Abby Theatre

History Irish Literary Theatre A poster for the opening run at the Abbey Theatre from 27 December 1904 to 3 January 1905 The Abbey arose from three distinct bases, the first of which was the seminal Irish Literary Theatre. Founded by Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn and William Butler Yeats in 1899²with assistance from George Moore[3]²it presented plays in the Ancient Concert Rooms and the Gaiety Theatre, which brought critical approval but limited public interest. The second base involved the work
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  History Irish Literary Theatre A poster for the opening run at the Abbey Theatre from 27 December 1904 to 3 January 1905The Abbey arose from three distinct bases, the first of which was the seminalIrish LiteraryTheatre. Founded byLady Gregory,Edward MartynandWilliam Butler Yeatsin 1899²with assistance fromGeorge Moore [3]  ²it presented plays in the Ancient Concert Rooms and theGaiety Theatre, which brought critical approval but limited public interest.The second base involved the work of two Irish brothers,WilliamandFrank Fay. [4] Williamworked in the 1890s with a touring company in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, while Frank washeavily involved in amateur dramatics in Dublin. After William returned to Dublin, the Fay brothers staged productions in halls around the city and eventually formedW. G. Fay's Irish National Dramatic Company, focused on the development of Irish acting talent. In April 1902,the Fays gave three performances of  Æ'splay  Deirdre and Yeats' Cathleen NíHoulihan in a hallin St. Theresa's Hall on Clarendon Street. The performances played to a mainly working-classaudience rather than the usual middle-class Dublin theatregoers. The run was a great success,thanks in part toMaud Gonne, who played the lead in Yeats' play. The company continued at theAncient Concert Rooms, producing works bySeumasO'Cuisin,Fred Ryanand Yeats. The third base was financial support and experience of Annie Elizabeth Fredericka Horniman.Horniman was a middle-class Englishwoman with previous experience of theatre production,having been involved in the presentation of George Bernard Shaw's  Arms and the Man inLondon in 1894. She came to Dublin in 1903 to act as Yeats' unpaid secretary and to makecostumes for a production of his play The King's Threshold  . Her money helped found the AbbeyTheatre and, according to the critic Adrian Frazier, would make the rich feel at home, and the poor²on a first visit²out of place. [5]    Foundation Lady Gregory pictured on the frontispiece to O ur Irish Theatre: A Chapter of Autobiography  (1913)Encouraged by the St Theresa's Hall success, Yeats, Lady Gregory, Æ, Martyn, andJohnMillington Syngefounded the Irish National Theatre Society in 1903 with funding fromHorniman. At first, they staged performances in the Molesworth Hall. [6] When theHibernianTheatre of Varietiesin Lower Abbey Street and an adjacent building in Marlborough Street became available after fire safety authorities closed the Hibernia, Horniman and William Fayagreed to buy and refit the space to meet the society's needs. [7]  On 11 May 1904, the society formally accepted Horniman's offer of the use of the building. AsHorniman did not usually reside in Ireland, the royalletters patentrequired were granted in thename of Lady Gregory, although paid for by Horniman. The founders appointed William Faytheatre manager, responsible for training the actors in the newly established repertory company.They commissioned Yeats' brother Jack to paint portraits of all the leading figures in the societyfor the foyer, and hiredSarah Purser to design stained glass for the same space. [8]  On 27 December, the curtains went up on opening night. The bill consisted of three one-act plays, O n Baile's Strand  and Cathleen NíHoulihan by Yeats, and Spreading the News by LadyGregory. On the second night,  In the Shadow of the Glen by Synge replaced the second Yeats play. These two bills alternated over a five-night run. Frank Fay, playingCúchulainnin O n Baile's Strand  , was the first actor on the Abbey stage. [9] Although Horniman had designed thecostumes, neither she nor Lady Gregory were present. Horniman had returned to England. Inaddition to providing funding, her chief role with the Abbey over the coming years was toorganise publicity and bookings for their touring productions inLondonand provincial England.In 1905 without properly consulting Horniman, Yeats, Lady Gregory and Synge decided to turnthe theatre into alimited liability company, the National Theatre Society Ltd. [10] Annoyed by thistreatment, she hiredBen Iden Payne, a former Abbey employee, to help run a new repertorycompany which she founded inManchester . E arly year    The new Abbey Theatre found great popular success, and large crowds attended many of its productions. The Abbey was fortunate in having Synge as a key member, as he was thenconsidered one of the foremost English-language dramatists. The theatre staged many plays byeminent or soon-to-be eminent authors, including Yeats, Lady Gregory, Moore, Martyn,PadraicColum,George Bernard Shaw,Oliver St John