300 sign letter expressing 'deep concern and dissatisfaction' with direction of Abbey Theatre

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.

In a theatre founded by writers and actors it is profoundly worrying that there is no commitment to sustaining that community.

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.

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 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.

The letter in full:

Dear Minister,

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.

  • The Abbey receives the lion’s share of available funding – €6.8m in 2018, with an additional €200,000 touring grant. With the Abbey now coproducing with the major independents, whilst receiving 10.25% of the overall Arts Council budget, it now also benefits from the production budgets of some of the better-funded independent companies. A clear case of double funding.
  • Despite the Abbey being in receipt of 50% of the Arts Council’s entire drama budget, and now extra resources from other companies, our actors, directors and designers are being paid less when working at the Abbey than before and for shorter runs. They are being contracted in the Abbey by the coproducer – an independent company that offers lesser rates. This reduction in pay can be as much as 25%.
  • Independent productions, which would previously have found a home elsewhere, are now being housed at the Abbey. Thus venues which were developed to host Ireland’s independent companies now have gaps in their calendars. This has the knock-on effect of reducing employment in these venues.
  • Contracts for working weeks that would have previously been on offer from independent companies to freelance technicians have been reduced, covered as they are in these coproductions/copresentations by Abbey permanent staff.
  • Not a single national-theatre contract has been given to an Irish-based set designer on the main stage in either 2017 or 2018.
  • The abolition of the casting department has created a significant disconnect with actors. The tradition of open auditions for graduate and young actors is no longer available. There is no single person with experience and responsibility for casting with whom actors and their agents can build a relationship or who can mentor up and coming talent.
  • This year’s Christmas offering on the national-theatre main stage has for so many become the final straw. Any critical questioning of the wisdom of the Irish national theatre using its resources to facilitate a Canadian commercial management’s seven-week stopover, before going into the West End, has been cynically framed as xenophobic and little-islander. This disingenuous accusation is beneath contempt, and we dismiss it with as much alacrity as the Abbey management dismisses the employment of its local workers over Christmas. Irish audiences deserve to have access to shows of this international reputation coming from and going to Broadway and the West End, but of course they already have, in our various No 1 receiving venues.
  • To believe that our national theatre needs to engage with audiences in Ireland, but not its theatre professionals, is a fallacy. The current working practices in the Abbey Theatre – the national theatre of Ireland – are in direct opposition to the priorities as set out in the Government’s Culture 2025 document, the Arts Council’s Making Great Art Work policy, as well as their own mission statement.
  • 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,

