Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mary O’Malley and the Origins of the Lyric Players Theatre

No discussion of the Lyric Players Theatre would be complete without mentioning Mary O’Malley, founder of the theatre and self-taught director of hundreds of plays. Mary was a devotee of W.B. Yeats, and modelled the Lyric on Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. She guided the Lyric through the early years of productions staged in her own home right through to its move to a purpose-built theatre on the banks of the River Lagan, on Ridgeway Street in Belfast.

Born in 1918 in Mallow, county Cork, the then Mary Hickey developed an early love of theatre after seeing a production of Dion Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn at the age of six. Her brother Gerald, himself a successful set designer, brought her to the Abbey when she was thirteen, pointing out to her the famous playwrights Yeats and Lady Gregory. She remained fascinated with Yeats’ plays, staging all of them throughout the Lyric’s early years.

Image via
After completing her education at Loreto Convent, Mary moved to Dublin with her mother. She immersed herself in Dublin’s theatrical scene, becoming a member of the New Theatre Group and the Irish Film Society, amongst others. These were exciting times in Dublin: the Second World War had driven many intellectuals and artists to Dublin from the continent, making for a vibrant cultural atmosphere in the city. It was at this time also that Mary’s political conscience began to assert itself, which will be explored in a future post.
Dr Pearse O'Malley
Mary met her future husband Pearse O’Malley, a neurologist, in Dublin and they married in September 1947. The marriage meant a move north, as Pearse was involved in the planning of a new Department of Neurology and Psychiatry in the Mater Hospital, Belfast. Northern Ireland’s capital was found lacking, culturally speaking, when compared to the O’Malleys’ experiences in Dublin. Mary however soon created an outlet for herself; the beginnings of the Lyric Players Theatre will be detailed in a forthcoming post.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Archiving Druid - the First Ten Years

Cataloguing is well underway on the extensive archive and papers of Druid Theatre Company. Hundreds of files of material have been sorted and arranged and now being described to item-level. The end result will be a considerably detailed but user friendly guide and finding aid on the Druid papers. Any reader looking to carry out research on the Druid papers will be able to navigate the electronic finding aid prior to arrival for consultation at reading room of NUI Galway Archives and Special Collections at James Hardiman Library.
The collection has been arranged into two primary series; productions and press cuttings. The production files contain a varied body of records and include programmes, posters, flyers, invitations, scripts, hand written stage, lighting and sound directions and various other documents.
Further to this an immense collections of photographs document a visual record of the Druid productions. Hundreds of images, the vast majority in exceptional quality are an enviable resource for any archive.
The production files are arranged chronological by year and again by each production in sequence within that year. So far, the first ten years of the Druid production files have been catalogued and cover years 1974 – 1975. Key works in this time include major nationwide tours of new works by the like of Tom Murphy and Geraldine Aron and productions of Wilde, Boucicault, Shepherd, O’Casey, Farrell, Brecht and others.
The press files are an interesting commentary on the social and public reception of Druid and their plays and ideas throughout its existence. Interestingly, the press files document the productions, awards and achievements of the University College Galway Drama Society in the year previous to the official formation of Druid theatre company. These files highlight the promise of this particular group of theatre enthusiasts who would go on to become Druid theatre company and transform the reception and production of Irish plays in the West of Ireland, nationwide and indeed worldwide.
The press files are arranged in a separate series and are arranged in monthly files in chronological order by year.
The press cuttings document the formation and work of Druid from day one and an unbroken sequence of press cuttings continue from 1973 to 1999. Covering every possible aspect of Druid and its development, articles on its major works, its cast and members, international tours and awards and accolades, the press files offer a unique viewpoint into this key period in Irish theatre history.  Features and articles on Irish theatre in general provide an addition interesting insight into Irish and international theatrical events at this time. Work on cataloguing these press cuttings has just begun and will continue over the coming months.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Projecting History

I’ve recently come across some fantastic slides containing images of Lyric Theatre productions throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, including Many Young Men of Twenty (1961) and The Silver Tassie (1970) amongst others. The images involved are incredibly clear, and are perhaps even more visually arresting than photographic negatives. Although their popularity has waned in recent years, slides were a popular method of storing and disseminating photographic images.

