Sunday 15 September 2019

Life lessons with Garry Hynes: My life has been full of ups and downs. Full of times when I've fundamentally questioned what I'm doing

Garry Hynes, artistic director of Druid. Photo: Tony Gavin
Garry Hynes, artistic director of Druid. Photo: Tony Gavin
Talented trio: Garry Hynes (left) with co-founders of Druid Theatre the late Mick Lally, and Marie Mullen

Maggie Armstrong in conversation with Garry Hynes

Margaret Geraldine Mary 'Garry' Hynes (63) is artistic director of Druid, the theatre company she founded with Marie Mullen and Mick Lally in Galway in 1975. Before she was 40, she became the first female director to win a Tony award, for The Beauty Queen of Leenane on Broadway. She ran the Abbey Theatre from 1991 to 1994, and has directed Irish actors from Siobhan McKenna to Cillian Murphy, and premiered new plays from writers including Martin McDonagh, Marina Carr and Enda Walsh. Hynes lives in Dublin with her partner, film producer Martha O'Neill.

I was the eldest of four children. It was a very noisy household. Always full of life and fun, people coming and going. Dinner was full of everybody debating their ideas and disagreeing with each other.

I read Mein Kampf while I was going to school on the bus. I read everything. I was a magpie. I was a voracious reader of poetry in my teenage years. I read lots of stuff that I didn't really understand but I just loved it. I loved the act of reading - still do.

When I signed up to Dramsoc in UCG I didn't even quite know what 'directing' meant. The first play was The Loves of Cass Maguire by Brian Friel. I was 19. I just remember thinking: "How do I make this feel natural, and how do I move people around so it looks natural, that they're not bumping into the furniture?"

Talented trio: Garry Hynes (left) with co-founders of Druid Theatre the late Mick Lally, and Marie Mullen
Talented trio: Garry Hynes (left) with co-founders of Druid Theatre the late Mick Lally, and Marie Mullen

Courage, I don't think I had. Drive, I almost certainly did have. But women in the '70s had drive. Women in the '70s were out there when it was neither fashionable nor profitable. The drive comes from the passion of wanting to do something.

People say, "Oh, Druid is like a family" - well families can be horrible places sometimes, so I don't think that's necessarily a great description! I revere my colleagues. Mick was the gold standard to me. If Mick thought something was a good idea, that pleased me and made me feel like we were doing the right thing. Marie the same. We supported each other by interrogating each other. You had to go deep to defend what you thought was right.

I do lose my cool sometimes, naturally I do. But it's always a failure of some kind when you lose your cool. I love collaborating with people. I love the friendship, I love the sense of a common purpose.

I don't like the audition process so much. I don't like the fact that by definition, in an audition process, so many people are going to be disappointed. Yet on the other hand there is the thrill when somebody walks into a room and you think: "My goodness - they're good."

I hate that the arts are so underfunded. That, I find immensely frustrating. How proud we are of our artists but we're not proud enough to make the lives of the people who work in the industry better. We talk about government subsidies. We never talk about the subsidy made by the people who work for free in their early years, or in their later years work for far less than they would anywhere else. It is a huge human subsidy.

Culture is innate in us, it is profoundly who we are. And yet it's treated like something for elite and powerful people, that some people have and some people don't. That drives me crazy.

My father died 12 years ago, quickly followed by my brother who died a year after that. So, I'm very lucky to have my mother. However much we grieved, my father had a very good life, and died in a good way. But Jerome's death was incomprehensible. He was one of the best. Even after all these years it's still hard.

Coming out to my parents was the most natural thing in the world. It was more of a kind of… joke. But if I had been born 10 or 20 years later, I would have come out in college, or school, that would have been nicer, yeah.

My story is not one of the hard ones. I always was aware that had I become a teacher and got a job somewhere like Mullingar, life for me as a gay woman would have been infinitely more difficult. Instead of worrying about whether you'd lose friends, you could have been worrying about whether you'd lose your job. It was easier for me, in the theatre.

Now there comes a point in my life and my relationship with Druid, where I can see a future when I won't be there. That's one of the challenges facing Druid, and it's a challenge for me myself. You begin to ask yourself: "What do I want the rest of my life to be like, what do I want to do, what have I not done?"

I would like to travel more, I would like to cook more. All these recipes, and so little time… But most of the things I'd love to do are related to the theatre. Projects in my head that are going to take a few years, which I'm impatient to get on with.

My life has been full of ups and downs. Full of times when I've fundamentally questioned what I'm doing. Am I in the right place? Am I any good? Have I any right to be doing this? This is too hard, I want to do something else.

I would say to anybody, to your own self be true. Make sure you feel connected to what you're doing. And if you don't, find a way to be. It's not that everything should feel right, but that you should constantly be searching for what the right thing is.

Of course I have regrets. I've regrets for the things I haven't done particularly well, I've regrets for people that I know, on reflection, I didn't treat very well. Do I wish I'd gone off and done something else? No.

Druid's 20th anniversary tour of 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane' is at Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick, from Oct 11-15 and Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, from Oct 18-29. See

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