In Theatre Management we are creating our own theatre company and so far, have been asked to come up with a mission statement and an executive summary. Michael Maso, managing director of the Huntington Theatre and our teacher, told us to be specific with our mission statements. I then asked myself the question what is a specific niche that is missing from the stage that I can frame my theatre company around. I started thinking about my time spent in Ireland and how when learning about “great Irish playwrights” I almost always heard about men…anywhere from Wilde to McDonagh. What about Irish women? Are they featured on Irish mainstages? I couldn’t think of many. I wanted to make sure, before I started my theatre company, that I was factually supported by my claims. Everything that I thought was true was instantly reaffirmed by my research.
There was an article in the Irish Times recently that wrote about all the Irish women playwrights that were, “Fired From the Cannon”. In that article it talks about Lady Longford, Lady Gregory, Eva Gore-Booth, Teresa Deevy, Alice Milligan, and more. All playwrights who were influential in their time, mostly the early 1900s, and now have been erased. Post-independence, Ireland was controlled by the religious right. Focus was put on the Church, the women’s place was in the home, and female revolutionaries were written out of history.
When the second renaissance happened in Ireland in the 1960s, the voices that were being published and produced were almost exclusively male. In an article recently written in the Guardian newspaper they cited “that between the years 1934 and 2014 only an estimated 1% of the plays on the Abbey’s main stage were female-authored.” The Irish Times also wrote that “The Gate Theatre has produced only 17 new plays by Irish women in its entire history” and in an attempt to bring more women’s voices to the stage the Abbey created a short-play program in 2009 entitle “The Fairer Sex”. Even looking past the inherently misguided name choice, why did the Abbey theatre make it a short-play program? Why not simply commission full-length plays by Irish women to be produced on their stage (like they do with Irish male plays ALL the time)? The Abbey’s director, Fiach Mac Conghail, recently tweeted, “I don’t and haven’t programmed plays on a gender basis. I took decisions based on who I admired and wanted to work with. Sometimes plays we have commissioned by and about women just don’t work out. That has happened. Them the breaks.”
Give yourself a second to think of all the “great” Irish playwrights—we think of people from our past like Yeats and Wilde, we think of people in the second half of the 20th century like Friel and Tom Murphy, and we think of contemporary playwrights like Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson. What do all of these playwrights have in common? Yes, they are all men. Irish Theatre has long been thought of as reflecting Irish society and daily life—putting a mirror up to reality—but how can this be true when half the nation’s voices have been erased.
I decided to name my theatre the Danu Theatre Company. Danu is the mother goddess of Ireland who, incidentally, was written out of history. Her name is known, but all mythology and text she once was a part of has disappeared. I hope that Danu can guide the way to rewriting the history and revolutionizing the future of the cannon.