The Abbey Theatre, 1899-1999: Form and Pressure

By Robert Welch | Go to book overview

7
1985-1999 'The dead are not the past, the dead are the future'

In 1994 Patrick Mason was appointed artistic director at the Abbey, succeeding Garry Hynes, who returned to the Druid Theatre in Galway, whence she had come in 1991. After Mason's appointment there followed a period of stability in the management of the theatre which was in marked contrast with what had gone before. In an interview with me on 5 November 1998 Mason singled out, as the single most important factor in establishing this stability, the quite deliberate policy he and James Hickey, chairman of the board since 1993, adopted whereby they resolved always to speak as with one voice, whatever their disagreements in private. This meant that management and the person responsible for realizing the visionary and pragmatic goals of the Abbey, the artistic director, were in harmony. Such a united front must have involved a great deal of restraint on both sides but it meant the organization had a rock-solid foundation. It may be appropriate to give here a brief account of the vicissitudes of the artistic directors at the Abbey, to show how uncharacteristic Mason's tenure was.

On 10 December 1998 Tomás Mac Anna replied, most generously, to a series of questions on the subject of the role of the artistic director and its status in the period from 1966 onwards. When Mac Anna was made artistic adviser in 1966 Walter Macken had held two positions: that of assistant manager and artistic adviser. The intention was that Macken succeed Ernest Blythe as managing director. When Macken resigned, there were two appointments made: manager ( Phil O'Kelly) and artistic adviser ( Mac Anna). The term 'adviser' was used rather than 'artistic director', to avoid confusion with the directors of the board; however Mac Anna's (clearly correct) view is that the board wanted to retain control of artistic policy and feared the designation 'director' might give whoever was appointed ideas above his or her station. Once Blythe resigned in 1967 the directors assumed greater control: his 'undoubted powerful presence' exercised some restraint on their authority up to then. The thirty shareholders held 25 shares each, a total of 750; whereas the five directors held 200 each; so that the board could outvote the shareholders if they remained unified. This situation continues to this day.

Mac Anna took leave of absence at Carleton College in the USA in 1968 and was succeeded as artistic adviser by Alan Simpson, who left in 1969, to be

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The Abbey Theatre, 1899-1999: Form and Pressure
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Prologue vii
  • Acknowledgements x
  • Contents xiii
  • 1- 1899-1902 'Four Green Fields' 1
  • 2- 1902-1910 'screeching in a Straightened Waistcoat' 18
  • 3- 1911-1925 - 'O Absalom, my son' 58
  • 4- 1926-1951 'the Birth of a Nation is No Immaculate Conception' 98
  • 5- 1951-1966 'I Remember Everything' 155
  • 6- 1966-1985 'History is Personal' 178
  • 7- 1985-1999 'the Dead Are Not the Past, The Dead Are the Future' 212
  • 8- Conclusion 245
  • Epilogue 251
  • Notes 252
  • Bibliography 263
  • Index 269
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