    AIDAN CROWE

    AIDAN GILLEN

    AIDAN MCARDLE

    AIDAN MORIARTY

    AIDAN TURNER

    ÁINE NÍ LAOGHAIRE

    AISLÍN MCGUCKIN

    AISLING MOONEY

    AISLING O’SULLIVAN

    AISLINN O’BYRNE

    ALI WHITE

    ALISON MCKENNA

    ALISUN FOX

    AMY O’DWYER

    ANDREA CLEARY

    ANDREA IRVINE

    ANNABELLE COMYN

    ANNE KENT

    ANNE LAYDE

    ANN RUSSELL

    ANTHONY FOX

    AOIBHÍN MURPHY

    AOIBHÍNN MCGINNITY

    AOIBHÉANN MCCANN

    AOIFE MARTYN

    AOIFE MORONEY WARD

    AOIFE SPILLANE-HINKS

    AONGHUS ÓG MCANALLY

    ARTHUR RIORDAN

    BAIRBRE GUILFOYLE

    BAIRBRE NÍ CHAOIMH

    BARBARA BRENNAN

    BARBARA RYAN

    BARRY MCKIERNAN

    BILLIE TRAYNOR

    BREFFNI HOLAHAN

    BRÍD DUKES

    BRÍD NÍ CHUMHAILL

    BUSH MOUKARZEL

    CAOIMHE CONNOLLY

    CARA CHRISTIE

    CARLA ROGERS

    CAROLINE FITZGERALD

    CATHAL MCGUIRE

    CATHAL SYNNOTT

    CATHERINE FAY

    CATHERINE WALKER

    CATHRYN BRENNAN

    CATHY BELTON

    CATHY WHITE

    CHARLENE CRAIG

    CHARLENE MCKENNA

    CHARLIE MURPHY

    CHARLOTTE MCCURRY

    CIARÁN HINDS

    CIARÁN O’GRADY

    CIARA O’CALLAGHAN

    CILLIAN Ó GAIRBHÍ

    CLARE DUNNE

    CLARE MAGUIRE

    CLÍONA DUKES

    CLIVE WELSH

    COLM MCNALLY

    COLM O’BRIEN

    CONALL MORRISON

    CONOR HANRATTY

    CONOR LINEHAN

    CONOR MACNEILL

    CONOR MULLEN

    CONOR O’RIORDAN

    DAN COLLEY

    DANIEL REARDON

    DAN MONAGHAN

    DAVEY KELLEHER

    DAVID BOLGER

    DAVID O’MEARA

    DAWN BRADFIELD

    DEARBHLA MOLLOY

    DECLAN CONLON

    DEIRDRE MONAGHAN

    DENIS CONWAY

    DENISE GOUGH

    DERBHLE CROTTY

    DERMOT MAGENNIS

    DONAGH DEENEY

    DONAL COURTNEY

    DONAL SHIELS

    DONNA LEONARD

    DONNCHA O’DEA

    DOROTHY DUFFY

    EAVAN GAFFNEY

    EILEEN WALSH

    EIMEAR KEATING

    EIMEAR MORRISSEY

    ELAINE MURPHY

    ELEANOR METHVEN

    ELEANOR MINIHAN

    EMER CASEY

    EMILY FOX

    EMILY GILLMOR MURPHY

    EMMA COEN

    EMMA O’KANE

    EMMET BYRNE

    ENDA OATES

    EOGHAN CARRICK

    EOGHAN COLLINS

    EOIN LYNCH

    EVA BARTLEY

    EVA JANE GAFFNEY

    FIONA BELL

    FIONA MCGEOWN

    FIONA STOUT

    FIONNUALA GYGAX

    FRANK BLAKE

    FRANK MCCUSKER

    GARRETT LOMBARD

    GAVIN DREA

    GAVIN O’CONNOR

    GEMMA KANE

    GENE ROONEY

    GER KELLY

    GERARD BYRNE

    GERARD LEE

    GERARD HUMPHREYS

    GERALDINE PLUNKETT

    GER RYAN

    GERRY O’BRIEN

    GERRY STEMBRIDGE

    GRÁINNE KEENAN

    GUS MCDONAGH

    HALINA FROUDIST

    HELEN ROCHE

    HELENA WALSH

    HILDA FAY

    HOLLY CAREY

    INGRID CRAIGIE

    IAN LLOYD ANDERSON

    IVAN BIRTHISTLE

    JACK CAWLEY

    JACK HICKEY

    JACK MULLARKEY

    JAMES MURPHY

    JAMIE O’NEILL

    JANE BRENNAN

    JANE MCCARTHY

    JANET MORAN

    JEMMA NIC LOCHLAINN

    JENNIFER JENNINGS

    JESSICA ÍDE LEEN

    JIM NOLAN

    JIMMY EADIE

    JIMMY MURPHY

    JOAN O’CLERY

    JOE HANLEY

    JOE O’BYRNE

    JOE VANEK

    JOHN COMISKEY

    JOHN DELANEY

    JOHN GUNNING

