The Lyric Theatre - The Ireland Funds

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The Lyric Theatre - The Ireland Funds

The Lyric

Theatre

A BEACON OF HOPE

MOVES TO A

NEW HOME

“A new theatre can be the most

exciting building in any city. It can

be the home of miracles and

epiphanies and revelations and

renovations. And building a new

theatre—especially in times like

these—is both an act of fortitude

and a gesture of faith in your

community.” – Playwright, Brian Friel

Architect’s CGI rendering of the new space: Maganglo Limited

The new home of the Lyric Theatre

set to open in May, 2011

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15


On the banks of the Lagan River in Belfast, Brian Friel’s inspirational

quote is posted on a sign overlooking the bricks and mortar

that will soon be the new home of the Lyric Theatre. The theatre

has stood as a beacon of hope and high artistic standards since the

1950s and, in the darkest days of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, was

a place where messages of tolerance and peace were safely shared.

Thanks in part to the generosity of The Ireland Funds’ donors, the

Lyric Theatre is now preparing to move into a much-needed new

space. The improved venue will house performance, studio and

rehearsal areas.

But just as exciting as the landmark architecture and beautiful

acoustics of the new space is the ongoing work that the Lyric does

for the entire community in Northern Ireland. Often called the

“spiritual home” of such greats as Nobel Laureate Seamus

Heaney, actor Liam Neeson and playwright Brian Friel, the Lyric

is committed to bringing profound theatre experiences to those

who might otherwise never be exposed to them. They deliver

innovative programs to schools, prisons and segments of Northern

Ireland society that would perhaps not venture into a theatre.

And so, the Lyric goes to them.

The Ireland Funds are proud to support the Lyric Theatre and are confident that the

“epiphanies and revelations” of this next act have just begun.

One of the many schools in Northern Ireland

that benefits from the Lyric Theatre

Photo by: Steffan Hill Photography


Over the yearsthe Lyric Theatre has been a place where artists

and writers could come together, find a voice and challenge issues such as

sectarianism and stereotypes. As Dan Gordon, actor, director and longtime

supporter and trustee of the Lyric says, “Through plays, the Lyric engenders a

forum about the issues we need to look at together as a community. We expose,

we irritate and sometimes we illuminate.” Connect magazine sat down on

stage with Dan as he prepared for a performance of ‘The Miser’ by Molière, to

learn about the unique role the theatre plays in Northern Ireland.

Dan Gordon, Actor / Director / Lyric Theatre Trustee

Changing Mindsets

I grew up in East Belfast in a working class family and my

father was a worker in the shipyards. In 1977, I saw my

first play here at the Lyric when I was 17 years old. It was

the first time I had ever seen live theatre and I thought it

was the most amazing thing.

Well, I’ve been involved ever since. I stayed on

because I wanted to be involved in plays about this place,

about the people here. When you do a play here for locals,

there is no hiding place on tough issues and conversations

about the very place they live. The Lyric lets you be part of

big ideas. Now, the theatre is passing that on to this next

generation and I’ve seen it make a difference with my own

eyes. What we are doing with schools and subsequently

with the parents in the community is changing things.

And if we can change the mindset of the young people, we

can change everything.

Laying Foundations

I’ve written a series of six plays about heritage,

community and history that acknowledge all the cultures

here in Belfast. What we are doing is laying a foundation.

We’re keen to write pieces that don’t have just one starring

role where only one child can be the Annie or the Oliver.

We are crafting plays that have 120 children in them. Even

the shyest child can have a line and every child is involved.

‘Kissing the Shuttle’ highlighted the linen industry here

in Belfast. What was magnificent was that in the audience

we had 80 year olds that had worked in the mills, singing

the songs along with the children. It was truly a

community experience. The Lyric allowed us to do this in

12 schools all across Northern Ireland. We took it to

Enniskillen, we were in Co. Down, and we were in

Donegal. We got out of Belfast and kept going.

