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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 19 February, 2019
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Interview: Challenges have always existed for writers, but now they need even more support

It’s easy to see why young writers could be put off by projects with no guarantee of success but new playwrights need to make a leap of faith – they are the future of theatre, says Thomas Conway.

Thomas Conway

Jade Hayden talks to the Druid Theatre’s literary manager, Thomas Conway about the needs of the typical Irish audience, the challenges faced by emerging writers, and how Druid can provide the resources in order to sustain an artist’s career.

SOURCING FUNDING AND interest for work has always proven a difficult feat for writers and directors who have recently arrived on the theatre scene. Druid was the first professional theatrical company in Ireland to travel the country, giving budding Irish writers the opportunity to share their work with the public. Since our founding we have focused on presenting the people of Ireland with national works, from both the past and the present.

Plays like Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World have graced our stages, along with a selection of Galway born Tom Murphy’s works appearing alongside them too. Having been involved with Druid for many years now, I have seen the company’s steady rise within the wide artistic culture spectrum that exists in Ireland, and among various theatre companies alike, to become what it is now – a thriving success.

A city of culture

For me, Galway always seemed like the perfect city to base a theatre. It’s cultural uniqueness and unavoidable ‘Irish-ness’ are what draw various arts festivals and travelling performers to its heart every year, and it’s for these reasons that staging a national play for this specific audience is so rewarding. The public are offered the chance to enjoy productions that have been carefully selected through our open submission process with an Irish viewer in mind; not only ensuring that the audience can engage with the play, but also giving up-and-coming writers a place to submit their work.

Challenges like these have always existed for writers, whether they be from Ireland or abroad, but in today’s current economic climate it’s easy to see why many would be put off by the idea of working project by project with no guarantee of achieving success. It’s exactly these kind of artists that Druid has been aiming to promote in recent times. Where someone might have lacked the skills to transport their work from paper to the stage, we work to improve these skills. When a writer we are working with is unsure of their work, Druid will mentor them, and provide the resources to ensure that no talent is wasted.

Young writers push the progression of theatre

Recently, we worked with the Galway Arts Festival in conjunction with our Druid Debuts series to work with these emerging artists. Seeing as theatre is constantly changing, it’s important for new, young writers to be involved in this process because it is their work that pushes the progression of theatre ahead. The Debuts series in particular allows these writers to work with a group of actors, a director, a stage and most importantly, an audience.

Thanks to these debuts over the years, Druid has familiarised the world of theatre with the likes of Enda Walsh and even Martin McDonagh, before he became the established director and screenwriter we know today. Without them, we would be stuck in a limbo of historical battles and politically charged arguments that might still stand the test of time for some, but nothing can aid the advancement of the arts like a fresh face among an old crowd.

Although our submission process is open to all, the pieces selected for our short-list must meet the requirements we believe to be necessary in order to make a production a success. As they are primarily Irish-written themselves, most of the plays we receive do concern Irish themes, characters and issues, but it’s also important for a text to include a strong structure, convincing dialogue, and a powerful sense of stage craft; one that will connect the Galway audience with the play in a way that would not be possible if these requirements were not met.

The future of Irish theatre?

Theatre is always developing – just as the idea of what makes a good play, and who makes a notable writer, are constantly mutating as we progress through time. I believe that one of the biggest advances for Irish theatre in the past few years is the great prosperity of more and more women in leadership positions within the theatrical sphere. Directors like Louise Lowe have stormed Irish stages with their fresh, contemporary productions concerning raw themes of addiction and notoriety that may not have been as widespread in Ireland previously.

It’s thanks to plays like these, the audiences who attend them, and the young writers who make them possible, that Irish theatre will continue to prosper – and that Druid will be able to continue staging new pieces of writing.

Thomas Conway is the Literary Manager with Druid, based in Galway city. He also teaches contemporary theatre in NUI Galway and in The Lir, Dublin. To visit Druid’s website, click here.

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Thomas Conway

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