herald

Wednesday 21 November 2018

Arts: Future Is In Focus

Focus theatre's Acting Studio was founded in April 1963 by Irish-American actor Deirdre O'Connell, who trained at the Lee Strasberg Studio in New York.

The theatre was opened by O'Connell and her husband, Luke Kelly (The Dubliners), in 1967, and it became the place for artists in the 70s and 80s.

Many of Ireland's top theatre and film artists -- such as Gabriel Byrne, Tom Hickey, Johnny Murphy, Sean Campion, Olwen Fouere -- trained and started their careers there. Deirdre died in 2001, and I took over the next year, continuing the Stanislavski tradition of production -- creating theatre that develops an actor's craft, and at an imaginative and emotional level for the audience.

Since 2006 the venue has been closed for refurbishment so all of our work has been produced off-site. We have received major funding from the Government and private sponsorship, but our landlords recently died so we are in legal limbo. There's no date yet as to when we will reopen -- but hopefully it will be autumn 2010. However, this has not affected our presence and profile in Dublin or around the country -- we have an almost 12-month calendar of work at many festivals and venues.

Next up for us is a special event to mark the centenary of Francis Bacon in association with RHA Ely Place and the Unicorn restaurant. Frances & Francis, a workshop production of Brian McAvera's play, is a surreal and disturbing work in a music-hall style, told through the creative and chaotic personal life of Francis Bacon.

The plays charts his Irish childhood in a turbulent and war-torn Ireland to his rise to fame, and how the political landscape of Europe and Francis' private life impacted on his imagination to create some of the most disturbing and iconic paintings of the 20th century.

I think the Celtic Tiger saw Irish people spiritually getting very ugly; it was quite shocking what some people did to get ahead. I hope we can draw a line under that period and get back to making great theatre and respect each other's creativity. In tough times we all must dig deep emotionally and spiritually, and support each other.

I am not advocating poverty -- there is nothing romantic about it. If I lose my funding I will be back in poverty. Artists need financial support to continue to do their work. We are not asking for a lot, but what we can offer back to society is enormous.

If we are doing it right we can help transform people's lives for the better during tough times; it means getting out there and connecting again with our communities. If we are serious about our work, we can work as an arts community and share resources, knowledge and experience. We can achieve more collectively than in isolation.

There is room for everyone to express themselves -- provided they have something of substance to say and can say it well.

Frances & Francis runs in the Royal Hibernian Academy, 15 Ely Place, Dublin 2, on Friday, 23rd October at 1pm. Booking: 01 671 2417. For more information go to www.focustheatre.ie

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