Nurturing the designers of the future

Abbey Theatre and IT Sligo announce 2013 Yeats Design Residency

The Abbey Theatre, Ireland’s national theatre, in partnership with the Institute of Technology Sligo, today (Friday 17 May 2013) announced the second Yeats Design Residency marking our continual commitment to help nurture the talents of young theatre designers in Ireland. The 2013 bursary was awarded to Diarmuid Ó Flaherty from Sligo, a final year student of the Institute’s Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Performing Arts course who will take up his Yeats Design Residency at the Abbey Theatre in September.

This year, as part of their course, the students were asked by the Abbey Theatre’s Technical Director, Gavin Harding to create set and costume designs for productions of Shakespeare’s King Lear on the Abbey stage and for The Tales of Ballycumber by Sebastian Barry for the Factory Performance Space in Sligo. Similar to professional set designers, they were required to work within a design brief, budget and timeline as part of the project. The eight students shortlisted for the 2013 Yeats Design Residency exhibited their designs in the Abbey Theatre at a reception today to announce the bursary.

At the award ceremony, Fiach Mac Conghail, Director of the Abbey Theatre said: “I am delighted to support this innovative partnership. We need more Irish trained theatre designers for work in Ireland. Our partnership with IT Sligo is a great step forward.”

Speaking about his design for King Lear, Diarmuid O Flaherty said: “I wanted to capture the cold harshness of the world which Lear himself created. I predicted what our world might feel like post civilisation so as to convey ambiguity in location and time for the audience to think about.” Diarmuid was inspired by painters such as Francis Bacon, Brett Amory and Edward Hopper in their use of light and colour.

The Yeats Design Residency is a 6 month internship at the Abbey Theatre. Students learn how world-class theatre directors, designers, technical and production staff at the Abbey Theatre collaborate. They acquire at first hand an understanding of how set design is incorporated into the process of creating a production. During the Yeats Design Residency staff in the Abbey Theatre’s production department participate in student assessments and in the final year presentation process.

In attendance at the Abbey Theatre today was Frank Conway who lectures on the IT Sligo Performing Arts programme and is a former head of design at the Abbey Theatre. Speaking about Diarmuid O Flaherty, he said: “Throughout the four years of the Performing Arts Theatre Design course, Diarmuid has shown a unique flair, passion and instinct for theatre design. He created intriguing designs for his two final year projects, King Lear for the Abbey stage and Tales of Ballycumber for the Factory Performance Space in Sligo. I hope his talents will be recognised and developed in the performing arts and creative media in Ireland.”

Adding her congratulations, IT Sligo President, Professor Terri Scott, said: “We are enormously proud of our collaboration with the Abbey Theatre. Not only does this award add a fresh modern dimension to the links that W.B. Yeats had with both the Abbey and Sligo, it also provides an unrivalled opportunity for contemporary hands-on learning with a theatre that is respected the world over.”

The first recipient of the Yeats Design Residency at the Abbey Theatre was Lydia Concannon from Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, an IT Sligo Performing Arts graduate: “The Yeats design residency allowed me to experience the working world of theatre in a way that most graduates only dream of. My education at IT Sligo taught me a lot about theatre. However, the first hand experiences that I was part of at the Abbey Theatre have been invaluable to me, starting out as a young Irish designer .”

Design has always been an integral part of theatre making at the Abbey Theatre since its foundation by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904. Mr. Yeats’ fascination with “players and the painted stage” drove his desire to create a National Theatre for Ireland. As a poet with a choreographer’s eye, he embraced the influences of Japanese Noh theatre and collaborated with leading European stage innovators of his day such as Edward Gordon Craig. His own daughter Anne Yeats was a resident set designer at the Abbey Theatre from 1938-1948.

Watch a video of the exhibition here.

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