Abbey Theatre to play a major role in centenary programme including world premieres, new productions of classic texts and international touring as part of Ireland 2016

An Tánaiste, Joan Burton TD, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, and Minister of State Aodhan O’Riordáin, joined Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre, today to announce details of Waking the Nation, the Abbey Theatre’s major initiative as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.

To commemorate and acknowledge the major historical events of 1916, the Abbey Theatre is extending an invitation to artists and audiences to reflect on our past and to embark on a new round of reflection about the Ireland of today and of the future. As part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, the Abbey Theatre’s Waking the Nation season features an exciting roll-call of new Irish voices and major revivals of the some of the great plays from the Abbey Theatre repertoire.

In April 1916 members of the Abbey Theatre acting company and staff left the theatre to join the Easter Rising. The Abbey Rebels were: Sean Connolly, a member of the Irish Citizen Army, he was the first rebel fatality; Máire nic Shiubhlaigh, member of Cumann na mBan; Helena Molony, a trade union and a Citizen Army leader; Ellen Bushell, an usher; Barney Murphy, a stage hand and Irish Volunteer; Arthur Shields, an Irish Volunteer who found fame as a Hollywood actor and Peadar Kearney, prop-man and author of the Irish national anthem The Soldier’s Song. The Abbey Theatre will unveil a new and updated plaque to honour the Abbey Rebels during 2016 to take account of more names that should be acknowledged and remembered.

Included in the Abbey Theatre’s programme announcement are:

• Three world premieres of new work by David Ireland, Sean P. Summers and Philip McMahon and Raymond Scannell
• A new production of Sean O’Casey’s classic work The Plough and the Stars by Olivier award-winning director Sean Holmes which, following performances at the Abbey Theatre, will embark upon a tour of Ireland and North America
• A new production of Shakespeare’s Othello by internationally-renowned director Joe Dowling
• A major new co-production with Headlong, Citizens Theatre, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Theatre of Frank McGuinness’ Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, which will also tour to Northern Ireland and Britain.
• In a co-production with Baboró International Arts Festival for Children, the Abbey Theatre will reach approximately 700 schools nationwide with a specially commissioned monologue for children, Me, Mollser by Ali White.
• The Abbey Theatre will present the Oyoun Theatre and Khashabi Theatre production entitled New Middle East during Easter Week 2016.
• Following the success of the Theatre of Memory Symposium (2014) and the Theatre of War Symposium (2015), the Abbey Theatre will explore the challenges of commemoration in the third and final, Theatre of Change Symposium which looks to the future and the challenges that will face Ireland in the next five years.

Speaking at the launch of Waking the Nation, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre said: “The Abbey Theatre was a central part of the Irish Cultural Revival and as a theatre company, played a leading role in the cultural and political debate around our emerging understanding of our Irishness and our independence from Britain. The Abbey Rebels did not distinguish between the role of culture and independence, theatre and politics. Today we carry the legacy of these remarkable individuals as we embark, with our artists and audiences, on a year of reflection and conversation through theatre.  
“In Waking the Nation, our intention is to interrogate rather than celebrate the past. For over 110 years now the Abbey stage has been a platform for the reflection of Irish society through theatre. Plays have the power to ask questions that resonate for generations. I believe that we should listen and reflect on what our playwrights have written, whether it’s Sean O’Casey, Tom Murphy or Frank McGuinness. Their extraordinary plays offer us signposts in our critical understanding of Irish history and what the future may hold. Their plays ask urgent questions about the safely guarded narrative of our nation. In a year of national introspection, these stories have the power tohold up a mirror to our society. In continuing that Abbey Theatre tradition we are proud to present our audiences and the nation with three World Premieres of new Irish plays by David Ireland, Sean P. Summers and Philip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. These fresh and provocative Irish voices will reflect on the legacy of the 1916 Rising.”

An Tánaiste Joan Burton added: “2016 will belong to everyone on this island and to our friends and families overseas – regardless of political background. The Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme launched in March made this very clear – 1916 and next year’s centenary year have to be inclusive and reflective of all narratives on this island. We, as citizens, owe it to the Republic that we live in today to allow political debate, discussion and analysis of all the threads which have led to the creation of our modern State. The Abbey Theatre aims to reflect this ambition through a wide ranging programme which will reflect all aspects of Irish life on the stage and will seek to explore the various narratives through the medium of theatre.”

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys T.D. said: “The Abbey Theatre was founded just 12 years before the Rising, and was central to the literary revival which informed the key protagonists involved in the events of 1916. Our National Theatre will play an essential role in the centenary commemorations for next year, with this extensive ‘Waking the Nation’ programme. By staging both new Irish plays and some of the best loved productions from the last 100 years, the Abbey Theatre is helping us to both reflect on our shared past and imagine our shared future. The arts are being given centre stage next year, and what better way to showcase the best of Irish culture at home and abroad than through the Abbey Theatre.”

Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin T.D. added: “It is for our artists and their talents that Ireland is known globally. Since its foundation, the Abbey Theatre has been touring internationally, enhancing Ireland’s reputation for creative excellence. I am particularly thrilled that so many international audiences will experience the Abbey Theatre on tour, both through new plays and new productions of Abbey Theatre classics, joining in the conversation inspired and instigated by the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme.”

Full details of the Abbey Theatre’s Waking the Nation season as part of the Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme is available at www.abbeytheatre.ie.

The Waking the Nation Season is made possible through the on-going funding of The Arts Council. International touring of The Plough and the Stars and Cyprus Avenue is supported by Culture Ireland as part of the 2016 Centenary Programme. The Abbey Theatre also gratefully acknowledges a special grant from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

The Ireland 2016 Centenary Programme, led by Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, T.D., is a year-long programme of activity to commemorate the events of the 1916 Rising, to reflect on our achievements over the last 100 years and to look towards Ireland’s future. www.ireland2016.gov.ie


Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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