Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas, from NUI Galway Archives

We'd like to wish regular blog readers a very merry and safe Christmas, and a happy New Year. The blog will resume posting early in the first week of January - we look forward to seeing you then.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nollaig Shona!

Cover of Christmas Card from Eoghan and Caitlin McKenna to their daughter Siobhan McKenna and her family. Eoghan was a Professor at UCG and the card dates from the 1950s. This card is part of the collection of Siobhan McKenna papers currently being listed. On behalf of all the archives staff, have a happy and peaceful Christmas, and happy researching in the New Year! 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Famous Faces and the Lyric Theatre: Liam Neeson

Liam Neeson in The Plough and the Stars
Undoubtedly the most famous Northern Irish actor of recent years, Liam Neeson, started his acting career as part of the Lyric Players Theatre in the mid-1970s. He was hired by Mary O’Malley and quickly became an integral part of the acting company, participating in productions such as The Plough and the Stars (November 1977), The Colleen Bawn (December 1977) and most notably in Philadelphia, Here I Come! in 1976. His importance to the theatre was shown in Mary O’Malley’s decision to give to him one of the two Equity cards which she was able to obtain annually. He later moved to the Abbey in Dublin, and eventually then on to Hollywood. His career has gone from strength to strength since, and most of us will be familiar with his performances in Michael Collins, Schindler’s List, and Kinsey.

An item which has recently been discovered in the Lyric’s archives, though, shows that he was not always able to turn his hand to every type of acting! A memorandum written by the Lyric’s artistic director Edward Golden in December 1976 details how Neeson was not able to convincingly play the role of Hendrik in rehearsals for the musical A Little Night Music (please click the picture to see an enlarged version). Golden describes the ‘exquisite torture’ for Neeson, as ‘the more perfectionist the actor, the more dreadful the degree of torture it is to force him into some area where he knows he is not competent’, and bemoans that he allowed his original casting of Liam in the non-singing role of Frid to be changed by other people’s opinions.

Despite this brief hiccup, Neeson remains the most successful acting alumnus of the Lyric Theatre and one of its most vocal supporters. As the current patron of the theatre, he has overseen the incredible fundraising efforts made in the past few years for the rebuilding of the Ridgeway Street theatre. He explains the reasons behind his commitment to the Lyric as follows:
          'In the face of deep divisions that keep our communities apart, the Lyric serves as a powerful unifying force, providing a safe and neutral space in which people from different backgrounds come together to be empowered, inspired, engaged and entertained. I really believe in the power of theatre to break down barriers and heal in a very deep, fundamental, spiritual way. And Northern Ireland needs that. It needs the Lyric Theatre.'

Sarah Poutch

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Threshold' Contributors: John McGahern

Threshold emerged at an exciting time for Irish literature. As previously discussed, the magazine had contact with writers such as Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel at early stages in their careers. However, they were positively famous at that time compared to the next subject of this series of blog posts, John McGahern.

McGahern first wrote to Mary O’Malley in January 1959, and the form of the letter is recognisable to anyone who has tried to have an editor publish their work. He had not yet appeared in print, and mentions that his first novel is being considered by publishers at the moment. This novel, The Barracks, was in fact not published until 1963, but was met with universal acclaim. The book won the AE Memorial Award from the Arts Council, and led to McGahern being awarded the Macauley Fellowship. The Fellowship allowed him to take a year off from his teaching position, during which he travelled widely and completed his second novel, The Dark. This novel became notorious after falling foul of the Censorship Act and being banned due to its themes of parental and clerical child abuse. A second letter (from June 1962) discusses the possible publication of an excerpt from The Barracks in Threshold.

McGahern's other works include The Leavetaking (based on his own experiences during and after his sabbatical year), The Pornographer, and most famously, Amongst Women. Like Friel and Heaney, McGahern was a member of Aosdána, until his death in March 2006.

It is particularly appropriate that these documents are stored here in NUI Galway Archives. John McGahern’s personal papers are one of our major literary collections, having been presented by the author in 2003. Further deposits were made by his widow Madeline McGahern in 2006 and 2007. This collection is available now (by appointment – please see staff page for contact details), and we are delighted to be able to make the full descriptive list available online.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Druid and NUI Galway announce new partnership

NUI Galway BA Connect in Theatre and Performance students Emer McHugh and Kate Murray with actress and one of Druid’s founding members Maire Mullen performing an excerpt from Bailegangaire at the announcement today of a new and innovative partnership between Druid and NUI Galway.

The West of Ireland has always been renowned for the central role played by the creative arts and NUI Galway has provided a breeding ground for the development of artistic talent in successive generations of students. Now, in a groundbreaking initiative, NUI Galway and Druid are coming together to form a partnership that will be crucial in maintaining and developing the performance arts of the region into the future. In an exciting new collaboration, NUI Galway will contribute to the development of Druid’s next major theatre event (to be produced in 2012/13) while Druid, in turn, will develop a range of practice-led workshops and seminars including a series of Master classes for BA and MA students.

In addition, in a move that highlights the new initiative, a Druid Director-in-Residence will be appointed who will co-ordinate the joint Master classes and workshops and offer classes and mentoring in various aspects of directing and stagecraft to NUI Galway students. These contributions will enhance two successful NUI Galway academic programmes: the MA in Drama and Theatre Studies and BA Connect in Theatre and Performance.

