If you have been to see any major new Irish plays in Manhattan over the last two and a half decades you’ll have noticed that one name pops up with remarkable frequency in the production credits.
In fact her credits to date read like a who’s who of contemporary playwriting, but she’s rarely received the gratitude due to such a champion of new Irish writing for the stage.
Georganne Aldrich Heller, daughter of the famous fashion designer and art collector Larry Aldrich and a successful designer and artist in her own right, is the president of Irish Theatre & Film Production, a company devoted to presenting the work of Irish playwrights in New York, London and Dublin, but outside the world of Irish theatre (which less face it, is smaller than a west of Ireland village) she’s not nearly as well known or feted by the Irish community here as she should be.
That really needs to change, because if we’re smart we should acknowledge and thank anyone who advocates on behalf of our culture and arts, and recently – thanks to a clued in consular office - it has finally been changing.
Aldrich Heller recently received a proclamation from the Irish Consul General of New York for her outstanding contributions to Irish Theater in the US and internationally, a well-deserved achievement, but let’s hope it’s the first of many in the near future.
Consider that her recent production credits have included Mark O’Rowe's Howie The Rookie at BAM, The Last Days of Cleopatra by the gifted Laoisa Sexton, Who’s Your Daddy? a fatherhood monologue by Johnny O’Callaghan and the US premieres of Silent and Forgotten both by the inimitable theatre artist Pat Kinevane.
Other hits have included Geraldine Hughes’s unforgettable childhood portrait Belfast Blues, Marie Jones’s international hit A Night in November, Jimmy Murphy’s The Kings of the Kilburn High Road and Joseph O’Connor’s Red Roses & Petrol. Does anyone still need to be painted a picture here?
Writing is a solitary craft, and the Irish are an inward looking people, so for their words to reach the world they often need the help of advocates and interpreters that understand them and the wider world they often eschew. With her background on the board of directors to The Irish Arts Center and as a previous Cultural Director for the Borough of Manhattan, there are few people better placed to do just that.
“There is nothing Irish in my background, but it just became an obsession,” Aldrich Heller tells the Irish Voice about her career as an Irish play and film producer. “I’d never even been to Ireland, it was the last thing on my agenda, but the first visit did it. The minute I got to Dublin I fell madly in love with the people. They were so fabulous and the humor was so incredible. Before I knew it I was very involved with the Irish Arts Center as a producer. I was out there raising money.”
Her producing efforts, which began in the early 1990’s, took her to Ireland when the Troubles were still raging, where she stayed at the Europa hotel, once famous for being the most bombed hotel in Europe. “My husband thought I was nuts. Are you crazy he asked me? Why are you in Belfast? Get out of that hotel!”
But Aldrich Heller’s support of his wife’s projects was total and remains so. And after over two and a half decades of production work some aspects of that contemporary Irish theatre writing that interest her have become observable. She’s interested in modernity, in plays that speak directly to Irish life, as it is lived now, not fifty or one hundred years ago.
“I’ve never seen any Irish plays that show what the working class in modern Dublin has to deal with today, and until I started producing them myself. That’s something American audiences really what to know about. That’s just interesting. That’s what worth knowing about. Honestly I’ve had plays about the Troubles up to here. I believe that the best new Irish writing is showing us what modern life is like in Ireland, and the ways that it resembles life here, but with an accent!”