Abbey Theatre names new director

The attempted renaissance of the Abbey Theatre continues. Two new board members have been announced following the appointment of a new director Fiach MacConghail, who “will take on overall artistic and managerial responsibility for the theatre”.

From the Irish Times

The board announced the appointment yesterday almost three months after recruitment began in the midst of a financial crisis. The new appointment is of “director”, and the post explicitly includes management as well as artistic responsibility.

The appointment of Mr O’Donoghue’s adviser to the position comes after the Arts Council insisted recently that work practices would have to change and a commitment would have to be made to replace the National Theatre Society with a new company if the Abbey was to receive the €2 million in extra funding announced before Christmas.

The current artistic director, Mr Ben Barnes, completes his term at the end of this year and Mr MacConghail will become director-designate from the beginning of May.

During the transition period Mr MacConghail will work “in collaboration with Mr Barnes and managing director Brian Jackson”, the statement said.

The Guardian’s Ireland correspondent, Angelique Chrisafis has a more expansion version of the new director’s vision, and a point that other reports missed – he applied for the job before.

Mac Conghail, 40, is an independent theatre and film producer who has been arts adviser to the government throughout the recent Abbey crisis. He was beaten to the director’s job by Barnes last time round. Now, though, he says he has a “clear approach” and is undaunted by the scale of the Abbey’s problems.

He plans to begin with an overhaul of the Abbey’s byzantine superstructure of a board and advisory council, which has been likened to an unruly group of backseat drivers. The antiquated management structure has not changed since Yeats’s time,and is seen as the root of the modern theatre’s problems. The Arts Council recently promised an extra €2m in funding, but only if work practices changed and a new company was formed to run the venue.

Mac Conghail says his “vision” revolves around new writing and new ways of making theatre, including physical and non-verbal work. Running Dublin’s Project Arts centre in the 1990s taught him to respect an audience, he says, that “liked the shock of the new”. He also promises to reach audiences beyond the traditional Irish middle class by investing in new writing and diverse programming in the style of the National Theatre in London, and by touring in Ireland.

He says he wants the Abbey to re-engage politically. “Irish society is no longer a homogenous, one-coloured, one-cultured nation. It is the fastest-changing society in the world. We have to look at different ways of making theatre, as a lot of theatres in Britain have done.”

Here’s hoping that he succeeds in his vision.