Address by Brian Merriman, Founder, International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, at the launch of the 11th Festival in the Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin 2 on Tuesday March 18th at 5.30pm.
Sen. David Norris, Patrick Mason & Brian Merriman at the launch
“Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you Lord Mayor for the great honour you do for us again today by acknowledging the citizenship of the LGBT community in Dublin and our contribution to the arts. It is important to be included and very nice to be welcomed into the home of the First Citizen. Dublin City Council, which you lead, gets inclusiveness – it is part of what makes Dublin a good place to express yourself and one of the key pillars of the success of Dublin as being the biggest international home for gay theatre on the planet! You and your predecessors, and your Arts office have been a considerable help to us in reaching our second decade and long may that cooperation last!
Yes, The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival is the biggest of it is kind in the world. It is also an established example of what people can achieve together when they have a common cause. Not for the first time are we in the presence of a Tony Award winner. Our patron Terrence Mac Nally has graced this festival previously. I am particularly thrilled to welcome Tony Award winning director Patrick Mason here today. He truly honours us, not only with his distinguished presence, but with the gift of his theatre at home and abroad. He has directed over 150 works. I think he is responsible for me seeing my first gay play in Ireland in the National Theatre – ‘Angels in America’ – what a far-seeing and wonderful production that challenged Irish audiences to embrace other cultures. It was, as always, ahead of it’s time for Ireland. Most recently I attended his wonderful study of Frank Mc Guinness’s latest play ‘The Hanging Gardens’, and his powerful interpretation of ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster’ still lives in my memory. All of that, Wilde and what many of you here today do, is gay theatre. When not advertised as that, they pack out in mainstream – when we advertise them as gay theatre, we battle for hearts, minds and seats! That is our inter-cultural dialogue – to show that gay theatre is good theatre and it is for you.
I would like to congratulate Patrick on being elevated to a Doctorate by UCD last June. Patrick placed at the centre of his stewardship of the national theatre at the end of the twentieth century, an artistic courage through the liberation of voices. We share, but in an incredibly modest way as you can clearly see, his inspiration and Yeat’s call that art and intellect could integrate with the social and political, as it must. In trying to contribute in some way to the liberation and recognition of gay voices in theatre, we too seek to enable Yeat’s call to ‘speak the deeper thoughts and emotions of Ireland’.
Welcome too to Sean, his partner and I know they and you will all join with me in marking the recent passing of Ireland’s foremost gay artist Patrick Scott. Pat was yet another gay man whose art shone through in a much less accepting time, proving my old mantra again ‘it is not acceptable to laud the art and loath the artist’. Pat’s remarkable journey of creativity in a very hostile time in Ireland also proves what many minorities struggle with – you really do have to be brilliant just to be equal, and he certainly was that. When he was made a Saoi in Aosdana I wanted to celebrate his complete identity at a launch to claim him as a role model for his achievement for us as well, but I couldn’t as I didn’t know if his personal life with his partner Eric Pearce was public. It was good to see his life fully acknowledged at his passing. Our sympathies go to Eric, his family, colleagues and friends. May he rest easy and may we continue to enjoy his great legacy.
We also are celebrating the beginning of our second decade at a time when something remarkable happened in Irish theatre. There is always an open door welcome for Irish artists in this International Festival and I am thrilled to launch the biggest Irish programme ever this year. In this multi-media age, some question the relevance of theatre – and then Rory O Neill dons his latest glamorous outfit and produces probably his finest piece of theatre on the Abbey stage. The show was over, he walked onto the stage as a noble call and delivered in the most expertly crafted lines, a voice to the ongoing story of unchallenged oppression that still gets us all on a daily basis. One short moment in live theatre captured our multi media world, went viral and is now, thanks to the ‘Pet Shop Boys’ topping the charts. And with all the fuss and attention, the truth of Panti’s message is still the most triumphant element of his achievement in not bowing to adversity. It was remarkable theatre by a remarkable artist. It is equally remarkable that so many people were enlightened by what to the rest of us is our daily experience, internalised or externalised oppression.
