Project for an Arts centre
A DICTIONARY definition of the noun" project" tells us it is a " scheme" or a "design." Spelt with a capital' P,' it becomes the name adopted by a group of young Dubliners to describe what is certainly a comprehensive scheme and one of ambitious and praiseworthy design. Project has had its ups and downs, its successes and disappointments, but now, three years after its inception, it remains one of the most stimulating and dynamic artistic forces in Irish life today. Its terms of reference cover the entire spectrum of the arts and its targets incorporate an imaginative and wide-ranging series of activities. In the long term, Project is not so much a programme but, very definitely, a way of life.
In 1966, Colm O'Briain, now a producer with RTE, asked Jim FitzGerald to do a theatre production at Dublin'sGateTheatre." Fitz " agreed and, in the course of rehearsals for three one-act plays (The Tiger, Double Double and The Lover), the two discussed the potential use that could be made of a theatre on Sundays. Realising that a number of uses could be made, the idea was thrashed out further and plans were made. Project 67 became the first step in the direction of an arts centre-the ultimate horizon. In November 1966, a multi-arts season opened at the Gate. It included plays and play readings, jazz concerts, classical music concerts, teach-ins (on censorship and on the theatre), an art exhibition and an experiment in theatre for children.
Plans and difficulties
The various interested parties divided up events between thempainting, music, sculpture, seminars, children's theatre-and started making contacts and arrangements. In February of the following year, two rooms were offered to Project 67 by Tuck & Co. (Ireland) Ltd. above their premises in Lower Abbey Street. It was decided to form a cooperative nonprofit gallery for art exhibitions and reconstruction and renovating work proceeded apace. Simultaneously, the theatre side of Project 67 was planning another full season at the Gate for June, July and August. A number of productions were selected and tentative casts were arranged. Difficulties arose, however, in the shape of a misunderstanding about the Gate lease and in the end it was only possible to obtain the theatre for four weeks, with the result that the entire nature of what was already planned had to be changed. It was decided to do a classic production which would (it was hoped) set the group up financially for the season later in the year. The Beaux' Strategem, directed by FitzGerald, was staged at the Gate. The production hit financial rock-bottom and shook the entire foundations of the outfit. At the same time, the Gallery was almost nearing completion. Were it not for this fact, and the group's commitment to the Gallery, Project might have submerged forever. But in July, 1967, the late Donogh O'Malley officially opened the Gallery and a series of exhibitions were mounted. The policy was to mix one-man exhibitions with group shows and the emphasis was on graphic works. Exhibitions by members of the gallery were sent to Dundalk, Ballydehob, and New York and an exhibition of graphics by Dutch artists was brought from Holland with the assistance of the Prins Bernhard Foundation.
NADYP comes into being
One of Project's plans for the longer season did not dissolve with the failure to obtain the Gate three-month lease. This was the formation of study groups to discuss the need for drama in education and theatre for young people. From these study groups, which met during the run of The Beaux' Strategem, emerged the National Association of Drama for Young People. NADYP formally passed its constitution at its inaugural meeting in September, 1967. Its aim is to facilitate the development of theatre for children and young people, to encourage them to find expression through drama and to appreciate drama as an art form. The organisation has over 200 members, mostly professionals (teachers, actors and directors), with a number of active amateur enthusiasts.
NADYP is a member of ASSITEJ (Association Internationale de Theatre pour l'Enfance et la Jeunesse) and BCT A (British Children's Theatre Association); it also enjoys consultative status with the Department of Education. It has taken special account of the new Primary School Curriculum's suggestion to use" dramatic activity based on the child's experience, with simple dramatic presentation or miming of incidents from legends and classic tales." A wide range of courses, seminars and lectures have been arranged for members.
Some of the events organised by the Association during 1968/69 included "Drama for Children in the Primary School," a practical demonstration with children by Aidan Rogers, Lecturer in Speech and Drama at St. Patrick's Training College, held in Carlow and Castleblayney; "Design for the Young Person's Theatre," a lecture by Lynn Avery, formerly of the Royal Court Theatre Company, which was held at Project Gallery; "Approaching the Scripted Play with Young People," a lecture by Colm O'Briain; "Theatre in Education Workshop," a three day course for teachers of primary, secondary and retarded children by Stuart Bennett, Colin White and Gordon Wiseman (members of the Theatre in Education Company, Coventry) which was held in V.C.D.; "Creative Movement," a five-week course on \Vednesday evenings by Mona Wren, Vice-Principal of St. Raphael's College of Physical Education, Sion Hill, and held in the College; "Drama Summer Courses for Children" held in Artane, Kilmacud, Sheriff Street and Brunswick Street, Dublin, by twelve teachers; and" The Shoestring Theatre for Children," a company of drama teachers from England who performed three plays, The Reluctant Dragon, The Howler and The Frog at youth clubs and schools in Castleblayney, Dundalk, Navan, Palmerstown and Tallaght, and in Dublin at Cabra, Dominick St., Donnybrook, Drumcondra and Pearse Street.
