Site-Specific 'BECKETT IN THE CITY' to Explore Artist's Work, Life and Themes at IAC
Irish Arts Center (IAC), the organization dedicated to projecting a dynamic vision of Ireland and Irish America for the 21st century, will present New Yorkers with an equally dynamic vision of the work, life, and themes of Samuel Beckett.
With director Sarah Jane Scaife/Company SJ's site-specific Beckett in the City: The Women Speak (Sept. 20-Oct. 1), as well as Beckett and His World, an exhibit of photographer John Minihan's expressive portraits of Beckett and the people in his life (Sept. 11-Jan. 3), IAC will provide New York audiences with a dual approach to the Absurdist master, reflecting Beckett's singular vision of bodies as they exist within, and without, society.
In Beckett in the City, audiences will behold a succession of the writer's short plays that express the historically ubiquitous social entrapment of women through his decontextualized vision of time and space, while Minihan's exhibit contextualizes the very private writer through the people and places who were presences in his life.
With Beckett in the City, Scaife devises an amalgam of Beckett's works that centralizes the experiences of the playwright/author's women characters. The productionbrings together four Beckett shorts, each performed in full, in which the female body and voice's relationship to space and time are often painfully sculpted by restriction and social impression: Footfalls, a drama of containment in the form of a girl who has never been fully born; Rockaby, which follows a woman confined to her rocker, like her mother before her; Not I, where a babbling mouth evokes bodily immobility and some unspecified traumatic event; and Come and Go, in which three female figures seem to be trapped in a permutation of gesture, one leaves, a whisper is shared, she returns, and all is repeated.
Scaife creates an addendum, rather than an overwriting, to the playwright's sense of universality by displaying this intact selection of his works against non-neutral spaces with nontheatrical architecture and histories. In Dublin, the performance was formulated to fit a 1760s building that formerly housed the National Ballroom, its interior replete with the type of Irish national domestic and institutional detailing Scaife sought to connote the confluence of macro and micro patriarchies that weighed - and weigh - upon female expression. Following IAC's work with Enda Walsh on the haunting site-specific installation Rooms earlier this year, Beckett in the City also exemplifies the Irish Arts Center's expertise in activating unconventional spaces. For IAC and New York, the production will be tailored to a nontheatrical location in New York's formerly Irish working class Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. Audiences will meet at IAC, where they can take in the John Minihan exhibit before being guided over to the performance space - which will remain undisclosed until they arrive in the midst of the Beckettian habitat Scaife has created. The director sees the readymades of the nontraditional space and the surrounding neighborhood as additions to Beckett's work and themes - suggestions of the very real societies that Beckett's work reflects through his trademark nameless, timeless, barren nightmares.
Company SJ will animate this space as an installation through projections and the bodies of its performers, wandering, stuck, between its massive windows in seeming perpetuity. Elaborating on the cohesion of universality and site-specificity she aims for, Scaife explains, "What we're looking at is an umbilical chord between Ireland's past and New York's past. Every city has its own wounds - thus every city has access to Beckett because he's looking at the wound. It's never our intention to [literally] place the plays in the past of Ireland - we never want it to seem like these people are living in the past. We put the buildings [housing the production] and the projections side by side with the plays of Beckett, as pieces of a jigsaw." With this particular building's walls of windows, and the illusory openings to other spaces the projections will provide, Company SJ is conjuring an "aesthetic of entrapment" that "reflects back to the institutionalization of women." The performance mines how the architecture of entrapment is even built in to Ireland's own Constitution (in the statement in Article 41.2 that a woman's life is "within the home,") - and the social codes of most every society on the planet.
For the three-woman show, Scaife hasenlisted a trio of veteran performers by whose physical and/or vocal specificities she has been enamored for over a quarter-century. Says Scaife, "You can't ever put a universal body onstage; everybody is specific, but within that specificity is the universal, which is what the meat of Beckett's work is all about." Underscoring this are '70s dance pioneer Joan Davis (who opened the first modern dance studio in Dublin, then founded the Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre), and Michèle Forbes and Bríd ní Neachtain, both of whom got their start performing at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in the '80s. The director credits Davis with her meticulous depiction of trauma in the body, Forbes - herself a novelist - with her authorial approach to text, and Neachtain with the texture her harsh West Irish accent brings to the piece, for which she emphasizes the importance of three voices bearing varied sounds of age and origin.
"Company SJ's continuing project to bring the playwright's disquieting works into revealing new urban contexts recognises his grim sense of empathy, here summoning a political contour for these glimpses of incarceration, burden and disintegration" on the female form, writes Peter Crawley in a review of the company's Dublin production in the Irish Times. "Beckett may be no liberator, but he understood our cages."
