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2021 Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival Wraps Up Three Weeks Of Virtual Events

The festival ran three weeks from January 11 to 31. 

2021 Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival Wraps Up Three Weeks Of Virtual Events

The 13th annual Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival wrapped up its first all-virtual edition last week with a closing ceremony attended by audience members from both sides of the Atlantic. This year the world's only festival devoted to producing and presenting the plays of contemporary Irish playwrights from around the world, hosted a total of 20 virtual events, in three weeks from January 11 to 31.

Among the events were six recorded theatrical productions made both before and during Covid from Belfast, Dublin, Wexford, London and New York; six films and documentaries (many with theatrical roots), and five panel talks on topics including producing during the pandemic; inclusion and diversity in Ireland; the Irish influence on Tin Pan Alley, and the impact of Irish artists and actors on the video gaming industry. The work of 34 contemporary Irish playwrights, writers and filmmakers was showcased during the Festival.

At the Festival's closing ceremony on January 31, three major honors were presented on behalf of the board of the New York-based Origin Theatre Company, which produces the Festival. This year the winners of the the "Bairbre Dowling Spirit of the Festival Award," given to standout participants in the Festival who made unique contributions, were the Dublin-based AboutFACE Theatre; the new Black&Irish social media movement, and the New York-based theatrical producer, curator and writer Turlough McConnell. Co-hosted by this year's festival co-curators, two of New York's leading Irish theatre figures Michael Mellamphy and Sarah Street, the closing ceremony was presided over by Ireland's New York Consul General Ciaran Madden, and Origin's board member Andrea Haughian. (Previous festivals have been competitive, with a jury picking winners in six creative categories.) Mellamphy and Street took over from festival founder George C. Heslin, who is now the executive director of the New York Irish Center.

The opening night play was Eva O'Connor's tour-de-force one-woman comic drama "Mustard," presented by Fishamble: The New Play Company in Dublin, in its 8th festival appearance. O'Connor's ribald one-hander about love and condiments premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, where it won the Lustrum Award. It enjoyed an added fourth screening (by popular demand) toward the end of the Festival. Each of the other theatrical productions was screened a total of three times, with screening times geared to reach both US and European-based audiences.

"Because of our virtual format, audiences in Ireland were able to take part and enjoy both Irish-generated projects and productions produced in New York by our extensive Irish ex-pat community," commented Michael Mellamphy, who is a well-known presence in the community.

"This was one of the unexpected benefits of the virtual format," added Mellamphy's Cork co-native Sarah Street, also a prolific New York actor. "We also found our ability to incorporate contributors all over the world -- including Bangkok, London and LA -- to have made our panel talks especially eye-opening. Michael and I are especially proud of these panels, which audiences really responded to, because each one gave us new perspectives on how Irish culture - so impactful for centuries -- continues to evolve and thrive."

Participating theatres companies included Fishamble: The New Play Company, and AboutFACE Theatre in Ireland in Dublin; the Irish Repertory Theatre Company and Origin Theatre Company in New York; The Wexford Arts Center in Wexford, and The Lyric in Belfast.

The films included two new theatrical features, both up-tempo comedies - "Spa Weekend" from 3 Hot Whiskeys Productions in Dublin, and "Misty Button" from Locked in the Attic Productions in New York. Also screening in the film category were encores of the first horror feature written and directed by an Irish woman, Aislinn Clarke's "The Devil's Doorway (from Northern Ireland Screen and 23Ten Productions); Conal Creedon's acclaimed documentary "The Burning of Cork" (from Irishtown Press/RTE), an advance of a new documentary still in production about the impact of Brexit on communities in Northern Ireland (Maci Duffy Productions), and the rediscovery of a cultural treasure "To the Western World" (Foxtrot Films) with its remarkable depictions of living conditions in Connemara more than a century ago.

The Bairbre Dowling Spirit of the Festival Award was given to Black&Irish "for their devotion to the cause of inclusion and for celebrating Irish culture from the perspective of Black and mixed-race Irish people;" AboutFACE Theatre "for their collaborative work to bring artists together, and to foster new forms of creativity during the pandemic of 2020-21;" and Turlough McConnell "for his extraordinary commitment to the Festival and his ability to bring our past to light through unique productions."

For more information and to see the entire Festival line-up, visit

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