On my third day of being in Ireland our class went to the Abbey Theatre to see the historical place that several important authors helped to create and sustain. Here in Ireland the word is spelled Theatre rather than Theater, something that never fails to confuse me as I jot it down in my notebook. The words mean exactly the same thing. In America the spelling, theater, is just what is preferred while everywhere else uses theatre.
The Theatre is located not far from Trinity College. It’s founders created it to be a national theater. This means that the goal of the plays that are performed there is to represent the actual culture of this nation. Originally this was to present more positive interpretations of Irish people instead of others of them that were shown in plays in Britain. The Abbey Theatre is not in it’s original location, but it’s not really the building that is famous, but the group themselves.
We got to take a tour of the Abbey, which meant wandering through backstage stairways and seeing all kinds of behind the scenes action. The stage was set for the play, Shush, which we saw after the performance. It was incredible how the set had been created to look like a house that was lived in. It included newspapers, candy wrappers, and a worn out computer. Some of the parts of the set are so small that you might not even notice them from the audience, but it really helped to create the sense that you really were in a house.
There is art everywhere in the Abbey. In the lobby a gigantic mirror that is shaped much like an old shield hangs on the wall. It is believed that this mirror and three others were commissioned by Yeats. They were made by Irish fisherman who did metal work as a sort of second job. The other mirrors vanished after the Abbey caught fire, but whether they were taken by someone or destroyed in the fire is unknown.
Before coming to Ireland I had done some research on the Abbey Theatre because of a presentation I am giving on Lady Gregory. Lady Gregory and Yeats were two of the founders of the Theatre. For some reason I thought that it would be a lot bigger since it is after all the national theater. I imagined it being more of the size of the Paramount in Seattle. Instead it only seats about 400 people. When we went to see Shush our seats were in the second and third rows of the theater. I thought it was amazing being so close to the action.
Shush is a play that centers around the issue of divorce. This is a relatively new concept for the Irish because divorce was only legalized in 1996. The play is a comedy and it was quite funny, though there are jokes that someone who is an outsider to the culture couldn’t possibly understand. Several times I felt confused as to why other people were laughing. Strong Irish accents also made it so it wasn’t always simple to understand what the actresses were saying. Over all I greatly enjoyed the play.
Going to the Abbey Theatre made me feel as if I really got a glimpse into current Irish culture. I think the theater’s goals are worthy and that they are doing a great job of trying to present Ireland through plays. The history of the great Irish people who founded it and new cultural concepts merge here, creating an interesting contrast of past and present.