The relationship between NUI Galway and Druid is a long and fruitful one. The company was founded on campus in 1975 by graduates Mick Lally, Marie Mullen and Garry Hynes. Through the years the two organisations have collaborated at various times including notably the housing of the Druid archive at the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway and the establishment of a playwriting award in memory of the late Jerome Hynes who was General Manager of Druid at a formative stage in the company’s development. The three founders, as well as being graduates, have all been awarded Honorary Degrees by the University.

Commenting on the new partnership, NUI Galway President James J. Browne said, “We are very excited by this new and innovative partnership with Druid, which, I believe, holds wonderful opportunities for both organisations. For the University it represents a new creative thrust for our academic programmes in theatre and drama, which will be enriched by the talent and experience of a world leading professional theatre company. In turn we are able to play a role in Druid’s ability to continue to present first class theatre for stages both here in Ireland and abroad.”

Garry Hynes commented that, “Back in 1975 NUI Galway helped Druid launch into the world with the provision of various facilities and continued to help us informally through the years. Now 35 years later we are at the beginning of a new and very exciting partnership. Without NUI Galway, and other partners, Druid simply would not be able to produce these major projects that have become such central events for our actors and our audience alike. Just as I - informally - took my first steps in the theatre in NUI Galway, I am now, through this programme looking forward to helping the emergence of the next generation of theatre makers from my alma mater.”

Druid would like to acknowledge the continued support of the Arts Council in funding the company’s work and also the support of Culture Ireland in funding its international touring programme.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Challenges of Audiovisual Archiving

The Lyric Theatre archive holds over two hundred audio reels as part of the collection. These are mainly recordings of productions from the 1950s until the 1970s. Also included are reels with music and sound effects for various plays, as well as some miscellaneous recordings of radio programmes and the like. These reels will become a very useful resource for researchers, being as they are enduring records of the end-product of all the hard work of the company from its earliest days right through to its peak. However, archiving audiovisual material is a very different beast than working with traditional paper-based archives, and requires special efforts to ensure the long-term preservation of the material.
The reels were mostly recorded on the Lyric’s own reel to reel player (see pictures). The reels themselves have been stored fairly securely in the intervening years, with many still being housed in their original cardboard sleeves and boxes. These reels are artefacts in and of themselves, and have to be preserved as such. However, archivists are also responsible for making the information contained therein accessible. This can be achieved through digitising the reels, which will be a major project in itself.

Digitisation of such material is time and labour intensive, but there is a strong case to be made for doing so. Most analogue formats are obsolete (or very close to being so), and it can be difficult even to source the necessary equipment to play them. From a preservation point of view, the longer they go without being digitised, the more the sound quality may have deteriorated. Analogue magnetic media (reel tape) has a life expectancy of just 30–50 years. Converting them to digital audio files makes them accessible to researchers and archivists quickly, conveniently and, if necessary, in a variety of formats. Finally, it also removes the need for physical handling of the reels – they can be stored safely in the archives while still being available for research.

It is hoped that the digitisation of the Lyric Players Theatre audio reels will begin in early 2011.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Selection of material from Druid theatre production archive

As the production files of the Druid Archive continue to be catalogued, the abundance of wonderful visual material is making the project a joy to work on. The early 1990's onwards sees a series of photgraphic files from many of Druid's best loved works. Working with photographers such as Amelia Stein the photgraphic files of Druid theatre archive present snapshots of performers and performances ftaken during rehersal and production. From Irish tours to international tours, here is a selection of some pieces from the Druid theatre archive. These documents and all mother material will be fully available to researchers at the Special Collections/Archives reading room at the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway early in 2011.

We would love to hear from you about these images or any other items from the archives. If you have seen any of these plays by Druid or Lyric and want to share any thoughts or memories please leave a comment under any post or else email an archivist directly here

'Threshold' Contributors: Brian Friel

Another writer with whom Mary O’Malley corresponded on contributing to Threshold is the renowned playwright Brian Friel. The Lyric Players Theatre in fact also staged his play The Enemy Within in 1963, which along with the earlier example of Seamus Heaney is another example of Mary O’Malley’s recognition of the achievements of young Irish writers. Friel went on to guest edit Threshold.

Friel shares another similarity with Heaney in that they started their careers as teachers, both training at St Joseph’s Teacher Training College in Belfast. Friel though went on to teach for over ten years at schools in county Derry before eventually leaving in 1960 to write full-time. Heaney and Friel, as two of the most celebrated writers in modern Irish literature also share the distinction of being elected a Saoi of Aosdána, an Irish association of artists.

Friel’s play The Enemy Within premiered at the Abbey in Dublin in 1962, but ran for just nine performances. However, Mary O’Malley corresponded with Friel and negotiated a revival of the play by the Lyric in September 1963, which proved a great success and was broadcast on both the BBC Northern Ireland Home Service, and on Radio Éireann. Some of the items of interest in the Lyric Theatre archives in relation to this production are a heavily annotated script, a signed programme, and black and white photographs of the cast, as well as the aforementioned correspondence.

In later years the Lyric produced more of Friel’s plays, including The Gentle Island (1972), The Loves of Cass Maguire (1976), and Philadelphia, Here I Come! (starring a young Liam Neeson) amongst others. This has continued to the present day, with the most recent Lyric Theatre production of a Friel work being The Home Place during the 2008–09 season.