John Minihan's Beckett and His World exhibit will be on view simultaneously at the Irish Arts Center's gallery (with an artist's talk on October 10), and will provide telling glimpses of the elusive writer, who scarcely posed for photographs. Minihan's photos capture his essence in relation to the settings - from Parisian cafés to rehearsal rooms - and amongst other luminaries - from director Walter Asmus to his publisher, John Calder - that surrounded him. Featuring the aching clarity of the famous portraits Minihan took of the playwright at Paris's Le Petit Café at the Hotel PLM just before his 80th birthday, the exhibit will see the man so known for inventing decontextualized worlds inhabiting a very of-this-world existence. Even here, however, we see hints of Minihan and Beckett himself toying with the interplay between the specificity the body against a neutral space: Beckett liked taking people to the Hotel PLM, allegedly, due to its liminal nature as a tourist spot, and the anonymity that gave him. In perhaps the most famous photo of Beckett ever taken, Beckett looks away from the lens, almost expressionless, and what we are really drawn to are not the specifics of the genEric Paris café surrounding, but rather the stories and meanings the contours of his face, at 80, reveal in doing nothing in particular.
In conjunction with these offerings, Scaife will be teaching a master class, Sculpting Beckett in Space, on September 27 - with no previous performance experience necessary for participants. Through IAC's programming, New York audiences will get to do more than merely observe the ways Beckett elucidates the diminishing processes bodies are subjected to through society's selective forms of subjugation. In the study of a selection of Beckett's shorter plays, as well as Butoh and Polish Mime, they will have the opportunity to understand and learn to embody Beckett's vision of the keen anti-neutrality of every body's every gesture - or as is often the case in Beckett, in the near-absence of movement altogether. In his work, it's the small, the still, the slow, the quiet that become enormous and crushing. These plays will be read not only with a focus on text, but every element that brings together this acute sense of strangulation-by-minimalism, from stage direction to gesture to costume to lighting.
Beyond the master class, a series of to-be-announced talkbacks will be held in conjunction with the production.
Irish Arts Center and Company SJ present the American premiere of Beckett in the City: The Women Speak, written by Samuel Beckett, directed by Sarah Jane Scaife, and starring Bríd Ní Neachtain, Michèle Forbes and Joan Davis,from September 20 - October 1. Performances will take place Wednesday - Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 3pm; the meeting place for this site-specific performance will be at Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st Street. Critics are welcome from September 22 - 23 for an official opening on September 24. Run time is 70 minutes. General tickets are $34, and member tickets are $28; they can be purchased at irishartscenter.org, or 866-811-4111.
Irish Arts Center presents John Minihan's Beckett and His World, from Sept. 11-Jan. 3. The gallery (at Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st Street) will be open by appointment Monday-Friday from 10am to 6pm, with a free talk with the artist on Tues., Oct. 10 at 6pm. Reservations are encouraged, and can be made at irishartscenter.org; for gallery appointments, call 212-757-3318.
Irish Arts Center presents a one-time opportunity, three-hour master class with Sarah Jane Scaife, Wed., Sept. 27, at 6:30pm, at 244 Rehearsal Studios (244 West 54thStreet -10th floor, btwn 7th and 8th Ave.) No prior experience of performance is necessary for this workshop, but a familiarity with Beckett might help, whether through studying his writing, performing it, or even as an audience member of one of his works. Tickets are $50 for the general public, and $40 for members. Register at irishartscenter.org.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Dr. Sarah-Jane Scaife is artistic director of Company SJ and has been researching, directing and even performing Samuel Beckett's work for over twenty-five years. She has toured many of her own productions internationally and has, since 2000, been invited to direct Beckett's plays with theatre companies and universities in Georgia, Mongolia, India, Singapore, Malaysia, China, USA and Greece. She holds a PhD in the work of Samuel Beckett from the University of Reading, is adjunct lecturer in Trinity College Dublin, and has given countless workshops, lectures and residencies internationally.
Joan Davis has lived her whole life in Ireland, where she has pioneered innovative dance practice since 1976. Her dance, collaborative, and multidimensional arts practices and performances have been consistently funded by the Irish Arts Council. From 2012-2015, Joan pioneered the work ORIGINS, a fully accredited Somatic training, bringing together all her years of movement, dance, therapy and arts practice. She lives in Bray, Co. Wicklow and has three children and four grandchildren.
