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[Michael Mellamphy & Sarah Street Photo: James Higgins]
13th Annual Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival
Jan. 11-31, 2021
Special Events:Opening CeremonyMon Jan 11 @ 3pm
Zoom Mixer for Irish Artists EverywhereTBA
Closing CeremonySun Jan 31 @ 5pm
Photographed stepping out in the Times Square area, New York City, actors Michael Mellamphy and Sarah Street are now the new curators of the 13th Annual Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival which runs virtually this month -- January 11-3,1 2021. With Street currently in Ireland, Mellamphy was here in New York to outline their new chores since Fest founder George Heslin has moved on to run The New York Irish Center.
Six full productions of new work by some of the best-known Irish theater companies on either side of the Atlantic, and six films and documentaries (many with theatrical roots) are being presented during the all-virtual Origin 1st Irish Theatre Fest. The opening night play-screening is Eva O’Connor’s award-winning comedy "Mustard", from Fishamble in Dublin, with the first of three screenings on Monday January 11 at 8pm EST. This ribald one-hander about love and condiments written and performed by O’Connor (last seen in the 2020 1st Irish in “Maz & Bricks”) premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, where it won the Lustrum Award.
A total of 20 events, including five panels on topics including producing during the pandemic; inclusion and diversity in Ireland; the Irish influence on Tin Pan Alley, and the impact of Irish artists and actors on the video gaming industry, will be aired at times convenient to audiences in both the US and Ireland.
The Festival’s Opening Ceremony is at 3pm EST on Mon Jan 11. Tickets prices run from $10 for the plays, and $5 for the films, are available at www.origintheatre.org
Participating theatres companies include Fishamble: The New Play Company, and About Face Ireland in Dublin; the Irish Repertory Theatre and Origin Theatre Company in New York; The Wexford Art Center in Wexford, and The Lyric in Belfast.
Doing the festival during the LockdownTo be honest it’s been quite thrilling in many ways as it is a new way of producing a festival. All of the work is essentially done from our homes or wherever we find ourselves at any given time. Obviously I’m counting the days until I can be in a rehearsal room and tread the boards again. But having this experience during a very unsettling period for so many has given me great hope that we can widen the audience for both “1st Irish” and also for theatre in general.
Nothing can ever truly replace the experience of being at a live performance but this necessary experiment that theatre has been experiencing because of the lockdown is reaching audiences in schools, assisted living facilities, prisons and many sections of society that may not have had access to “Theatre” in the past. I’m very optimistic about the future of theatre and I believe this online element is something that can only help foster a positive growth right throughout our industry.
Seeing the work that’s been submitted for 1st Irish 2021 makes me extremely proud to be a part of the Origin community and our greater Theatre community in general. Co curating under the veil of lockdown has in fact helped lift the veil of uncertainty that Covid wrought, for me and I’m very positive that “1st Irish” and our community of actors, writers, directors and theatre professionals everywhere have a lot to look forward to.
The difference between running the festival and appearing in itI’ve found quite a number of differences. Chief among them is the sense of magnitude of the festival as a whole when you’re responsible for the entire event as opposed to your own project which is how it’s been in years past as an actor.
Being responsible for each and every project that we bring to the festival is massive as so many brilliant, talented artists are relying on us to really take care of their work and make sure they all get the proper attention that they all deserve. I believe having been involved in the festival so many times has really given me a proper sense of how important each and every project involved truly is.
The weight of responsibility to produce a top class product whether it’s one play or a collection of 20 plays’ films and events is similar however. Having a top team and co-curator in Sarah Street as well as the experience that the Origin Board and of course the support and knowledge that George Heslin brings to the table certainly helps calm the nerves.
Dividing responsibilities with fellow curator Sarah StreetIt became quite organic once we had the structure and layout of the festival down on paper. Our first and foremost brief was to come up with a calendar of events. Between the two of us and Origin Theatre Company we were able to solicit submissions from some wonderful companies and artists that we had worked with and some who we hadn’t. The reputation of the festival certainly preceded it and was a great help to us in getting the festival of event’s together. In terms of division of labor, Sarah and I have had a close working partnership over the past couple of years so we already had a great sense of each other’s strengths. This really allowed the workload to be shared in a very organic way.