It is somewhat frustrating that despite a decade of either achievement or survival, this worldwide event in Dublin is at risk of falling with the last volunteer. We have no office, no computer, no staff and not even a chair as an asset, after a decade of unrivalled output and considerable success. It is exhausting trying to work real standards driven theatre with such a paucity of resources, despite the generosity of our volunteer base. I want genuinely to acknowledge the support given to us in staging 180 performances of new Irish theatre and international voices in Dublin this May with the essential help of 6,000 euros from the Arts Council and 4,000 euros from Dublin City Council. We are, with six weeks to go, anxiously awaiting to see if Fáilte Ireland will maintain or hopefully add to our 3,000 euros grant from 2013. ‘RTE Supporting the Arts’ has kindly offered us a free TV ad this year, if we can raise the resources to make it. That’s a much better way for them to use their scarce resources. RTE, through the Festival, first broadcast the word ‘gay’ in an ad on radio and later on TV, just as the City Council made history when they first flew the word ‘gay’ on the flagpoles on the River and will facilitate us doing so again this year – thank you.
You can read all about that and more in my book ‘Wilde Stages In Dublin – a decade of gay theatre’ now on sale here, in the Little Museum of Dublin and Book Upstairs on online on http://www.gaytheatre.ie. Our thanks also go to the our long-standing friends in the Arlington Hotel group, who really do look after our guests each year so well and to the Front Lounge, the gay media and all venues for their ongoing support.
In the 21st Century, the latest crumb to fall from the rights table, is that we are to be allowed ask for permission to marry in a referendum next year – the final ignomy perhaps to end 130 years of legislative oppression, formalised with the 1885 Act that incarcerated Wilde, forbade Edwards and Mac Liammoir from marrying, never acknowledged the 1923 election of Dr Kathleen Lynn as our first and perhaps only lesbian TD, saw the IRB abandon Casement in the dock as his diaries revealed his prowess, encouraged Francis Bacon and thousands of others to stay away, and still criminalised us until 21 years ago. In all that we still find the space to tell the stories of the past and our stories of today in this innovative and entertaining programme and to be fair, more people straight and gay listen for the 11th year in succession.
The vibrant programme this year reflects our history as plays unpack the stories of the Great War in ‘For the Trumpets Still Sound’. My own play ‘Eirebrushed’ looks at the concept of a flawed person being a hero in the context of Pearse, Casement, O’Farrell and Gore Booth, who along with Kathleen Lynn and Madeleine ffrench Mullen were among the many gay heroes of a struggle in 1916, which was to end with no minority being subject to the majority. We are glad to return to the New Theatre this year.
We out soccer players in ‘Away From Home’ – when an escort falls for his premier league client. Marriage equality shines through in the retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk in ‘A Boy and A Bean’ from Australia and the other side of the coin ‘Civil Parting’ about divorce, coming to us from South Africa. Pearse and Casement are not the only political figures under the spotlight as politics and culture from the 1980s is quite a theme this year. Margaret Thatcher becomes the ‘Queen of Soho’ finding herself lost in Soho on the eve of Clause 28 and accidentally becoming a cabaret star. If only she had remained in that career choice.
We kick off our free events programme with ‘Show and Tell’ and ‘Spoken Word’ curated by David Doyle in ‘The Harbour Playhouse’ in Portobello. ‘T-Girls’ is our free play reading on Sunday May 11th in the Front Lounge, set on the drag scene in Dublin 1980s. In a year where transgender identity rights take another step forward, we also look at gender identity in a special matinee ‘child friendly’ play called ‘Aunty Ben’. Ciara Gannon and Siobhan Killen treat us to a musical 80’s feast of what was ‘Acceptable In The 80’s’ – part of a specific series where Irish LGBT voices direct from the community, share their talents this year. This includes the accomplished LGBT ‘Acting Out’ Group presenting their politically incorrect comedy ‘Tits Up’ both in the wonderful space at Outhouse, the LGBT community centre in Capel Street. It is good to be back there amongst friends.
We continue to encourage new writing and our audiences continue to flock to the ever popular ‘Theatre Shorts’ programme. This year we have five shorts in the Cobalt Café with ‘Blue Boy’ by mark Ward, ‘Dear Madonna’ by Mark Power, ‘Grace and Maggie’ by Therese Prendiville, ‘Bitten’ by Penny Jackson and ‘The Interview’ by myself, Irish and international writers. We are delighted to welcome our first play from Derry ‘Lesbian Style’ powerful storytelling theatre.
What is a strong bond in gay theatre is that is doesn’t need any translation if it comes to Ireland from abroad. ‘Faggot (Jesus Loves Me)’ deals with the struggle a Canadian couple have with one being influenced by religion and the other not. Gay icon Madonna gets her homage in the shorts, in Outhouse and also in ‘Chicken Fried Ciccione’ by last year’s best Actor J Stephen Brantley from New York.
