The appointments follow the decision by the board of the Abbey Theatre – in July 2020 – to hold an open competition to fill two distinct leadership roles to deliver on the Abbey Theatre’s strategy and ambition over the next five years. The two new Directors will join the Abbey Staff in early May.
Caitríona is a highly-distinguished, award-winning theatre director, who has been an Associate Director at the Abbey since 2017. As Artistic Director, she will lead on the objectives relating to Art and Audience in the Abbey Theatre strategy. Over the last number of years, she has directed in London, Dublin, and New York. Recent productions at the Abbey include The Great Hunger by Patrick Kavanagh; Citysong by Dylan Coburn Gray (ITTA nomination Best New Play); and On Raftery’s Hill, by Marina Carr for which she won Best Director at the 2019 Irish Times Theatre Awards.
Commenting on her appointment, Caitríona McLaughlin said: “We are in a time of profound and existential change; but also one of potential and renewal. I am thrilled to be taking up this position at this pivotal moment, and fully embrace both the responsibility and opportunity of it. We need to find and champion new voices and new ways of seeing. This means identifying combinations of characters we are yet to meet on our stages, having conversations we are yet to hear whilst also engaging in an interrogation of our classical canon with an urgency and curiosity about what makes it speak to this moment. Our stories teach us what it is to belong, and what it is to be excluded and exclude. My journey as Artistic Director begins with these twin impulses, and with two questions: who were we, and who are we now?”
Mark O’Brien is currently Director of axis arts centre in Ballymun, where he has successfully developed theatre as an engine for cultural and community engagement. He has over 25 years’ experience in the theatre and wider culture sectors. As Executive Director, he will lead on engagement with the local, national and international communities, the day-to-day running of the theatre and the exciting redevelopment programme to create a new Abbey Theatre building as a resource centre for Irish theatre.
Commenting on his appointment, Mark O’Brien said: “I am deeply honoured and excited to be taking on this new role at the Abbey Theatre. As we emerge from the current worldwide crisis we have the exciting opportunity to take stock, listen, and recalibrate, allowing us to develop processes, structures and spaces where people are supported to flourish and to create great work in a trusting creative environment. We will look to developing a new theatre complex as a major civic and national resource, and, by exploring, collaborating and leading on new models of artistic and civic engagement, to forging a new model for our National Theatre. Success means both reflecting society and helping to shape it, a place where, by gathering artist and public together, an imagined Ireland can make its first steps to being made manifest, locally, nationally and internationally.”
Commenting on the new appointments, the Chair, Dr. Frances Ruane, said “The Board is delighted to have found two Co-Directors who are so passionate about, and committed to, the mission of our national theatre, and to creating great art that connects with the people of this island, our diaspora and the global artistic community.”
Thanking Graham McLaren and Neil Murray on behalf of the Board for their contribution to the Abbey Theatre over the past five years, Dr. Frances Ruane said: “Graham and Neil have brought exceptional new talent to our stages, have overseen great improvements in gender parity and diversity in both artists and audiences, and their innovative Free First Previews have helped to broaden access. In the past year, they have also shown innovation and leadership in how theatre can adapt digitally to lockdown conditions, with their Dear Ireland series bringing the Abbey’s work to world-wide audiences.”
Caitríona McLaughlin – Artistic Director
Caitríona was born in Donegal and studied science at the University of Ulster before moving into theatre. Since 2017 she has been Associate Director at the Abbey Theatre, where her productions include: The Great Hunger by Patrick Kavanagh (with Conall Morrison); Citysong by Dylan Coburn Gray (ITTA nomination Best New Play); On Raftery’s Hill by Marina Carr, (for which she won Best Director at the 2019 ITTA); and Two Pints by Roddy Doyle, which toured widely in Ireland and the USA. She has also worked with theatre and opera companies on both sides of the border, including Wexford Opera, Hot for Theatre, INO, The Local Group, and Landmark, and she was the director on O’Casey in the Estate, a TV documentary shown on RTE.
Prior to moving into directing, with Patrick McCabe’s Frank Pig Says Hello at the Finborough Theatre in London in 2003, Caitríona worked as a drama facilitator in Northern Ireland, working with young people and in conflict resolution. In London, she directed numerous productions, focusing primarily on new writing, and collaborated with the Royal Court in sourcing and developing a new theatre space. She was awarded a Clore Fellowship in 2007 and subsequently spent six summers with LAByrinth Theatre Company in New York developing new plays for Artistic Directors John Ortiz and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, at their Summer Intensive. During this time Caitríona also directed a number of plays in New York including Killers and other Family (part of the OBIE award-winning Hilltown Plays) and plays at Atlantic Theatre, Rattlestick, and Bard Summerscape.
Mark O’Brien – Executive Director
From Bray, Co Wicklow, Mark studied at University College Dublin, graduating with a Master’s degree in English Literature. He has had over 25 years’ experience in the theatre and wider culture sectors, as a leader, facilitator, actor, sound designer, administrator, and theatre director. He has also led, directed, and developed work in the youth theatre sector, and with Team Educational Theatre Company.
Mark is currently Director of axis arts centre Ballymun. He has developed axis over the last 10 years into an organization and space of local, national and international renown, that creates, facilitates and produces new and significant work, across theatre, arts development and engagement contexts. Mark has led the organisation through two years of mentorship on the New Stream programme with the Devos Institute, at the University of Maryland and Business to Arts and recently completed a postgraduate diploma in Innovation and Social Enterprise at the Ryan Academy. Under his leadership, axis has become an artistic and cultural hub for both artist and public, has seen a 100% increase in gross box office, developing new income streams, a building expansion, and a new operational model, all while instilling a developmental and supportive ethos with the over 35 full / part-time staff, and many artists / collaborators. His driving force has been to achieve a shared vision of excellence through inclusion.
He has built strong relationships with a range of stakeholders, across a diverse range of sectors – artistic, cultural, non-profit, private, statutory, academic, local government and government – and collaborated nationally and internationally with bodies including Dublin Port Company, British Council, St Patricks Festival, Health Service Executive, Creative Carbon Scotland, and Creative Europe.
International recruitment agency Odgers Berndtson handled the recruitment process. The Selection Panel members for the process were Board members: Frances Ruane (Chair), Máire O’Higgins, Michael Owens, Michael West; External Advisors: Joe Dowling (theatre director and former Director of the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and the Abbey Theatre), and Clare Duignan (former Managing Director of RTÉ Radio, and Chairperson of the Arts and Culture Recovery Taskforce).