In 2014 the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Breakthrough Award was presented to Emma Jordan, artistic director of Belfast’s Prime Cut Productions. The £295,000 award, set up to support exceptional entrepreneurs in the cultural sector in the UK, allowed Jordan not only to develop her own work as a director but to put in place Reveal, a four-year artistic development programme managed by the company. It offered a planned series of development opportunities for emerging theatre-makers in Northern Ireland, along with the chance to forge significant international collaborations.
The culmination of those efforts is Reveal-ed, a showcase of new work by ten artists who have come through or been associated with the programme over the past four years. It runs at the MAC from 17 to 19 January.
Producers, literary managers, dramaturgs and artistic directors from across Ireland and the UK have been invited to Belfast to view what Jordan calls “… the exceptionally high standard of work being produced by this generation of artists.”
The rotating programme will also incorporate (on 18 February) a half-day symposium entitled A State of the Art, in which the emphasis will be on producing.
The symposium panel will be chaired by Róise Goan, herself a former Reveal artist and recently appointed artistic director of Artsadmin in London. The panellists are Chris Campbell, literary manager of the Royal Court Theatre, Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Matthieu Goeury, performing arts curator of Vooruit arts centre in Ghent, a leading centre of contemporary arts.
“We’ve identified producing as the big missing link,” says Jordan. “There’s a gap between creating the artistic space in which to develop ideas and taking that idea on to the next stage. These artists have a burning desire to bring their work to wider audiences.
“For me – and I say this immodestly – the showcase illustrates best practice in how to help and support artists. As a company we are thinly spread. We can’t take them on to the next stage but we can open doors for the wider theatre sector to step in.”
The roll call of Reveal participants includes the internationally acclaimed dance artist Oona Doherty; actor, writer and artistic director of Tinderbox Patrick J. O’Reilly; Michael Patrick and Oisin Kearney, the team behind the phenomenally successful one-man show My Left Nut; director Rhiann Jeffrey, actress Lisa Dwyer Hogg and writer Clare Dwyer Hogg.
“It is inaccurate to describe the majority of our Reveal artists as ‘emerging’”, says Jordan. “They have grown and matured into experienced independent artists, producing high quality work in a range of genres.
“The scheme came out of my having had to make space for myself as an artist and, hence, my recognition of the need to improve the situation for other independent artists from the North.
“I cut my teeth in the independent sector, working as an actor for Tinderbox and Mad Cow (now Prime Cut). We were the young Turks, a small group of friends and allies in a small town, trying to make work on little or no funding. Still, we pressed on and learned from the experience. But it took so much time. I didn’t start directing until I was 38. I knew that things needed to change or we would lose these talented people.”
Reveal has delivered a range of bespoke programmes, enabling the artists to attend festivals in Berlin, Ghent, Brussels, London, Paris and Edinburgh, to build professional networks and collaborations and engage with high profile practitioners to whom they would not otherwise have had access. It supported the development of, among others, O’Reilly’s play about mental illness The Man Who Fell to Pieces, Doherty’s multi-faceted Hard to be Soft, as well as Jeffrey’s Belfast Festival directing début with Mydidae. Prime Cut is now the main producer of Doherty’s work, which regularly tours internationally, and the company took My Left Nut to award-winning success at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The Reveal-ed showcase is an eclectic mix of previews and work-in-progress, many of which explore social issues such as gender identity, mental health, addiction and the ageing process.
For the first time, Doherty will dance Helium from Hard to be Soft, a segment which has previously been performed by a man. She will also preview her new piece Lady Magma ahead of its 2019 premiere. A rehearsed reading of Clare Dwyer-Hogg’s The Regret Room will be delivered by Bríd Brennan, Eleanor Methven, Lisa Dwyer-Hogg and Emer McDaid. There will be readings of new plays by Sarah Gordon, Fionnuala Kennedy and former Charabanc actress Carol Moore, as well as a performance of Caoileann Curry-Thompson’s Rosefrail and Fair about the tragic life story of Lucia Joyce.
Meanwhile, looking ahead, Jordan offers a sobering injection of reality.
“Reveal-ed marks the end of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation grant and is our way of underlining the benefits that accrue from good investment in developing artists.
“It might also represent a big wave from a sinking ship. In this current climate, and especially in the face of Brexit, the Northern Ireland cultural sector has to battle to be seen. Across the water, there is a breathtaking lack of awareness about this place and scant recognition of the quality of work being produced here. We have to confront the fact that we are on the periphery and that things must change.
“Locally, the sector is again at crisis point as we face into yet another round of potentially terminal funding cuts. Our cries for help are going unheard. My fear is that they may remain unheard.”
Full programme and booking information on: wwwthemaclive.com
This article was first published in the Irish Times on 12 January 2019.