The Abbey’s Cultural Role and Value

The Abbey Theatre was founded as Ireland’s national theatre, by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904, before the foundation of the Irish state.

These remarkable artists defined the vision and ambition of the Abbey Theatre with a manifesto “to bring upon the stage the deeper emotions of Ireland”. Although written more than a hundred years ago, this is still the kernel of what constitutes the artistic imperative for the Abbey Theatre in the 21st century. To initiate and participate in a national conversation(s) is what W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory achieved and what we aspire to sustain. The contribution by actors in the early years of the Abbey Theatre should not be underestimated either. The Fay Brothers contributed to the success of the early years of the Abbey Theatre. The company of actors performed the plays of our national playwrights and this led to the formation of the world renowned Abbey Players.

The drive to reflect on the deeper emotions of Ireland determines the Abbey’s activities and work presented on our stages. We reflect and engage with Irish society through commissioning and producing new Irish plays and world class theatre for all our stages, and by creating discourse and debate on the political, cultural and social issues of the day.

Our challenge at the Abbey Theatre is to mediate these conversations between our artists and our audiences. We present neither propaganda nor direct political action but aim to present great theatre art in a national context. The stories we tell on our stages have a resonance with our artists and our audiences. Our unique production capacity at the Abbey – with the large stage of the Abbey and the smaller Peacock space – is a fundamental element in supporting our mission.

Conducting the national conversation across Ireland is also an essential cultural role and the experience of working throughout Ireland has enormous value for citizens throughout the country and for the Abbey. The national conversation begins at a local level and we will challenge and entertain communicates across Ireland through an emerging national touring programme.

The Abbey Theatre, a writer’s theatre
The Abbey Theatre is the cradle of the Irish literary movement and has produced some of the most significant and crucial plays of the 20th Century. It is vital that this continues into the 21st Century and that the rich seam of the oral tradition is inherited by future generations. The Abbey Theatre is the home of the big play, the big idea and the big cast. It maintains the only fulltime Literary Department in Ireland and is responsible for developing new playwrights and new writing for theatre.

The Abbey’s social role and economic value
Over and above the productions on our stages, as the national theatre we have a responsibility to attract new audiences, increase participation and to empower citizens to understand and contribute to the political, social and cultural context of Ireland in the 21st century. The Abbey is the largest employer in Irish theatre and provides training and develops skills which will support the broader arts and creative industries. We contribute towards the economic success of Dublin and Ireland both directly as an employer and generator of income and also as an international ambassador for Ireland.