Francombe, Benedict John
"The home of the living writer" : the playwright and the Abbey Theatre.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis attempts to outline the practical relationship between Irish playwrights and the Abbey Theatre, from the early work of the Irish Literary Theatre in 1899, until the present day. It argues that the Abbey's reputation for being a writer's theatre tends to be contradicted by its distant association with Irish playwrights during the greater part of its history. Only during the early 1980s was there an active attempt to integrate the playwright within the company, creating a vibrant and active community for the development of new writing.
Up until the 1980s the Abbey subscribed to the established twentieth-century view that the playwright was a literary writer, outside the creative centre of theatre. The Abbey's changing roles -- from literary theatre, to institutional national theatre and to director's theatre -- distracted the Theatre from acknowledging the valuable contribution individual dramatists could make, ensuring that the playwright remained vulnerable and isolated. The Abbey remained heavily dependent on its own historical inheritance and international reputation, satisfied with a repertoire of predictable classics.
The Theatre's approach to playwrights changed in 1978, when Artistic Director Joe Dowling attempted to create what he termed `the home of the living writer'. With assistance from Script Editor Sean McCarthy, Dowling instigated a series of policies which went towards building a coherent writer's theatre within the Abbey, similar to London's Royal Court. Playwrights became members of the company, were assisted with the development of ideas and encouraged to contribute to the rehearsal process. These actions assured experimental playwright development, exemplified by the work of Tom MacIntyre, whose work proved that a playwright could evolve his own artistic identity within an established theatre.
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