Ireland’s stand-up comic Breda Larkin is back with another hit ‘Other Women’s World’ and we link up with the legendary Provincetown Gay Theatre Festival to bring ‘Two from Provincetown’: ‘A Shining Attribute by Candyce Rusk and a short, ‘What to Throw Out’ by our Ambassador Kathleen Warnock, so instrumental in bringing ‘Panti’ and our Festival to the streets of the inclusive ‘St Patricks for All Parade’ in New York, recently.
We have some great musical treats. Renowned star ‘The Late David Turpin’ will play his only 2014 Irish concerts in two late nights in the Cobalt, the week after Stella Bass presents a jazz version of some of composer Stephen Sondheim’s best songs in ‘A Little jazz Night Music’. The UK’s Exist Theatre combines original music in their contemporary relationship piece called ‘Man Enough’ and we camp it up big time in a backstage musical delight called ‘The Dressers’ completing our musical programme.
We are delighted to renew our acquaintance with the legendary gay theatre producer David Zak. David’s Chicago based ‘Bailiewick Theatre Company’ and his ‘Pride Film and Play’ competition results in a visit for the first time in years by this company, with the award winning comedy ‘At the Flash’.
Young Irish writers continue to identify the Festival as a place where they will be heard, supported and showcased. Del Masterson premiere’s his latest work ‘Two Sides Of A Coin’ as does the prolific Alan Flanagan who will meet us at the junction of ‘Dupont and Davenport’. We present two accounts of historical gay writers in Israel’s ‘Jean Genet – Son of a Bitch’ and we would not be complete without some Oscar and look forward to a visit from ‘My Dorian’ from Starving Artists, a university company from the USA. It is great to see their university funding this trip.
I can think of no better way to begin a new decade that to mark an incredible coincidence. In May 1964 – the 18th to be precise – retired dancer Joe Cino broke new boundaries by staging the first ever ‘gay play’ in gay theatre. ‘The Madness of Lady Bright’ by Landford Wilson was the trail blazer and exactly 50 years to the night, our Gala night will celebrate International Gay theatre in our awards concert and ceremony titled in tribute ‘A Night At The Café Cino’. Here we will present awards in the names of Wilde, Edwards, Mac Liammoir, Eve Gore Booth, Patrick Murray and pioneering gay playwright from the Cino days, Doric Wilson, in a celebration of what I am sure will be a Festival of merit to begin our second decade.
We are also launching today a fundraising partnership programme with the LGBT community groups where we invite them to book out a theatre on an opening night at a discounted rate, and to charge what they like to raise funds for their diverse and essential causes. We hope this will in some way assist them as they too struggle to preserve essential services and to fight the cause of human rights for all, through the marriage equality campaigns that are ahead.
My attempts to step down as the organiser of this event after a decade have been a spectacular failure. I am very grateful to the small team that continues to step forward and to dedicate their considerable time and talent to ensure other voices will be included in our intercultural dialogue with mainstream society at home and abroad. Interns Ramona and David have made their mark and Company Secretary, Gareth, John James, Annick, Vinny or very talented designer who takes the helm for the first time this year, Joe, Adam, Meg, our ‘straight’ technical Director Paul, and the team of volunteers with endless patience and dedication will see this event through once more, backstage, front of house and in marketing and promotion, I am sure. We do need help over the next two months and we need support, resources, and a generosity of talking the event up, to ensure it’s second decade will build on the achievements of the first. I live in hope of finding a successor to Chair this dynamic entity.
We are suffering from goodwill. So many people look at the event and go ‘well done’ and then self exclude themselves from it because they are not LGBT or they think they are not into theatre. This programme will appeal to many and we need your help in convincing them, that as mainstream theatre is inclusive and relevant, so are we. If you have never done it before, book a show online at http://www.gaytheatre.ie – top price is only 15 euros. If you have done it before, book in a friend or make this your group activity in May. 50% of our audience is straight, we attract tourists form abroad but we need more people from all walks of life to cross the threshold of innovative theatre to support these great companies who sacrifice so much to showcase their work at our Festival. We do not personally profit in anyway from our work, but I believe we all profit from this visibility, this diversity, this inclusiveness of all, regardless of their identity, in a unique artistic celebration of new voices, new work and new horizons in Dublin in May.
Thank you, Lord Mayor for your gracious hospitality and support. Thank you Patrick for you ongoing contribution to great theatre and for allowing us to associate ourselves with you today. Thank you all for writing, acting, singing, producing, technical support, front of house, administration, funding, sponsoring, fundraising and attending. Booking opens online tomorrow morning! See you at the 11th festival with a new programme of quality theatre each week beginning May 5th and May 12th 2014.”