Tuesday 12 December 2017

Administrative staff outnumber artists at the Abbey

Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre
Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre
Allison Bray

Allison Bray

MANAGERS, accountants and administrators outnumber artists, writers and directors at Ireland's National Theatre compared with other major theatres, an independent review has revealed.

The long-awaited 'Review of the Abbey Theatre' found that few of its 92 staff and "none of the senior staff, are theatre artists or writers or designers".

By comparison, Sydney's Theatre Company had until recently employed award-winning actress Cate Blanchett at its helm along with an artistic director and two resident directors and a resident designer.

The review carried out by the Edinburgh-based arts and cultural consultancy, Bonnar Keenlyside Ltd, also noted that the Abbey produced fewer plays than theatres of a similar size and remit, including the Sydney Theatre Company which produced 22 plays last year, compared to just 13 at the Abbey.

The report's authors implied that the Abbey, founded by WB Yeats and Lady Gregory more than a century ago, is missing out on "retained creative knowledge and house style" enjoyed by theatres of a similar size while increasing the "creative costs of some productions" through a reliance on freelance creative staff.

The report also recommends that the theatre changes with the times to encourage more patrons while still retaining its role as Ireland's national theatre showcasing Irish writing and plays about Ireland.

Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre, told the Irish Independent that both the theatre and the Arts Council – which had been at loggerheads in recent years over funding issues – welcome the review.

"For the first time the Arts Council and the Abbey are in agreement. There were some tensions, but the report has cleared the air," he said.


Yet despite the report's concerns with the number of managers and administrators, he said that there won't be any changes to staff in the near future.

"I've been running such a tight ship for the past nine years and we have to be careful of any changes over the short term," he said.

Mr Mac Conghail agreed the 132-seat Peacock Theatre should be "buzzing and packed" and he will be working towards that end.

While it falls short of recommending slashing management and administrative jobs, the review group recommends "rebalancing the staff complement in the Abbey so that there are higher numbers of creative roles able to direct, design etc., relative to non-creative and producing roles."

Irish Independent

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