Outside the Pale
As can be seen, the instructors and contributors are not drawn solely from Ireland but include persons of established reputation and accomplishment fromabroad.(Also,itisclear, NADYP's range is not confined to an area within the Pale.) Members of the Association can also avail of a library service and information on films of related interest is also provided. Once every school term a newsletter is published and circulated to all members which keeps them in touch with the Association's events and progress. The newsletter reports on developments in the field of drama as a teaching method and carries interviews with prominent people, articles, reviews of recent publications, progress reports and other information.
The Project Gallery had, meanwhile, been continuing with exhibitions, lectures for NADYP, and poetry readings. Last April, Tuck & Co. sold their premises and the new owner recommended Project to the Y.M.C.A. for a lease in their basement premises which had been formerly held by him.
On June 9th a one-year lease to use the premises as an "arts gallery" was issued. Members spent the summer converting the premises (as our photo shows) and readying it for an Autumn opening. On 3rd September, the Minister for Finance, Mr. Haughey, officially opened the new premises and Project's inaugural exhibition (of paintings and sculpture by almost thirty artists.) It is envisaged that the gallery will also be a bookshop, a letterpress, the venue for poetry readings, jazz, classical and folk music concerts, courses and performances connected with NADYP and, early next year, experimental theatre productions working largely on the theories and techniques of Jerzy Grotowski, the Polish producer.
The group matures
Past difficulties and exigencies experienced by Project have, in fact, paid dividends in strengthening its commitment towards its aims. Colm O'Briain, whose brainchild it is, claims (with justification) that the years of trying to keep the gallery going-of actually holding it together-have resulted in the maturing of the group as a group:" Our organisational mistakes now are far less than they used to be. And we all have a clearer picture of what we're at."
Project has experimcntcd with several forms of organisation. Now it has ten directors with no secretary or chairman. A weekly report is presented to a meeting of the directors. The gallery, at present, has about fifty members. Almost all are painters or sculptors. Membership is now being formalised with the introduction of a £3 fee because the group is in the process of being incorporated and licensed by the Department of Industry and Commerce as a charity. This is considered necessary not as a structural change but as a procedure for identifying the group.
A deal of thought has gone into Project: there is a distinct motivating philosophy behind it as well as a force. It is best described by O'Briain, its articulate and energetic dynamo: " The guideline and most of the effort now lies in expanding the range of projects. This falls on the artists who, as soon as the group is more diversified, will hand over to the professionals in thcir respective fields.They will be responsible for their own finances, events and organisation.
" We called it Project 67 originally because right from the beginning in 1966 we were looking ahead. We thought it would become what we wanted it to be in '67 but it didn't. But we are still Project towards an arts centre.\Vhen there is an arts
centre that in itself will be the end of the project - we will have arrivcd at what we set out to achieve. After that other horizons will be necessary.
Brahms before soccer
"Ideally, an arts centre is a place with facilities for the performance of all the arts, facilities for all the artists to work (music rooms, foundries for sculpture, studios for painters, and rehearsal rooms) and leisure facilities for all the community so that if you want to play the piano, mess with clay, have a cup of coffee, you get it in the communitv arts centre. Leisure facilities should also include sportsyou should have showers, soccer fields and dressingrooms. And on your way to the dressingroom you should hear Brahm's second symphony."
"Joan Littlewood's dream of the fun-palace includes candy-floss and slot machines, but we feel these are already adequately provided for." (This comment was approved of emphatically by Project's Information Officer, Lee Gallagher, who remarked enigmatically, "It's not what the butler saw but what the butler can do that we are concerned with.") O'Briain feels that one of Project's main aims is to take away the mystique, to bridge the gap between the artist and the community. "Artists are professionals," he says, "so what they're doing is a committcd piece of work: their audience is not a consumeraudience - it's a leisure audience."
"The arts, unfortunately, are inextricably tied up with money. No matter how articulate you are, you are still depending on the old spondulicks. The traditional support for all the arts has bcen from the upper-middle classes. Project is trying to find a solution to reaching not only the upper-middle classes but also those areas that have been traditionally culturally deprived."
Bambis and plastic flowers
"What we would like to see happening would be, for instance in the case of the woman who lives off the trading chcque, that instead of spending the last two pounds of her cheque on trivia (bambis and plastic flowers etc.) it would be within her range to put aside some of the cheque towards buying a painting, getting theatre or concert tickets, or towards books. This is a difficult thing to do: not only are you fighting educational opportunities that different sections of the community enjoy, but also their financial and economic liabilities and limitations. Some sort of success would have been!
achieved if this ever became possible."Whether it will in an Irish context is impossible to forecast but if not it will not be for lack of effort and imagination. A return to our dictionary, this time for a definition of the verb "to project," suggests, among others, " to cause to jut forward." This does appear particularly apt in the case of Projcct-over the last three years, substantial hard work,energyand initiative have indeed caused it to jut forward as something in the nature of a beacon. Permanency is a notoriously rare feature of organisations concerned in promoting the arts Dublin has witnessed too many pocket theatres and literary magazines disappear into a nostalgic Celtic twilight to aver otherwise. Project may, should and, onc hopes, will prove an exception.