    JOHN KAVANAGH

    JOHN MORTON

    JOHN OLOHAN

    JONATHAN SHANKEY

    JOSE MIGUEL JIMENEZ

    JOSH MULDOON

    JULIAN ERSKINE

    KAREN MCCARTNEY

    KARL HAYDEN

    KARL O’NEILL

    KATE FINEGAN

    KATE GILMORE

    KATE STANLEY BRENNAN

    KATHY ROSE O’BRIEN

    KATIE MCCANN

    KELLY PHELAN

    KEVIN SMITH

    KIERAN ROCHE

    KILLIAN COYLE

    LARA HICKEY

    LAUREN LARKIN

    LIAM HALLIGAN

    LIAN BELL

    LISA M BARRY

    LISA COOK

    LISA DWYER HOGG

    LISE-ANN MCLAUGHLIN

    LIZ FITZGIBBON

    LLOYD COONEY

    LORCAN CRANITCH

    LORRAINE BRENNAN

    LUKE GRIFFIN

    MADI O’CARROLL

    MAEVE FITZGERALD

    MAEVE WHELAN

    MAGS MULVEY

    MAISIE LEE

    MANUS HALLIGAN

    MARCUS LAMB

    MAREE KEARNS

    MARGARET MCAULIFFE

    MARIA MCDERMOTTROE

    MARIE MULLEN

    MARK HUBERMAN

    MARK LAMBERT

    MARK O’REGAN

    MARK TANKERSLEY

    MARTHA DUNLEA

    MARTIN MAGUIRE

    MARTINA KAVANAGH

    MARTY REA

    MARY MOYNIHAN

    MATTHEW MALONE

    MATTHEW RALLI

    MAUREEN MCGLYNN

    MAUREEN WHITE

    MEGAN RIORDAN

    MELISSA NOLAN

    MICHAEL BARKER CAVEN

    MICHAEL JAMES FORD

    MICHAEL MCELHATTON

    MICHAEL SHEEHAN

    MICHELE FORBES

    MICHELLE READ

    MIRIAM DUFFY

    MOLLY O’CATHAIN

    MONICA FRAWLEY

    MUIREANN D’ARCY

    MUIRNE BLOOMER

    NESSA MATTHEWS

    NIALL BUGGY

    NIAMH FERRY

    NIAMH LUNNY

    NIAMH MCCANN

    NICK DUNNING

    ÓRLA CHARLTON

    OWEN MCCAFFERTY

    OWEN ROE

    PAT LAFFAN

    PATRICK BYRNES

    PATRICK SUTTON

    PAULA GREEVY LEE

    PAUL BURKE

    PAUL O’MAHONY

    PAUL REID

    PETER COONAN

    PETER CORBOY

    PETER DALY

    PETER DUNNE

    PETER GAYNOR

    PETER GOWEN

    PETER SHERIDAN

    PHELIM DREW

    PHILIP O’SULLIVAN

    PHILIP ST JOHN

    RACHEL O’BYRNE

    RAY SCANNELL

    REBECCA GRIMES

    REBECCA MURPHY

    REBECCA O’MARA

    RICHARD COOK

    RISTEARD COOPER

    ROBBIE O’CONNOR

    ROGER GREGG

    RÓISÍN MCBRINN

    RÓISÍN O’NEILL

    ROMANA TESTASECCA

    RONAN LEAHY

    RORY FLECK BYRNE

    RORY NOLAN

    RORY MULLEN

    ROSALEEN LINEHAN

    ROSE PARKINSON

    ROSE HENDERSON

    ROSEANNA PURCELL

    ROSS GAYNOR

    ROWAN FINKEN

    RUAIRÍ LENEGHAN

    RUTH HEGARTY

    RUTH MCCABE

    RUTH MCGILL

    RUTH NEGGA

    SAM O’MAHONY

    SARAH BAXTER

    SARAH BRENNAN

    SARAH FITZGIBBON

    SARAH GREENE

    SARAH JANE SCAIFE

    SARAH MORRIS

    SEAMUS MORAN

    SEAN MCGINLEY

    SHANE G CASEY

    SHANE O’REGAN

    SHANE O’REILLY

    SHARON COADE

    SHARON O’DOHERTY

    SHAY LINEHAN

    SINÉAD CUSACK

    SINEAD MCKENNA

    SIMON COURY

    SOPHIE JO WASSON

    STANLEY TOWNSEND

    STEPHEN BRENNAN

    STEVE GUNN

    SUSANNAH DE WRIXON

    SUSIE LAMB

    TARA EGAN LANGLEY

    TERI HAYDEN

    TIERNAN KEARNS

    TOM LANE

    TOM LAWLOR

    TOM MORAN

    TOM VAUGHAN-LAWLOR

    VALERIE O’CONNOR

    VANESSA EMME

    VINCENT DOHERTY

    YVONNE USSHER


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