Having taken to the Dun Mhuire stage every year for the past 56 years, the Wexford Drama Festival committee have announced that they are on the move as a result of the impending closure of the iconic theatre.
The long-standing festival will take to the stage in the Jerome Hynes Theatre of the National Opera House next year, with the Dun Mhuire set to be purchased by Wexford County Council as part of a regeneration of South Main Street.
Somewhat shockingly, the festival committee received official confirmation that they would be required to move less than two weeks ago and are now faced with some difficulties.
'It's going to be an expensive change,' said festival Chairperson Rachel Murphy. 'It'll have a serious impact on revenue. We're delighted to be moving to the beautiful opera house, but the Jerome Hynes Theatre only seats 180 people. That means that while our rent is going up, our revenue will be going down. This year we will really be seeking the support of Wexford businesses who have always been very good to us. They are the reason that we can keep going each year.'
According to Ms Murphy, in the Dun Mhuire the festival regularly saw 250 people seated for each show, rising to 300 or 350 on opening and closing nights. 'We just don't have a theatre of that size in Wexford any more,' Ms Murphy lamented. 'We live in hope and are optimistic that maybe we'll have a new theatre when the Trinity Wharf Development is finished.'
The Wexford Drama Festival was initially established in 1963 as a sub-committee of the Dun Mhuire itself. Initially it was devised as a source of entertainment during lent, when dances didn't take place in the hall, giving the local community an outlet and keeping the Dun Mhuire in use.
While they festival committee are sad to see the end of an era, they are grateful to be able to secure the Jerome Hynes theatre for next year.
'We're just one group getting this news,' said Ms Murphy. 'There's also the panto group, the Light Opera Society, Oyster Lane, everyone is affected. Obviously we had heard the rumours circulating for a while and we knew where things were going, but we only got official confirmation last week.'
'We knew we had to move quickly. We are tied to our dates by the Amateur Dramatic Council of Ireland and we have to book adjudicators and that kind of thing, so we're not flexible on dates and we didn't have the luxury of a few months to plan. Thankfully the Jerome Hynes theatre was available for those dates and we were able to act quickly to secure them.'
With next year's festival set for March 6 to 13, the committee are hoping that it will be the start of a new successful chapter at the Jerome Hynes Theatre.
'Our focus has always been on the amateur dramatic community in Wexford,' Ms Murphy said. 'We're looking to keep tickets at a reasonable cost. It was always €12 for entry each night in the Dun Mhuire. We've had to raise this slightly to €15. The patron ticket will remain at €60 for eight nights which is great value for the Opera House. Those go on sale in early December and would make an ideal Christmas present. They can be shared too, so the same person doesn't have to use it each night.'
'We are sad to be leaving the Dun Mhuire,' Ms Murphy concluded. 'But we're looking on this as the beginning of a new chapter at the Jerome Hynes Theatre and we're looking to the future of the festival.'