adopted practice of co – producing plays was damaging to the Irish theatre. Fewer in house productions would ensure the continuous unemployment and forced emigration of Ireland’s top talent. There would be little point in Irish playwrights submitting plays to the Abbey – it would be the place they would go to die. The reality of the new policy of the Abbey would force Irish actors to live in poverty, unable to afford a mortgage or start a family, There was a deliberate policy to reduce the budget of the theatre set aside for Irish based performers. The international reputation of Irish culture was being trampled on and Irish tourism would suffer the damaging consequences.

The protestations by the artistic directors that they had huge respect for Irish artists were not believed. They promised that they would meet the signatories of the letter  individually to discuss their concerns. The response of the Minister of culture was typical political speak. She welcomed the national directors commitment to dialogue and engagement. She patronised the wealth of Irish talent among theatre practitioners while simultaneously ignoring the continuing lack of employment and the 25% pay cut to those still fortunate enough to maintain their positions.

Relationships in the meantime continues to deteriorate between the artistic directors and the theatre practitioners As of Dec 2019 the situation has not improved. To date it is not possible to establish how many actors are directly employed by the Abbey Theatre, as this information has been removed from its official website. It is safe to assume that employment will continue to operate at threadbare levels since the outsourcing of plays is set to continue in their 2020 programme just published on 28th Nov 2019.

The question posed by Teresa Deevy in 1935 is still relevant to the Abbey in 2019.  How can we get rid of incompetence and must we continue to suffer.  In the view of this playwright the present artistic directors of the Abbey Theatre are incapable of fulfilling the ambition of WB Yeats and Lady Gregory to bring upon the Irish stage the deeper emotions of the people of Ireland.

  • the midnight choir is gathered
  • the Abbey pall bearers are assembled
  • the candles are lit
  • the prayers for the dying Abbey are being sorrowfully chanted
  • it is time to let the Abbey dream go with dignity from the stage.

The Abbey family have said their goodbyes overcome with  sorrow and grief, lamenting what could have been.

WB Yeats, Lady Gregory and George Bernard Shaw await its corpse in the theatre of heaven. The Abbey can ease into that eternity, safe in the knowledge that it is free from the manifestation of Blythe’s disease, finally succumbing to opportunistic foreign bacterial organisms in its old age. Ireland will be poorer for its passing.

The Abbey Theatre is dead and ‘ they have killed it’.

(c) Michael Clemenger

Read Part 1 of this article here.

About Everybody Knew:

Michael Clemenger was handed over as a baby to the unloving care of a religious-run children’s home. Aged eight, he was transferred to St Joseph’s Industrial School.

Chosen as their ‘favourite’ by two Christian Brothers, Michael endured years of sexual abuse at the hands of both men. Brother Price struck at night, while Brother Roberts took pleasure in a weekly bathtime ritual. Although everybody at the institution knew, even the two Brothers’ ‘protection’ did not save Michael from merciless beatings by other sadistic men charged with his care.

Despite the unbelievable trauma of his early life, Michael emerged unbroken and determined to make something of himself. Everybody Knew is a story of remarkable spirit and courage.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

My autobiography was published by O Brien Press in 2009 called Holy Terrors. This book was subsequently published by Ebury Press in the UK and called Everybody Knew and sold well there and then in recent years it was translated into French and called Dans L’enfer de L’orphelinat. It has sold 90,000 copies to date and is still selling reasonably well in France. I have recently penned a number of plays and I have had them reviewed by the Abbey Theatre, some members of Trim Drama Group and Insight Theatre Group in Celbridge. The genre I write about is social life in Ireland from 1960’s onwards. Some of the titles are : – The Monoboy, The Night Jayne Mansfield came to Tralee, Return to Rockford, The Mission of Ballykinn, The Mist that Falls over Land, No is Never a Full; Sentence, The Riddle of the Stone, We had No Secrets and A Dying Business ( a short comedy). I am currently working on another play called The Lodger.

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