Ciarán O’Reilly Reflects on Irish Rep, the Pandemic and Stephen Sondheim

When the COVID pandemic hit, the Irish Repertory Theatre put all the things on maintain and went into full digital mode, producing a number of extraordinary on-line productions. Now the firm has emerged from the shutdown just about the place it entered, with a manufacturing of A Contact of the Poet, Eugene O’Neill’s tragic drama of immigrants in America, however this time it is stay on stage.

A Contact of the Poet, which had been nicely into manufacturing when the shutdown hit and obtained a wonderful digital displaying, has arrived the place it at all times ought to have been—on the firm’s mainstage, starring Robert Cuccioli, Belle Aykroyd and Kate Forbes, by April 17. The present has returned with three new actors becoming a member of the solid: James Russell, David Beck and Rex Younger.

Producing director Ciarán O’Reilly, who talked to Newsweek about the results of the pandemic and its aftermath on the firm, stated, “We were a few days away from going into the theater. The set had not been loaded in yet, but it was built. We were almost four weeks in the rehearsal room. The costumes had been thrown on a rack. The lighting plan had been designed. The sound had been designed, or was in the process of for the most part. It was we were ready to go, and then we were told to go away for a few days.”

These days turned out to be not fairly as biblical as the every day headlines, however they weren’t 24-hour days. There have been two years’ value of them, and they had been full of some doubt about if and when normalcy would return. The corporate did, nonetheless, do a number of glorious digital productions, together with certainly one of the Contact of the Poet. “We hoped we could do it one day,” O’Reilly stated a couple of stay manufacturing of the play, “and then we hoped it was going to be the right show to come back with. You never quite know. We just felt like it had not been fully realized [when it was done digitally]. Even though we had done a film version, there was nothing that would match the live experience for everyone.”

cast Touch of the Poet Irish Rep
Irish Repertory’s Ciarán O’Relly talked to Newsweek about the how the firm obtained by and got here out of the pandemic shutdown. From left, Belle Aykroyd, Robert Cuccioli, David Beck, David Sitler and Rex Younger in Irish Rep’s 2022 mainstage manufacturing of “A Touch of the Poet.”
Carol Rosegg

Other than the shutdown, the George Floyd homicide and ensuing protests touched Irish Rep, and the firm has been trying to be extra inclusive. To that finish, it has entered into an settlement with Fishamble, an Irish theater firm, to fee a night of performs by Black Irish playwrights.

O’Reilly informed Newsweek, “In collaboration with the Fishamble theater company—they were actually founded in 1988, the same year as us, and have been around for quite some time—we wanted to try to create some content that has an Irish connection to it, because that’s what we are. We also are very interested in moving the needle as much as possible as regards to diversity—and to try to do it properly.

“We wished to be doing the work but additionally a part of our personal imaginative and prescient. So, we determined that if we won’t, if it isn’t on the market proper now—and we had been having a troublesome time discovering materials we thought would slot in with us—that we have to create some materials. And so to have the ability to create stuff that perhaps displays Eire of in the present day, we determined let’s go along with an organization in Eire and discuss to them.

“They said that they had gone down that road a little bit themselves, inviting people of color to come and write some things. So, we thought, Well let’s make it official: If they can identify up to four playwrights in Ireland, then we will give them a commission for each of them to write a play 20 minutes long and those four plays will become an evening of theater. We didn’t put any real boundaries on them as to what they needed to write about. They could write about anything they want. But just to give them something to start with, we decided that the idea would be ‘four seasons.’ Each of them could write about a season and each of them could write whatever they liked about it.

“After which we wished a connection from right here. They had been all Black, brown individuals residing in Eire, rising up Irish mainly. It is not as if there have been quite a lot of immigrants to Eire. They had been truly Irish individuals residing over there. So to have a connection from over right here, we requested Dael Orlandersmith, whose most well-known play might be Yellowman, to be a mentor for these playwrights as a result of they’re all fairly younger. They’re all south of 30. We requested her to return on board, and we’re presently in the midst of the undertaking with them. They’re on the artistic job at the second. We hope to have a draft by the finish of the 12 months, sufficient to do a studying workshop each in Dublin and New York.”

Orlandersmith actually has a connection to Ireland. “It was Lynn Nottage who truly put us in contact along with her. I knew Dale, myself. I might met her earlier than however hadn’t fairly realized that she had such a connection to Eire. She had lived over there and had a number of productions of her personal work in and round Eire—in Dublin, Galway and round the nation. In order that was fairly cool.”

Different huge information that got here up not too long ago was that Irish Rep had been named in the will of Stephen Sondheim who died on November 26, 2021. O’Reilly stated that he had no concept this was coming, nor did he know, as of publication time, how a lot that may be. “We figured we’ve already won, just to be included. It’s a bit like just to get nominated [for an ward] was enough.

“Sondheim was pal of [artistic director] Charlotte Moore’s. Charlotte was the connection. She had additionally labored with [Sondheim’s longtime collaborator and friend] Hal Prince, and Hal labored with us on his play Grandchild of Kings.”

Moore had had a famously bad audition for Prince and Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in which she attempted to sing the bench song—”If I Beloved You”—from Carousel, but, O’Reilly said, “nothing got here out.” Moore burst into tears, after which Sondheim comforted her. She was invited back, but eventually declined to audition again. But they remained friends. He would show up unannounced at plays, obviously a fan of Irish Rep’s work. And the mention in Sondheim’s will has burnished the company’s reputation as much as it will its coffers.

Irish Rep does many things well, but it does three things especially well: Musicals, which are usually pared down to fit the company’s space; modern Irish plays, like those of Conor McPherson; and classical Irish plays, like those from the Abbey. The company will tick off two from that list very soon. Coming up next at Irish Rep will be Belfast Girls, a new play by Jaki McCarrick. During the Great Famine of the 1840s, though the Female Orphan Emigration Scheme, over 4,000 girls aged 14 to 18 voluntarily boarded ships to Australia, where men out-numbered women. Belfast Girls is a fictional account of a five of those women.

And opening downstairs on April 24, the company is presenting Two by Synge: “In the Shadow of the Glen” and “The Tinker’s Wedding ceremony,” two plays by John Millington Synge that depict the tough life of poor Irish at the turn of the last century.

Finally, thinking back on the experience of the past two years, O’Reilly said that while the pandemic was hard creatively, there was a couple of upsides for Irish Rep. Presenting shows online allowed a lot more people to sample the company’s work and “regardless that we supplied the digital exhibits at no cost with advised donations, we obtained quite a lot of advised donations. We stored our entire firm employed. We did not do any furloughs, and we had been capable of pay all the actors and pay their pension, and all of these issues. All that occurred due to these digital exhibits. So in that respect it was a roaring success. Somewhat than simply going away and ready for this reopening, we’re on to our fourth or fifth present now. If we had stopped it might have been arduous to get again up.”

For more information on the current and upcoming offerings at Irish Rep, go to

Robert Cicolli in Touch of the Poet
Digital productions reminiscent of A Contact of the Poet helped Irish Rep get by the pandemic. Above, Robert Cicolli stars as Con Melody in “A Touch of the Poet,” which streamed final fall.
Irish Repertory Theatre

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