Dublin Gay Theatre Festival | Brian Merriman
Interview by: Caroline Foran
As 2012's Dublin Gay Theatre Festival gets under way, we catch up with founder Brian Merriman to discuss all the festival has to offer, the importance of a Gay Theatre Festival and how attitudes in Ireland are changing.
How painstaking a process is putting together a festival like this?
It's not painstaking but very demanding. We have had hundreds of playwrights submit their work over the years and I try to read everything and respond. It actually takes more work justifying saying no diplomatically, but hopefully steering writers in a direction that might improve the work. Once the plays are sorted then it's time to recruit volunteers and this event is entirely voluntary. Without an office or funding for an administrator, we do our very best to arrange such a major event 'out of hours' and for the past 9 years we have succeeded! This year we had the benefit of an intern as a festival manager, a young graduate from the UK, Callum Cgeatle - who 'saved our life' - even the box office is voluntary and we are delighted to welcome a huge number of foreign people who live in Dublin who always help us out!
Any personal recommendations from the programme?
I have studied and chosen all the works and see the appeal in them all of course. It's not just about gay theatre - it's all about good theatre. There are 22 fine pieces of diverse theatre in drama, comedy, music and cabaret designed to appeal to all tastes, ages and orientations! Our audience have discovered this and at least half come from the straight community and that's exactly as we intended! We cover women's plays, history, alternative, mental health, adolescence, musical theatre, HIV, singer songwriting, drag, short plays, transgender, Irish, UK, USA, Canada, South Africa and Australia in two different programmes each week. 140 performances plus free events. I like historical dramas so Lilies and Mary and the Conqueror will appeal to me and from my background in musical theatre I'm looking forward to Elegies and of course the 'alternative' treats like Rock n Wrestle, Living on the Real and Rachel's Cafe... spoiled for choice! Aul Divina, My Funny Valentine and all others appeal too!
How important do you feel it is that we have a Gay Theatre Festival?
This event has evolved into the biggest event of its kind in the world. It's our audience and our participants who each year reaffirm its importance. It says a lot for Dublin too - there is great support from the City Council and Failte Ireland. It is important to ensure that the contribution of gay artists past and present finds a home, space and voice in 21st century Dublin. It augurs well and demonstrates in a real sense how diverse and welcoming the city and the country is, with the Flags on the Liffey, Lampost banners, the Sunday Business Post and now RTE TV ads all using the word gay in colourful and celebrated ways.
How have things developed since 2004?
Hugely. We still dont enjoy the recognition for a few quarters at home that any other event that has achieved so much would expect to. It's a different story abroad and in the Irish mainstream media who have acknowledged our presence with great support. The festival is an intercultural dialogue by the gay arts community with mainstream theatre. It is visible vibrant, challenging and truthful. Gay people are proud of its presence. All our audience learn of our own diversity which challenges the cheap stereotype head on. There's a great welcome and that's been the trademark since we began in 2004 with 11 plays - we pass 1800 performances this year.
How do you feel it adds to the integration of the gay community with the rest of society?
The festival is an intercultural dialogue by the gay arts community with mainstream theatre. It is visible, vibrant, challenging and truthful. Gay people are proud of its presence, all our audience learn of our own diversity and the welcome given to everyone who attends and participates build bridges stronger than any constructed prejudice.
How much have you seen attitudes towards the festival and the gay community change since he started?
I think people always underestimated the positive attitudes of Dubliners to the gay community. Opinion polls show 75% of Irish people in favour of gay marriage, we have 5 gay people in the Oireachtas, thousands turn out to watch the Pride parade - those who propogated constructed shame in order to destroy lives and prompt suicide have their answer - we all have a right to equal citizenship and the festival proudly plays it part in creating a decent Ireland.
Any outstanding memories/anecdotes of attitudes towards the festival from Dubliners?
I've seen people arrive at the festival to see a friend on stage and not realise the are at a gay arts event. I've even seen an initial discomfort on the way in - but none on the way out! It never ceases to amaze what you can see and learn once you open your eyes. People have been enjoying the works and legacies of gay artists for decades - we just complete the celebration of the artist by celebrating their full identity - Wilde, Bacon, Edwards and Mac Liammoir, Eve Gore Booth, Handel, and even some of the heroes of 1916!
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 8th May 2012 | Theatre
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