Gogarty,F. R. Higgins,Thomas MacDonagh, Lord Dunsany,T. C. Murray,James CousinsandLennox Robinson. Many of these authors served on the board, and it was during this time that the Abbey gained its reputation as a writers'theatre.John Millington Synge, author of  The Playboy of the Western World  , which caused riots at theAbbey on the play's opening night.The Abbey's fortunes worsened in January 1907 when the opening of Synge's The Playboy of theWestern World  resulted in civil disturbance. The troubles (since known as the  Playboy Riots   )were encouraged, in part, bynationalistswho believed the theatre was insufficiently political andwho took offence at Synge's use of the word 'shift', as it was known at the time as a symbolrepresentingKitty O'Sheaand adultery, and hence was seen as a slight on the virtue of Irishwomanhood. [12] Much of the crowd rioted loudly, and the actors performed the remainder of the play indumbshow. [13] The theatre's decision to call in the police further roused anger of thenationalists. Although press opinion soon turned against the rioters and the protests faded,management of the Abbey was shaken. They chose not to stage Synge's next²and lastcompleted²play, The Tinker's Wedding  (1908), for fear of further disturbances. That same year,the Fay brothers' association with the theatre ended when they emigrated to the United States;Lennox Robinson took over the Abbey's day-to-day management.In 1909, Shaw's The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet  led to further protests. The subsequentdiscussion occupied a full issue of the theatre's journal The Arrow . Also that year, the proprietorsdecided to make the Abbey independent of Annie Horniman, who had indicated a preference for this course. Relations with Horniman had been tense, partly because she wished to be involved inchoosing which plays were to be performed and when. As a mark of respect for the death of King Edward VII, an understanding existed that Dublin theatres were to close on the night of 7May 1910. Robinson, however, kept the Abbey open. [14] When Horniman heard of Robinson's  decision, she severed her connections with the company. [15] By her own estimate, she hadinvested £10,350²worth approximately $1 million in 2007 US dollars²on the project.With the loss of Horniman, Synge, and the Fays, the Abbey under Robinson tended to drift,suffering from falling public interest and box office returns. This trend was halted for a time bythe emergence of Sean O'Caseyas an heir to Synge. [16] O'Casey's career as a dramatist beganwith The Shadow of a Gunman , staged by the Abbey in 1923. This was followed by  Juno and the Paycock  in 1924, and The Plough and the Stars in 1926. Theatregoers arose in riots over the last play, in a way reminiscent of those that had greeted the  Playboy 19 years earlier. [17] Concernedabout public reaction, the Abbey rejected O'Casey's next play. He emigrated to London shortlythereafter. [18]  In 1924, Yeats and Lady Gregory offered the Abbey to the government of the Free State as a giftto the Irish people. Although the government refused, the following year Minister of FinanceErnest Blythearranged an annual government subsidy of £850 for the Abbey. This made thecompany the first state-supported theatre in the English-speaking world. [19] The subsidy allowedthe theatre to avoid bankruptcy, but the amount was too small to rescue it from financialdifficulty.The Abbey School of Acting and the Abbey School of Ballet were set up that year. The latter was led by Ninette de Valois ²who had provided choreography for a number of Yeats' plays² and ran until 1933. [20]   The Peacock and the Gate Around this time the company acquired additional space, allowing them to create a smallexperimental theatre, the  Peacock  , in the ground floor of the main theatre. In 1928,HiltonEdwardsandMicheálMacLiammoir launched theGate Theatre, initially using the Peacock to stage works by European and American dramatists. [21] The Gate primarily sought work from newIrish playwrights and, despite the new space, the Abbey entered a period of artistic decline.This is illustrated by the story of how one new work was said to have come to the Gate Theatre.Denis Johnstonreportedly submitted his first play, Shadowdance , to the Abbey; however, LadyGregory rejected it, returning it to the author with ³The Old Lady says No´ written across thetitle page. [22] Johnston decided to re-title the play. The Gate staged The O ld Lady Says 'No'  in The Peacock  in 1928. (Note: academic critics Joseph Ronsley and Christine St. Peter havequestioned the veracity of this story.) [23]   After Yeats The tradition of the Abbey as primarily a writers' theatre survived Yeats' withdrawal from day-to-day involvement.Frank O'Connor sat on the board from 1935 to 1939, served as managingdirector from 1937, and had two plays staged during this period. He was alienated from andunable to cope with many of the other board members. They held O'Connor's past adulteryagainst him. Although he fought formidably to retain his position, soon after Yeats died, the board began machinations to remove O'Connor. [24][25]  


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