Ist Irish – Growing the Theatre Community

George C. Heslin, Artitist Director, Origin Theatre

George C. Heslin, Artitist Director, Origin Theatre

This past Monday, Origin Theatre held its awards ceremony for the 9th edition of its annual 1st Irish Festival  (to see the list of winners, click here).  Held at the American irish Historical Society, the evening featured wonderful tap dancing and singing, but it really showed how much this festival has to celebrate

This year I got to one book reading and  three performances – Quietly (reviewed earlier); How to Keep an Alien, a droll and heartwarming tale of how playwright Sonya Kelly fell in love with Australian Kate, and her dealings with the Irish immigration authorities as she tries to get Kate the necessary papers so they can live together in Ireland; and Appendage, which follows the encounter of Peter and Jack, and their revelations about each man’s relationship – or the relationship he thought he had – with Peter’s late wife Jill.

I’ve been attending this festival since it began, and what I find so wonderful – besides the exceptionally high caliber of the productions – is the way it brings together not only playwrights from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (they’ve presented the work of over 160 playwrights in 9 years), but also its embrace of the wider NYC theatre community. While it is still rooted very much in Ireland, the festival has reached out beyond its natural base.  Shows are not only in venues such as the Irish Arts Center or the Irish Rep, but also in theatres like The Cell and 59 East 59th Street – this year the festival collaborated with 32 cultural institutions in the US and Ireland.

What I find most encouraging are the number of young people who are now being drawn to this art form.  Broadway is becoming more expensive and less accessible, so its audiences are older, or people who may take in a performance only once in a while.  It’s festivals like 1st Irish that replenish live theatre and take it to new audiences, assuring it’s renewal and survival.

Kudos to George Heslin and his team for another wonderful 1st Irish!  I can’t wait for next year!

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