I had some projects that I wanted to explore from the outset and so did Sarah. So the real division of work came about with those particular projects although we did work and support one another in any way possible through them. We’re also both from the same neck of the woods in Cork, Ireland so there was also a very solid understanding between the pair of us in terms of how we approach any situations that arose in crafting the festival. As actors we both understand that our work is all about collaboration and openness.
Sarah is simply one of the most open and wonderful performers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with and learn from. As a co curator she’s proved to be no less of a pro in this regard. Again an event like this which has such history and yet is treading new uncharted waters with it’s online element this year would not be at all possible without the team that Origin were able to assemble. So much of the “heavy lifting” of this event is thanks to the expertise of graphic designers, marketing people, website designers, technicians as well as all our partners who threw their hats into the ring with us.
How you two complement each other, the ying yang element and a female perspectiveAs I mentioned earlier we’ve worked very closely over the past couple of years. As an actor Sarah is among the most talented and giving people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. She not only brings 110% professionalism to everything she does but her perspective is something that I really treasured throughout this process.
We’re both from the same neck of the woods in Cork so collaborating with her was like working with a family member. We share a very similar sense of humor and have many similar interests outside of theatre which enhances the working relationship so much. It was important to both of us to make this festival as inclusive as we could and judging from the breadth of artists, projects and panel discussions this year I feel we certainly achieved that. That’s certainly a stamp on this years festival that Sarah made sure of.
Did he expect to be running a festival when you set out on this career?I’m not sure if many actors set out on their careers with any really solid idea of the path they will take. I know I didn’t really have a clear idea of what a career in theatre would look like. I knew from an early age I wanted to act. I knew that I loved working in theatre. But for me it’s only now in my 40s that I look at my body of work in Theatre and the entertainment business through the lens of a career. I have always worked towards building my resume in the theatre and as many friends and colleagues can attest to, a lot of times, that meant self producing work that I believed in. In fact it’s essential for actors to be able to self produce and wear a number of hats which oftentimes may not fit as comfortably as performing.
I’m most comfortable when I get to work as an “Actor” with no other responsibilities than that. The truth though is as an immigrant, roles are often in short supply or there is often massive competition for the one or two roles that do come your way. Saying that though, I must say the Irish diaspora theatre community here in New York is extremely supportive. Very often I go to auditions excited by the prospect of meeting up with friends I may not have seen in a while. More than one failed audition has led to chats over coffee or pints that have evolved into self producing work which in turn brought about successes. I feel very lucky that my career has given me such a wonderful circle of colleagues that I could be considered to take on this responsibility of co-curating a festival of this size.
The wisdom George passed on…Myself, Sarah and George all have had a very close working relationship through the years especially with regards to 1st Irish. He knows the festival inside out and really it would have been so much more of a daunting experience without his guidance. His own experience of producing 1st Irish year in year out was just invaluable. It’s really a testament to George and the board and staff of Origin of the high regard and respect they have here in New York and across the pond on the island of Ireland that 1st Irish 2021 is taking place at all in spite of the restrictive nature of this pandemic on theatre.
Surprises in this year’s festivalI believe our audience will be happily surprised at the lineup we have on offer for this years festival considering how little theatre we’ve had on offer since the lockdown last spring. The fact it’s all online and we can showcase some of Ireland’s and Irish America’s hottest film talent is also a massive plus to look forward to.
One project to look out for in this years festival is called “Producing in a Pandemic” which highlights the work of artists here in the US and In Ireland in spite of the challenges posed by Covid 19. Some of the artists are well known to 1st Irish audiences such as Aoife Williamson, Tim Ruddy and Derek Murphy while Lorna Fenenbock and David Gilna are making their 1st Irish debuts.
We are also hosting a number of panel discussions that will interest audiences that focus on issues that affect Irish Black and Mixed Race artists with the people at the Black & Irish social media group, to the input of a number of Irish artists on the world of video gaming, to the influence of Irish song writers of Tin Pan Alley.
So this year’s festival really has a smorgasbord for all tastes.
For Festival details, including the Festival Calendar, visit: www.origintheatre.org
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