Season Preview: The Dublin Fringe Festival

Jumping off the Earth from José Miguel Jiménez on Vimeo.

To take a break from New York season news, today I thought I’d turn to what’s happening early this September in the fair city of Dublin, which I visited earlier this year, and where the Dublin Fringe Festival opens Sept. 10, for fifteen days showcasing mainly up-and-coming Irish artists.

Okay, to be fair, pretty much all the Irish artists I’ve spoken to about it (including the ones in it) have the same impression of their own fringe fest that everyone else does: it’s at best a mixed basket of occasionally brilliant, sometimes interesting, and often disappointing work, that’s hard to navigate. Still, I’ve been paying more attention to the contemporary Irish scene over the past year, and there’s a number of companies on the forefront of Irish performance who are bringing shows to the festival, some of which, at least, are well worth the attention of the broader arts community.

First off, it’s worth noting that two alumni of The Company are bringing shows to the festival. The Company’s reputation has been taking off in the last few years, particularly on the strength of As you are now so once you were, a recreation of James Joyce’s Ulysses in the location of the performance, which recently was highlighted at Radar LA. At the Dublin Fringe this year, director Jose Miguel Jimenez returns with Jumping Off the Earth, a project done in collaboration with Rough Magic Theatre’s SEEDS developmental residency program. Fellow Company member Nyree Yergainharsian is bringing a solo performance, Where Do I Start? to the festival as well that explores her struggle to balance her Armenian heritage with her Irish reality, all too familiar territory for American audiences, at least, but we all know that such shows are just as capable of being revelatory as they are of seeming pat.

THEATREclub is one of the more interesting young devising companies in Dublin, and in Twenty-Ten they bring one of the latest projects to the stage. Every day throughout 2010, the company invited people to email them something they learned that day. The show takes those responses and performs two months’ worth each night, re-treading one of the hardest years in modern Irish history (if you want to know how hard, read this recent letter to the Irish Times).

Adrienne Truscott's and IMDT's "maKe, I mean"

Other notable shows include THISISPOPBABY‘s The Year of Magical Wanking, a queer Pilgim’s Progress through contemporary Irish society, from an innovative young theater company working in diverse forms. Irish Modern Dance Theatre is collaborating with New York’s own Adrienne Truscott on maKe, I mean, a show about collaborative creation and the tensions group-work entails, which reflects back on the process with which it was created. And then there’s junk ensemble, a dance/performance group headed by twins Jessica and Megan Kennedy, with Bird With Boy, a performance installation on the subject of “things that end before they should,” performed onsite in the basement of an old jail.

Out of Australia comes Ranters Theater, with Intimacy. Ranters brought Holiday to New York this last January as part of PS 122’s COIL Festival, and though they’re bloody nice people, I was a little underwhelmed by the show, as I wrote at the time. It felt like a gimmick to generate interest in something that meandered through its potential to ultimately go nowhere, on purpose, and I left feeling something between irritation and disappointment. Still, it would be wrong of me to give the impression that the artists who made the piece were lacking in talent; in fact, the performances were brilliantly crafted and the concept was well-realized in terms of design. I may not have liked the piece, but I’d definitely check them out again.

And there’s plenty more; I don’t pretend that this constitutes a complete or even thorough preview. But over the last year I’ve become aware of what seems to be a new urgency on the Irish performance scene, moving Irish theater away from the domination of the text owing to Ireland’s too-healthy history of playwrights, and furthermore it seems that contemporary artists are responding with an increased sense of urgency to the horrifying economic conditions as the nation suffers through a recession, real estate bubble burst, and EU enforced austerity. These are hard times for the Irish, but if the line-up of the Fringe is any indication, its artists are rising to the occasion.

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