To mark the beginning of the Dublin Fringe Festival and continue Meg.ie’s series examining theatre venues throughout the city, Isadora Epstein met with Cian O’Brien, Artistic Director of Project Arts Centre.
On the tiptop floor of the Project Arts Centre, we interview Cian O’Brien, artistic director. We take a look at the Project’s origins as a festival itself, and how it has now evolved to become a lively, generous host venue for the festival season.
Could you talk about the history of the Project Arts Centre and how it was founded?
The idea of Project started in the late sixties. The Project Arts Centre was founded in 1966 and began as a two week festival at the Gate Theatre. It came about because of a cohort of artists, all of whom were working independently of an institution, were looking for a place to make and exhibit their work. From its start, Project was at this point where the visual and performing arts have always both been a part of the program. That is one of the key elements of the beginnings of Project, was a pivot point where art forms could intersect. Project began to evolve from that idea and so moved to various locations around the city, until 1974 when we settled here in our current spot on East Essex Street in Temple Bar.
What is the effect of producing work as a permanent venue?
There are pros and cons to having a venue. Obviously to maintain the venue, to keep it going, and the expense involved with that— the building is ten years old and is heavily used, we present six to seven hundred different events a year. The equipment is in constant use, constantly cycling through various productions or exhibitions. We had last year just about 90,000 audience members. That’s a lot of people through the doors, which is exciting! Every night there are different people coming in and you are welcoming new audiences for all the different kinds of work that we present. We have three fantastic spaces: the beautiful gallery and the two black box spaces. With three different spaces is you can do a lot in one week, present a lot of different types of work. There is the constant pressure, of the toilet that doesn’t work or the front door that keeps hitting people in the face when it opens, which was actually an issue. But we’ve resolved that now, beautiful new front door now!
When I started at Project three years ago, the thought of taking on a place that is open 48 weeks of the year, was a daunting challenge, but there are so many people out there who want to make work and so many people making really fantastic work. It is actually far more difficult to have to say no to people, as opposed to how do you fill the weeks of the year, which is really great.
How do you program work? And how do you support artists through your programming?
We work with artists in a few different ways within our program. The first, simplest relationship we have is hosting a work, whereby we would either rent the space to somebody or we would go on a box office split with them. That may be with a company whose work I have seen done before or possibly a revival of work that I saw before or maybe a new work by a company who have presented here many times. The next part of our program is with artists with whom we have a deeper relationship, whose work we support in various ways. In some cases they have a desk here and they can come and use the phone or have their post sent here— very simple things like that, but also right up to us being deeply creatively involved in the production of the work. We also have a commissions program where we identify artists that are making new work that we would like to support with financial assistance. And then our gallery program, which has a separate curator Tessa Giblin, works in a number of different ways
As a multidisciplinary centre, how do you program theatre in the context of other art forms?
I wouldn’t say that every part of our program is complimentary to the other. I think if we did that it could be very boring, and could actually almost stymie the creativity of the center. Now we have a dynamic tension which exists between all these programs which is interesting and exciting. You have very different audiences for them, people experiencing Project in very different ways. From our point of view, it’s interesting to be at this apex where all of those things come together. Some weeks you could have a new dance show in the cube, a new theatre show upstairs, all as an exhibition installed. Our production teams who are multi-talented amazing people are stretched across three different spaces. There is something when we are at that full operating level, which is really brilliant. We’ll be at that level now for the next six weeks, with the Tiger Dublin Fringe, and the Dublin Theatre Festival. So it’s busy, busy, but that’s the interesting thing for us.
What is the Project’s relationship with the Dublin Theatre Festival and the Tiger Dublin Fringe festival?
In a way, it’s a nice six weeks where I don’t have to think about the programming because we have such a great relationship with both of the festivals. They bring absolutely amazing work to us. For the Fringe, the demands on the space are really very high because a lot of people want to present their work here, which is really fantastic for us. We get really exciting new work as part of the festival. This year we are co-producing a new work by the Company called The Rest is Action that will be previewing from the 4th of September. We have really collaborated with the Company and the festival has helped facilitate that. The theater festival also brings this other element of these world-class productions, and also then we have a new show from Pan Pan, The Seagull & Other Birds. It is just a really great time of year for us because the festivals bring a whole new audience to the project every year, and our job is to make them come back the rest of the year. I would say we are in a very good place, our audiences are growing every year, and people are making work, really exciting work.
Dublin Tiger Fringe runs from September 5th – 20th.