Now in its third year, New York’s annual 1st Irish Theatre Festival has found some high-level sponsors in the city. The reason for their growing interest is clear say observers -- cultural tourism and cultural economics will be crucial to Ireland’s regeneration and the theater festival is active in promoting both.
Loretta Brennan Glucksman, chairman of the American Ireland Fund and a passionate supporter of the arts told the Irish Voice, “George Heslin, the Irish Theatre Festival’s director, has been an active member of the Irish community in New York for many years now and he has worked so hard to bring out so many wonderful artists that would never have had an opening in New York. That kind of cultural cross-pollination you just can’t put a value on. We were thrilled to be able to support him.”
Brennan Glucksman says she is not surprised that the Irish arts are in increasing demand here in New York.
“People here are predisposed to things Irish and I think its rooted in the midst of our history, our wonderful bards, and people expect quality from Ireland in all cultural areas. I’m a fan of the theater in general and I’m blessed with friends who work professionally in it like Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne and Geraldine Hughes. These people have broadened my horizons and enriched my life. I feel I’m the beneficiary too.”
Norman Houston, director of the Northern Ireland Bureau, which also supports the festival, echoed Brennan Glucksman’s assessment of the festival.
“The reason I got involved was that alongside the plays there was a bigger message that said within Northern Ireland we have a number of very vibrant young playwrights who were able to produce quality plays that are good enough to be performed on the New York stage,” he said.
At the launch of the festival last week many observers were surprised to discover that while there were many Irish people in attendance they were not the dominant ethnic group. “I was pleasantly surprised there was sufficient interest in the city and a lot of that is probably down to George Heslin. He drives the whole engine with his own enthusiasm,” added Houston.
New Irish writing reminds audiences that the North is also an ideal place to study, with universities in Belfast, Coleraine and Derry offering semesters abroad and degree programs, says Houston. Demonstrating that the North has no shortage of innovative and talented young artists also provides an opportunity to remind audiences that their peers at home can do equally well in information technology and engineering, Houston said.
“When you think that New York City has eight million people and Northern Ireland only has 1.7 million, it’s like we’re working in a small country and this festival helps to raise our profile. The plays themselves are looking beyond the Troubles, which reminds people we have political stability and a peace process that other countries are learning from,” he said.
“A lot of the playwrights have already grown up after the ceasefires, and their works send a different message. Their experience of living and growing up in Northern Ireland is different of someone of my age. That’s being proven in the festival and that message is invaluable.”
For tickets and show times to the festival visit www.1stirish.org.