This year, we did a play in Wheatfield Primary

School. (Editor’s note: in 2001 this section of North Belfast

saw riots and violence between the Catholic and Protestant

communities over a 300 yard stretch of road that separates

them. Things have improved but tensions still run high in the

area.) The Holy Cross kids on the other side came over to

see the play in the Wheatfield Primary School. That invitation

increased interaction between both sides of the

community. First and foremost we are a theatre, but it’s

clear that building audiences builds other things in a

community. The feedback we’ve received from the

schools is tremendous. We’re not out there trying to make

actors; we’re trying to make well-rounded people.

Fighting With Words

The Lyric also takes theatre into prisons, often

encountering those who are in for life. We put on a

production of ‘A Night in November’ which is based on a

true story of the Greysteel killings. (Editor’s note: In 1993,

members of a loyalist paramilitary group opened fire in a bar

in Greysteel, Northern Ireland. It was assumed those who were

there were Catholic since they were watching soccer on television.

Eight civilians were killed and thirteen were wounded.)

Two of the guys who were responsible for that

shooting were in the audience. Who’s to say how it

affected them, but they were there. As we performed I

thought, ‘I don’t have a gun to fight these guys, but I can

fight with them with words.’ People will sometimes say ‘oh

it’s only a play’ but no, I say theatre has the potential to be

much more powerful than that.

The new building is going to be magnificent, but the

sustainability afterwards will be the big need and the

investment must continue. After the launch, what will be

the second show? And the one after that? This is where we

have the opportunity to do even more for this community.

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A Night in November by Marie Jones

Stones In His Pockets by Marie Jones

There weren’t many people from the part of Belfast I grew up in that made it to university. In the last couple of years

of the sixties Belfast was burning again, the flames fanned by bitter sectarian strife. For those of us who were teenagers

then, it was easy to be sucked into that fire. Tribal identity has a strong pull and I was no more immune to it than

anyone else. But in April 1969 I was dragged by a teacher to the newly opened Lyric Theatre. I was sixteen and

probably went kicking and screaming. The play was Sheridan’s ‘The School for Scandal’ and it changed my life. The

thrill of live performance. The sense of that special place that a theatre is. In those days the buses went off early, but

I can remember walking home on air. And after that I went back again and again. The theatre gave me a sort of

literacy. It opened my eyes and it gave me other alternatives to dream about. That’s what the theatre does best. It

teaches you to dream with your eyes open. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”— Professor David Johnston, Playwright

We Do It For Love by Patrick Galvin

The Hidden Curriculum by Graham Reid

The Flats by John Boyd


The Stars Shine with The American Ireland Fund

for the Lyric Theatre

John Ryan, Pauline Ryan, Meryl Streep

To kick off 2010, Chairman of The American Ireland Fund, Loretta

Brennan Glucksman hosted a dinner in her home to support Belfast’s

Lyric Theatre. Among those demonstrating their great love for the

theatre and its importance to Northern Ireland were Liam Neeson,

Meryl Streep, Aidan Quinn and Ciaran Hinds. The dinner was also

attended by leading supporters of the Fund from across the country and

by key representatives of the Lyric Theatre, including Mark Carruthers

and Sir George Bain. Funding was raised for the theatre’s new venue and

the night was a wonderful showcase for the imagination and creativity

that exists in Northern Ireland.

Partners with The American

Ireland Fund in supporting

the Lyric Theatre include:

John Fitzpatrick

Tina Flaherty

Michael George

Loretta Brennan Glucksman

Jim & Jackie Higgins

Dolores McCall

George & Angela Moore

Susan Morrice

John & Debbie O’Donoghue

Jim & Diane Quinn

John and Pauline Ryan

Josh Stewart

Bill Walsh

Dolores McCall, Liam Neeson

Loretta Brennan Glucksman, Colum McCann

“In the face of deep divisions that keep our communities apart, the Lyric serves as a powerful unifying force, providing a safe and

neutral space in which people from different backgrounds come together to be empowered, inspired, engaged and

entertained. I really believe in the power of theatre to break down barriers and heal in a very deep, fundamental, spiritual way.

And Northern Ireland needs that. It needs the Lyric Theatre.” — Liam Neeson OBE, Lyric Theatre Patron

The Lyric Theatre needs support to sustain its unique outreach in Northern Ireland. If you would like to learn more

about how you can contribute to this key project, please visit www.irlfunds.org/connect

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