Examples of slides, 1940s to 1980s. Note the card and metal mounts of the older slides, moving to plastic in more recent times
The film in a slide is commonly referred to as ‘slide film’ but is more accurately called reversal film. It differs from traditional photographic film in that it creates a positive of the image rather than a negative. Simply put, this type of film reflects the colours and tones present in the image. These slides are an excellent example of this, being still rich in vibrant colour even after forty years in storage.

Slide storage box
Slides were usually viewed via projector, and made an affordable alternative to photographic prints in the days when these were prohibitively expensive and of uncertain quality. For the Lyric, slides would have been a way to easily and safely store images from productions with little space needed. However, by the 1970s print quality had vastly improved, and had become cheaper for the amateur photographer. Reversal film was widely used in print publishing, however, until the mid-1990s. Since then they have been displaced by digital media. Slides remain in archival collections though as evidence not only of the images they contain, but also of the changing nature of photographic technology.

Sarah Poutch

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Research Week 2010

Next week sees the James Hardiman Library’s inaugural Research Week initiative, with events kicking off on Monday 18 October and concluding Friday 22 October. This week is a chance for the librarians and archivists to share their knowledge on all aspects of research directly with those conducting it. The Library staff aim to showcase the resources and facilities available to NUI Galway’s research community, and to encourage their use.

A very full schedule of events is planned for the week, including seminars  from our Research Support Librarians, Special Collections Librarians, and the Archives Service. Presentations will be held every day on such topics as research resources, research dissemination, open access publishing, and maximising the impact of your own research. Specific presentations will be given on humanities and social sciences research and also on research in the fields of science, technology and medicine. Presentations will be held both within the library and on-site in the University's research centres. Check the library's website for the forthcoming full programme for the week, or contact the Research Support Librarians, Rosarie Coughlan (Science, Technology and Medicine) and Gwen Ryan (Humanities and Social Sciences) for more information.

These events are open to all students, whether they are already in the field of research or contemplating it for the future. It’s a great opportunity to speak directly with the experts, and to explore the potential of the Library as a resource for your own research.

Sarah Poutch

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Taibhearc na Gaillimhe

San Siobhain le George Bernard Shaw.
Grianghraf de Siobhan Nic Cionnaith, Nollaig 1950
Léiríonn an stair a bhaineann le Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe gurb í ceann de na tionscnaimh is mó ar éirigh léi i réimse na dramaíochta Éireannaí. Bunaíodh í i 1928, ag am a raibh Saorstát Éireann ag streachailt le haghaidh dlisteanachta. Chuir an Taibhdhearc roimpi tionscadal cultúir a chur i gcrích, tionscadal nach raibh a leithéid ann ag an am, is é sin, amharclann náisiúnta Ghaeilge a bheadh bunaithe i nGaillimh.

Ó 1990 i leith, bhí cartlann Thaibhdhearc na Gaillimhe lonnaithe i Leabharlann Shéamuis Uí Argadáin in OÉ, Gaillimh. Tháinig méadú ar an mbailiúchán sin ó shin, agus tá an bailiúcháin iomlán á chaomhnú i gcónaí agus á chur ar fail ag seirbhís chartlainne na Leabharlainne. Tá mionsonraí maidir le riarachán na Taibhdhearce ar fail sna leabhair miontuairiscí, comhfreagrais, agus sna taifid airgeadais. Tá fail sna cáipéisí seo ar eolas maidir leis na daoine aonair a raibh baint acu leis an amharclann a reáchtáil agus na caidrimh achrannacha a bhí acu lena chéile, chomh maith le heolas ar na deacrachtaí praiticiúla iomadúla a bhí le sárú ag an gcuideachta. Chomh maith leis sin, tá ábhar a bhaineann le gach léiriú, lena n-áirtítear comhfhreagras, cláir amharclainne, póstaeir, grianghraif agus gearrtháin nuachtáin. Cuireann sé seo taifead mionsonraíoch ar fail don taighdeoir, chomh maith le tuairimí an lucht féachana agus na nuachtán faoi na léirithe éagsúla. Ar an iomlán, tá 1500 mir chomhfhreagrais, 500 clár, 300 grianghraf, 600 scripteanna agus 250 póstaer ar fail.

