The first in a series of interviews with Dublin’s most prominent theatre venues, Gillian Greer met with Artistic Director Anthony Fox to discuss The New Theatre – a hub for new work from up-and-coming and established theatre makers in the city.
How did The New Theatre come about? Where did it all start?
The New Theatre started in 1997 when I came home from New York. At the time, my dad was aware of The Connolly Bookshop and I had wanted to put on a play that dealt with social strife in the Summerhill, Inner City area. I found a play that dealt with that called Joyriders, and at the time it was costing so much to put it on in Andrews Lane, I thought if I converted the space behind the bookshop it would make more economic sense. So I took what money I had saved from New York and put it into a little run down hall at the back of the Connolly Bookshop, which was called Seomra an Ceoil at that time. And Joyriders, our first show, went very well. It was very run down at that time. Basically a hay barn. So then fast forward seventeen years later and we have a brand new space which was developed with Connolly bookshop, ourselves, and Mick Wallace – who saved the building. It was crashing down around our ears.
Do you have a manifesto or style or driving vision when you put on your own work?
The vision of the theatre is that it’s a hub for young people and established writers to explore. We have a new play reading every month test their scripts, and if they think it’s working then we can help them or guide them on how to produce it. The most recent vision of the theatre is Joyce for me. When he came out of copyright we were the first theatre in Europe to produce his work. We did Portrait, and a version of Ulysses called Gibraltar at the end of 2012. We were the first theatre in Europe to do it and that was important for us, to get there. And we’re working on Finnegan’s Wake at the moment for 2016. So that’s one vision, to fulfil that Joyce dream, and to do theatre that is socially engaged.
So it seems to be a combination of a space for new and up-and-coming artists, a celebration of old Irish work in Joyce, and work with a social voice and social conscience?
Do you have a production of which you’re particularly proud?
Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man was a huge success because it went from a very small scale production in a small theatre to big theatres – it did very well in The Lyric, did well in Cork, Galway, toured to Paris. Next year we’re planning to go to Zurich, in the footsteps of James Joyce. There’s a lot of shows – I get a lot of satisfaction seeing people who have a real grá for theatre coming straight out of college. For example, Girls Like That – a great team. A prime example of a group of people who are very passionate and care about theatre. That’s who you want on your team.
How do you programme work?
Writers/producers email in a synopsis, cast size, who the team is, what their plans are with it. You sometimes get people who come in and have money, but for them it’s a hobby, but I’m not really interested in that. It won’t work. So I’d rather take a risk with a young company who are very strong and passionate about what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it.
Do you have any connection with development processes with these new works?
I sit in on all the new play readings, and at the end of each reading we have an anonymous feedback form, because it’s the best way to get to the root of a script. The writers always seem happy with their feedback. And based on that, twelve or eighteen months later that play on many occasions becomes a production.
Do you produce many of these new works?
There’s at least a dozen new play productions per year. Maybe even higher – so far this year we’ve put 22 new scripts on stage on into production. And that’s our average, every year. There’s very few companies that will just come in and write us a cheque – that really doesn’t happen anymore. So we’re involved with them from the outset. As Shakespeare said – ‘Keep the doors open’. I love that quote. Any venue where there door codes/security is dead.
How are you looking forward to being a fringe venue?
I love the fringe – the fact that the guy I collaborated with – Jimmy Fay who directed James Joyce’s Portrait – was one of the founders of the festival. I know the team very well, they’re really good hardworking people and you’ve got to admire that. We’re not in the arms industry – we’re in something that’s saving lives, inspiring people, telling relevant stories. I’m proud to be a part of it.
Next week, Gill chats to Laura Honan and Karl Shiels of Theatre Upstairs about what’s happening in Dublin’s youngest theatre.