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'A positive first step': Abbey meets with theatre makers over 'deep concern and dissatisfaction'

Over 400 theatre makers have signed an open letter raising their concerns to Culture Minister Josepha Madigan.

A GROUP OF people representing theatre makers have held a meeting with management at the Abbey, after an open letter to Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan described the “deep concern and dissatisfaction” with the theatre’s direction.

In a joint statement, the Abbey Theatre and the 15 actors, directors, writers and producers said the meeting was a “positive and productive first step”.

Abbey Theatre chair Dr Frances Ruane, director Neil Murray and board member Sarah Durcan met with the representatives yesterday. 

The letter sent to Madigan on 7 January specifically refers to the direction taken by the national theatre since the appointment of its Directors Neil Murray and Graham McLaren. Both took over from the previous Director, Fiach MacConghail.

Under their remit, the theatre has had a particular focus on diversity, and also on offering events such as free preview shows to make the theatre more accessible. However, the signatories say that as a result the freelance theatre community has been “cast adrift”.

There are now 407 people who have signed the letter, which those who organised it said is still rising. The signatories, who include actors, directors, writers, designers, technicians, producers and agents/casting directors/educators, have met over the last two weeks and all have nominated people to represent their group on a panel.

Those who signed the letter wrote of their “deep concern and dissatisfaction” with the theatre’s direction since Murray and McLaren took up their roles:

The grace period since their arrival is well and truly over and the situation in which the Irish theatre community finds itself is now critical. While the institution may be financially buoyant – and due congratulations for this – the freelance theatre community, in particular, has been cast adrift.

The letter claims that the theatre is now producing fewer in-house productions, which is causing “devastation among our ranks”. 

The letter states:

There will not have been an Ireland-based actor in an Abbey Theatre production on an Abbey stage since Jimmy’s Hall ended on 8 September 2018 until The Country Girls opens on 23 February 2019. That is five and a half months without an Ireland-based actor directly employed by the Abbey.

In response to the letter, the Abbey Theatre said it had “huge respect” for the artists who signed the letter and that it would take their concerns “very seriously”. 

“Over the past two years, the Abbey has opened its doors to many companies and artists who had not previously gained access to their national theatre and we have led on gender equality in the theatre sector,” the statement added.

Following the meeting on Friday, both sides have agreed to a process of bilateral meetings to address the concerns raised in the letter. 

They said: “An initial time frame for this process has been established and by the end of April 2019 a report on progress will be prepared.

Each of the parties will be providing a progress update to both the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and The Arts Council.

With reporting from Aoife Barry

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