More than 300 people from the Irish theatre community have signed a letter to the Minister for Culture over how the Abbey Theatre is being run.
The letter was signed by actors, directors, playwrights and agents and designers and detailed their "deep concern and dissatisfaction " with how the Abbey is being run since its Directors Neil Murray and Graham McLaren were appointed in 2016.
The 312 signatories say that the situation for the Irish theatre community is "critical", while the freelance community has been "cast adrift".
The letter, which was sent to the Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, the chairwoman of the Arts Council and the chairwoman of the Abbey board, was signed by well-known stars of Irish theatre including Aidan Gillen, Ruth Negga, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Mark Huberman.
The letter states that the decreased number of in-house productions and more presenting or co-presenting "has caused devastation amongst our ranks".
"The National Theatre reducing its own production output means less diversity, and reduced employment, not more," it says.
It says that in 2016, the Abbey directly employed 123 actors in productions and 90 actors in readings and workshops. The following year, 56 actors were directed by the theatre, according to the letter, which is a 46% decrease.
"We would surmise that this reduction will be substantially higher when workshop figures are made available for 2017," it says.
The signatories of the letter attribute a number of factors to the reduction in employment opportunities, such as contracts, pay, working practices and productions at the Abbey.
The letter goes on to say: "Our Theatre workers have been at the frontline of ‘Brand Ireland’, only time and again to return home to live on the poverty line.
"We respectfully ask that The National Theatre engages in a greater percentage of in-house productions, as opposed to co-productions or buy-ins. It is the proportion which is so damaging, so heedless.
"We demand that Performers, Directors and Designers whose work is used by the National Theatre are given National Theatre terms and conditions, along with every other employee in the building," it concludes.
The Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan acknowledged the letter and said she hopes that those who have expressed concern over the Abbey Theatre will have their voices heard.
It is with regret that we, the undersigned theatre practitioners, write to apprise you of our deep concern and dissatisfaction with the direction that the Abbey Theatre has taken since the appointment of its directors, Neil Murray and Graham McLaren. The grace period since their arrival is well and truly over and the situation in which the Irish theatre community finds itself is now critical. While the institution may be financially buoyant – and due congratulations for this – the freelance theatre community, in particular, has been cast adrift.
The changing artistic model of producing fewer in-house productions and presenting or copresenting more has caused devastation amongst our ranks. Although the management’s strategy of offering diversity to their own audiences is admirable in theory, it offers up several problems in practice. The national theatre reducing its own production output means less diversity, and reduced employment, not more. There will not have been an Ireland-based actor in an Abbey Theatre production on an Abbey stage since Jimmy’s Hall ended on 8 September 2018 until The Country Girls opens on 23 February 2019. That is five and a half months without an Ireland-based actor directly employed by the Abbey.
The numbers are stark and are worth stating. In 2016 the Abbey directly employed 123 actors in Abbey productions and 90 actors in readings and workshops. Then, in 2017, the Abbey directly employed only 56 actors. No figures are available for readings or workshops that year. Fifty-six. That is a reduction of 54% of actors appearing on stage directly employed by our national theatre. We would surmise that this reduction will be substantially higher when workshop figures are made available for 2017. Though the casting and employment statistics have been removed from the Abbey website, an approximate calculation for 2018 is 65 actors employed directly by the Abbey. In a theatre founded by writers and actors it is profoundly worrying that there is no commitment to sustaining that community.
There are a number of other factors that would appear to contribute to the shrinking employment opportunities and we have endeavoured to clarify these below.
Irish art and culture are internationally held in high regard. Consequently, our artists have over many years done the State sterling service. At home and abroad our talents and expertise have been at the heart of promoting tourism, and in developing international relationships for trade and negotiation. Our theatre workers have been at the frontline of “Brand Ireland”, only time and again to return home to live on the poverty line. The reduction in the proportion of Abbey Theatre budget going to Ireland-based performers, directors and designers serves to rub further salt in the wound.
We respectfully ask that the national theatre engages in a greater percentage of in-house productions, as opposed to coproductions or buy-ins. It is the proportion which is so damaging, so heedless.
We demand that performers, directors and designers whose work is used by the national theatre are given national-theatre terms and conditions, along with every other employee in the building.
Is muidne le meas,
ÁINE NÍ LAOGHAIRE
AOIFE MORONEY WARD
AONGHUS ÓG MCANALLY
BAIRBRE NÍ CHAOIMH
BRÍD NÍ CHUMHAILL
CILLIAN Ó GAIRBHÍ
EMILY GILLMOR MURPHY
EVA JANE GAFFNEY
IAN LLOYD ANDERSON
JEMMA NIC LOCHLAINN
JESSICA ÍDE LEEN
JOSE MIGUEL JIMENEZ
KATE STANLEY BRENNAN
KATHY ROSE O’BRIEN
LISA M BARRY
LISA DWYER HOGG
MICHAEL BARKER CAVEN
MICHAEL JAMES FORD
PAULA GREEVY LEE
PHILIP ST JOHN
RORY FLECK BYRNE
SARAH JANE SCAIFE
SHANE G CASEY
SOPHIE JO WASSON
SUSANNAH DE WRIXON
TARA EGAN LANGLEY