The Art of the Theatre Poster

Season of Anglo-Irish plays
 One of the most intriguing and valuable assets of the Druid theatre archive is its collection of posters. Ranging from the early days of Druid in 1976 right up recent years of major international and national tours by Druid, the series of posters offers an insight into the design, printing and use of theatre posters. The art of creating these posters have changed and developed along with the changing times, from hand drawn and sketched posters in pencil and ink to the latest high resolution photographic images.
The posters from the Druid archive are in general in good to excellent condition with very little degeneration in structure or stability throughout. The majority have been previously stored folded or rolled so the job of archiving the posters will involve the time consuming task of flattening the posters for optimum preservation and storage.

'At the Black Pig's Dyke'
by Vincent Woods.
 For researchers of print media, theatre studies, marketing, history of print or any such discipline these ephemeral sources are a fantastic asset. It is interesting to note that there is a trend among the posters that moves along the decades. Focus moves from the name of the play or playwright to an image of the actor or cast as the dominating feature of the poster. Irish actors became much more recognisable to Irish audiences in the late twentieth century, especially with greater exposure to those working on our TV screens, cinemas and those who earned great success in our media headlines for success abroad as well as at home.

'Sive' by John B. Keane. 2003.
 The art of the play poster has certainly moved from being a tool simply to advertise the date or place of a production. It is an art and it is a crucial tool in the exposure of a production to an audience. Associations between audiences in different regions or countries may react differently to a particular image used and therefore also interpret the theme and message of the play with varying reaction.
The Druid posters ranging from the 1970’s to the early 2000’s are an incredible resource and create a visual archive that is certainly a powerful representation of the legacy of Druid theatre.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Preparatory Work

One of the most important tasks when cataloguing a large collection such as the Lyric Theatre Archives is to arrange the material in a logical and useful order before descriptions are created in the catalogue. At present I am collecting photographs, audio reels, scripts and programmes and organising them by theatrical production. This means that when they are fully listed, researchers will be able to easily locate and access all of the available media related to the specific play or event that they are interested in.

While that sounds like rather dry and perhaps even uninteresting work, the truth is that archivists will find some fantastic items while carrying out such work. This week I have mainly been working with programmes from the theatre’s long and varied history of productions.

Early Lyric Theatre programmes
A great job was done in collecting and preserving these programmes, with the majority of the theatre’s productions represented. 

It is especially interesting to note which productions were staged several times over the decades. Researchers will no doubt find fertile ground here when comparing the similarities and differences between these different productions.

We can see here that the Lyric produced a version of Euripides’ Medea in November 1957, the same play that was recently staged to great acclaim as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival.

We can for now only imagine the insights to be gleaned between comparisons of the staging of this Ancient Greek play in 1950s Belfast and modern day Dublin. With the forthcoming availability of this collection,  the opportunity to do so will be offered.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Lyric Theatre Archives

Mary and Pearse O'Malley
The Lyric Players began in 1951, when Mary O’Malley organised a performance of Robert Farren’s Lost Light in her husband Dr Pearse O’Malley’s consulting room, located in their home on the Lisburn Road, Belfast. What started life as an amateur theatrical group which performed for invited audiences flourished, and eventually became Northern Ireland’s most consistent and established professional theatre company. It is unique in being the only theatre in Belfast to remain open throughout the Troubles, a testament to the commitment of those involved in its operation.
 A purpose-built Lyric Theatre was opened on Ridgeway Street in 1968, the foundation stone having been laid by Austin Clarke in 1965. Over the years the Lyric has staged myriad productions, ranging from the classics to newly commissioned plays, as well as focussing on the work of Irish playwrights. The Lyric has premiered works by writers such as John Boyd, Anne Devlin, Patrick Galvin, Robin Glendinning, Jennifer Johnston, Martin Lynch, Gary Mitchell, Stewart Parker, Christina Reid and Graham Reid. It has also nurtured local acting talent, with many famous local faces having been associated with the Lyric over its fifty years’ history. These include the theatre’s patron Liam Neeson, playwright Marie Jones, and stage and television actors Adrian Dunbar, Ian McElhinney, Jimmy Ellis, and Dan Gordon.

These archives encompass the Lyric’s early years through to more recent times. They include material such as scripts, programmes, photographs and audio recordings of productions. In addition to this there is also a considerable amount of administrative material, including correspondence. The O’Malley family, the original founders of the company, are well represented with Mary and Pearse O’Malley’s correspondence and personal papers also being an integral part of the archives. There are over one hundred boxes of material, which will be catalogued over the next fifteen months.

Sarah Poutch