CLARE Drama Festival stalwart Tom Hanley is among 15 actors and organisers chosen by RTÉ to feature in a special short film to celebrate Ireland’s vibrant amateur drama circuit. While May is, ordinarily, the month when the RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival takes place in Athlone, the Dean Crowe Theatre will lie empty for a second year in a row due to pandemic restrictions. In existence since the early 1950s, the festival has been deferred to 2022. However, actors from a range of the regional festival locations, including Clare, have come together to mark what should have been the 69th RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival.
Mr Hanley is among those to lend their voices and faces to a 2-minute film entitled ‘Interval’, a piece written by Joseph Hoban. Produced by RTÉ’s Tracey Diamond, the film focuses on the enforced ‘interval’ the pandemic created in the lives of people nationally and globally. It is a reflection on lockdown and the restrictions that have seen theatres go dark all over the country. The piece was recorded remotely using mobile devices to ensure social distance and adherence to public health guidelines.
“Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on all in the performing arts, not least on Ireland’s network of 37 amateur drama festivals, many of which are at the core of creative and community life in their localities, said Regina Bushell, Festival Director. “We are enormously proud of this stunning piece of work, and the opportunity to showcase so many talented voices. As we look toward 2022, and hopefully an in-person festival, I’m mindful of the final reflection in this moving piece: we will start again.”
Ms Bushell also paid tribute to all of the festivals including the Clare and West Clare Drama Festivals, who are among 37 which enable productions to progress to the All Ireland Final.
Over the almost seven decades of the All Ireland festival, companies from Clare have been recognised many times for their outstanding performances and productions.
Last month, the inaugural Clare Drama Radio Play Festival was broadcast on Scariff Bay Community Radio. The event marked a collaboration between the Clare Drama Festival and the station and involved 20 groups from across Ireland using Zoom, WhatsApp and other remote recording methods to produce radio plays. Both the Drama League of Ireland (DLI) and the arts minister commended the initiative. Minister Catherine Martin applauded the event as a way of keeping spirits up among amateur drama circuit members and their audiences during the pandemic.
The first All-Ireland Drama Festival was held in 1953, with the support of The Arts Council. The event was held in the Sportex Hall in Athlone up to 1959 when it moved to its present location at the Dean Crowe Theatre. Following Esso, Ericsson became the main sponsor from 2000 to 2003. In 2004 RTÉ stepped on board with the festival getting major prominence thanks to the facilities provided by the national broadcaster.
Notable episodes in the history of the festival include the fact that in 1959, following their All Ireland success with Sive, Listowel Drama Group was invited by the Abbey Theatre to perform the play on the stage of the Queen’s Theatre, the Abbey’s temporary home after the fire in 1951 – a first for an amateur drama group. By 1979, a custom was established in which the Festival winners were offered the Peacock stage for a week’s run the following June. The practice continued for thirteen years until 1991, but was restored in 2011 with the inauguration of the Abbey Theatre Award, whereby one of the Festival finalists are chosen by the Abbey to stage their production at the Peacock.
The short tribute film can be viewed by searching for ‘RTÉ All Ireland Drama Festival 2021 – The Interval Act’ on YouTube.