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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Irish Wave Hits Brooklyn

Pan Pan Theatre's Embers. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Four productions in the 2014 Next Wave Festival hail from Ireland. Howie the Rookie (Dec 10—14); riverrun (Sep 17—20), Embers (Sep 17—20), and Not I, Footfalls, Rockaby (Oct 7—12) are presented in association with Irish Arts Center, which recently announced plans to build a new facility, to open in 2016. BAM Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo sat down with Aidan Connolly, IAC’s Executive Director, to discuss the upcoming season. Excerpts from their conversation follow.

Irish Arts Center’s mission and activities

Aidan Connolly: Irish Arts Center was founded in 1972 and has been on the westside of Manhattan since 1974. The mission has evolved over the years. It started as a place for the Irish creative community to come together and have a home and make work; it was committed to preservation of the Irish language and the celebration of traditional music, but in a way that was integrated with the neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen. It’s always had a real notion of itself, about preserving Irish culture for people of all backgrounds. That is still in our DNA. It’s inspired by institutions like BAM—a multi-disciplinary program, affirmatively diverse in seeking the connection between our culture and Irish culture, and look at how an ethnically rooted cultural institution makes itself relevant in a city as culturally adventurous as New York. At its core, we’re looking to project a dynamic image of Irish America for the 21st century in a way relevant to New York audiences.

BAM’s relationship with Irish Arts Center

Joseph V. Melillo: It’s rooted in the forthcoming Next Wave Festival... I didn’t set out seeking representation of Ireland, Irish writing, and performers. The fact is, it’s an unprecedented moment to have four works of theater that trace origins to Irish contemporary writing, or Irish writing for the theater of the 20th century, and performance. Irish Arts Center is a locus for Irish writing and performance, and I spent time going to performances there to immerse myself.

Olwen Fouéré, riverrun. Photo: Colm Hogan

On ancillary programs and audience support

AC: We try to present a number of education and other programs, but we also try not to do more than we can do effectively—that becomes the challenge. Historically the Irish Arts Center had done a lot of theater, but hadn’t done as much presenting. I’ve been at IAC since 2007, and found that was a real opportunity, that there was a very a lot of high quality, innovative, beautifully performed work, of a modest scale—solo performances, two-handers—that fit well within the scale of our facility, 99 seats. You’re creating experiences for your audiences who say, “I can’t believe I got to see something that special, that surprising, that robust, in such an intimate setting.” People feel close to it, and that gets people to become more loyal, but they also want to help you execute those projects. It helps inspire support and fundraising, and without a culture of philanthropy around culture, there wouldn’t be much culture. It’s a tribute to our artists, the fact that we’re able to do so much.

2014 Next Wave Festival’s Irish programming

JVM: It’s interesting to hear Aidan talk about the intimacy of his venue, which corresponds to the intimacy of the Fisher. Two of the Irish works in the Next Wave Festival are in the BAM Fisher—Olwen Fouéré doing riverrun from James Joyce; and Howie the Rookie, which is contemporary writing. In the Harvey Theater, we have Not I, Footfalls, Rockaby—a solo work—still very intimate Beckett; in Not I you actually only see the woman’s mouth in the space. And Embers, Beckett’s radio play adapted to the theatrical form, featuring just two mature Irish actors, but has a very complicated scenic installation. But it is fascinating how this thread of storytelling is the authentic Irish artistic spine, and that the Irish Arts Center and the BAM Fisher are a kind of skeletal structure...

AC: ...An alignment. It’s exciting to think about what Ireland brings to the table in terms of theater, and more broadly in terms of the arts. With theater, as Joe says—it’s kind of a paradox because at one level you’ve got this incredible innovation that’s happening. You look back to Beckett and Joyce, through to Mark O’Rowe... All significant form innovators, which makes it perfect for that work to be shown at BAM. But at the same time, what I love about Ireland’s contribution to performance innovation, is just as Joe said—at the end of the day, we never forget that we’re here to tell a story. At a certain level, it’s always just the little village and the local seanchaí (storyteller) sitting around to hear a great story. I love that about all forms of Irish culture—there’s something incredibly social and important about that experience. Even when we’re innovating, the greatest innovators are still moving the story along.

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