Michèle Forbesis an actor and writer. Theatre work includes Dancing at Lughnasa, The Great Hunger, No Escape, and Phaedra; film work includes Omagh, Inside I'm Dancing, and Pride and Joy; and television work includes Best: His Mother's Son, Holby City, and Love/Hate. Her debut novel, Ghost Moth, was nominated for Newcomer of the Year at the Irish Book Awards and for First Book Award Edinburgh International Book Festival, and its French translation was shortlisted for the Ireland Francophonie Ambassador's Award 2017. Her second novel, Edith & Oliver, has just been published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Her play POSTSCRIPT, co-written with Noelle Brown, was recently staged at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.
Bríd Ní Neachtain has worked extensively at the Abbey Theatre, touring nationally and internationally with the company many times, including with the original production of Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa, which played at the Plymouth Theatre on Broadway for five months. Her most recent work has been in Donald Margulies' Collected Stories and Graham McLaren's stage adaptation of Jimmy's Hall at the Abbey. She has received numerous awards for her work both in theatre and film.
Having directed and lectured on Beckett's drama for many years throughout Asia (India, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Georgia, Mongolia, Japan), in Europe (Scotland, England, Greece and Denmark) and in New York, Sarah Jane began to feel submerged in his writing all around her on the streets of Dublin.
In 2009 Company SJ began the project Beckett in the City, which aims to re-insert the writing of Samuel Beckett into the social and architectural spaces of the city of Dublin. Actors Raymond Keane and Bryan Burroughs and designer Aedin Cosgrive were integral to the initial creation of this project. Company SJ have presented all of the Beckett in the City series in association with the Dublin Fringe Festivals (both Absolut and Tiger) and with the ongoing support of the Irish Theatre Institute. They have received funding and support for the project from: Dublin City Council, The Arts Council, Culture Ireland and the Office of Public Works. Although begun in 2009 with the placement with Act Without Words II on the street in Dublin, there are now three distinct productions in the Beckett in the City series.
John Minihan was born in Dublin in 1946 and raised in Athy, County Kildare. At the age of 12 he was brought to live in London, and went on to become an apprentice photographer with the Daily Mail. At 21 he became the youngest staff photographer for the Evening Standard. For 30 years he remained in London, returning every year to his hometown of Athy to record the people and their daily lives. This project was to become his book Shadows from the Pale, published in 1996.
Over the years Minihan developed a close relationship with many writers, and his photographs of Samuel Beckett show a particular affinity between the two men. William Burroughs once referred to Minihan as "a painless photographer." His book of photographs of Samuel Beckett was published in 1995.
Minihan's many exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world include the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, 1984; Centre George Pompidou, Paris 1986; the National Portrait Gallery, London 1987/8 and the October Gallery, London 1990 as well as the Guinness Hop Store, Dublin 1991. Now based in Ballydehob, West Cork, Minihan works as a freelance photographer specializing in the arts.
Founded in 1972, Irish Arts Center is a New York-based arts and cultural center dedicated to projecting a dynamic image of Ireland and Irish America for the 21st century, building community with artists and audiences of all backgrounds, forging and strengthening cross-cultural partnerships, and preserving the evolving stories and traditions of Irish culture for generations to come. Our multi-disciplinary programming is centered around three core areas: Performance - including live music, dance, theatre, film, literature, and the humanities; Exhibition - including visual arts presentations and cultural exhibitions that tell the evolving Irish story; and Education - with dozens of classes per week in Irish language, history, music, and dance.
Located in New York City, a global capital of arts and culture, Irish Arts Center serves as a dynamic platform for top emerging and established artists. Irish Arts Center is currently developing plans to construct a new facility to serve our multi-disciplinary program and will be the strongest possible gateway for artists to reach into our cultural community and nourish their work, to connect with our partner institutions who help them innovate, and to become visible in The New York City media market which enhances their ability to achieve U.S and further international success.
The New Irish Arts Center will contain a purpose-built, state-of-the-art contemporary performance space for music, dance and theatre seating up to 160; industry-standard back of house and support facilities to allow artists to achieve their vision; a second, intimate performance space - the renovated historic Irish Arts Center theatre - optimized for live music, literature, film, talks, large classes and special events; classrooms and studio space for community education programs in Irish music, dance, language, history, and the humanities, and for master classes and workshops by visiting and resident artists; technology capability to project the Irish Arts Center experience on the digital platform; an avenue-facing café lobby to engage with the neighborhood and provide a social setting for conversation and interaction between artists and audiences; a beautiful new courtyard entrance on 51st Street where the historic Irish Arts Center building and the new facility meet. Visit irishartscenter.org for more.