Women Who Run the Show: Charlotte Moore of Irish Rep
Third in a Women’s History Month series on female artistic directors
On various occasions that I’ve gone to the Irish Repertory Theatre, artistic director Charlotte Moore has been behind the box office window or serving as an usher or working the concession stand—I’ve even seen her replenishing the toilet paper in the theater’s bathrooms. And on that occasion, I thought to myself: I’d never seen the male head of a theater doing that.
“You’re probably right,” Moore says when I remind her of her TP duty. But she adds, “My partner would do that.”
That partner—business only—is Ciarán O’Reilly, the producing director of Irish Rep, with whom Moore founded the company in 1988. They had met as actors in a Hudson Guild production of Hugh Leonard’s Summer, directed by Brian Murray, and were both eager to do more Irish theater. So they collaborated on a production of The Plough and the Stars, by Sean O’Casey: Moore directed it; O’Reilly, investing what she says was “his life savings” of about $7,000, produced it. “We really didn’t mean to establish a repertory company, but we did this play and it was very successful so we had enough money to do the next one,” Moore recalls. “That was about 90 plays ago.”
Actually, according to a list in the program, the currently running Aristocrats is No. 105 on Irish Rep’s mainstage. The Brian Friel drama, which has been extended through March 29, is directed by Moore and costars O’Reilly.
Moore says that her and O’Reilly’s steadfast dedication to the theater, and to each other, helps buffer her from the sexism a woman can encounter when dealing with vendors and technicians—and even male artists. “I don’t have to worry about being respected around here. Ciarán O’Reilly and I started together and we’re partners until the end,” she says. “But sometimes merchants and vendors don’t want to talk to me. If you call a lighting company—and you’ve been lighting things for the last 20 years—they don’t think you know what you’re talking about. Irish playwrights are not always happy to talk to me; they want to talk to my partner. That’s okay—it’s going to be a collaboration between Ciarán and me anyway, so it doesn’t matter how it gets to me.”
While Moore says a woman AD’s managerial style is “probably a bit more softhearted” than a man’s, she certainly doesn’t advocate behaving—or conduct herself—like a shrinking violet. “Sometimes I overstep what sweet little Suzy Q from Des Moines would do,” she remarks.
Interesting choice of words, since Moore began life more like Suzy Q from Des Moines. She grew up on a farm in southern Illinois (“I can milk your cow,” she offers), the granddaughter of Irish immigrants from County Wexford. She’s acted on Broadway in Morning’s at Seven, Meet Me in St. Louis and several shows with Hal Prince’s New Phoenix Repertory Company in the early ’70s, including the farce Chemin de Fer, for which she was nominated for a Tony as Best Featured Actress. These days, performing by the onetime New York Shakespeare Festival regular is mostly limited to Project Shaw readings at the Players Club. She acted in Irish Rep’s Major Barbara during the 1997-98 season, but realized being in a show while running the company producing it is not a good idea. “I could not concentrate,” she says. “I wasn’t very good. I just wasn’t focused.”
That production of Major Barbara was directed by design legend Tony Walton, who has directed and designed sets and costumes for a number of Irish Rep shows, including last season’s The Devil’s Disciple and After the Ball a few years earlier. He first came to Irish Rep to direct and design The Importance of Being Earnest in 1996. About a year before Moore decided she wanted to do the Oscar Wilde chestnut, she had read an interview with Walton in New York magazine where he said something like “I would go anywhere to do The Importance of Being Earnest.” She asked Hal Prince for Walton’s phone number and called him, quoting his words back to him. “He was here in 15 minutes and he looked at the stage and said ‘I can do that,’” she remembers happily. “We were a young theater company, [and the production] set us apart from other theater companies because it had a star cast—Eric Stoltz, Nancy Marchand... Things like that set you apart, and they set your standards very high.”