The Abbey Theatre provided theatre experiences for over 300,000 people across Ireland and abroad since its stages first closed on 11th March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In 2020, the Abbey employed 600 freelance theatre-makers for online performances, with a further 90+ employed by partners through co-production, as well as a limited number of in-person performances.

The full extent of the Abbey’s engagements for 2020 were revealed on 29th December.

  • 18,728 people attended a live performance at the Abbey Theatre in 2020
  • 324,490 people tuned in to watch Abbey Theatre events online

(The theatre has had an average attendance of 122,820 per annum at Abbey Street, over the last 3 years.)

  • 46% tuned in online from oversea:
    • 30% watched from the UK
    • 6.3% watched from US
    • With further engagement from CA, AU, DE, FR, ES, NZ and others

(Typically the international audience for physical productions at the Abbey would be 15%.)

  • 8,400 subscribers to the Abbey’s YouTube channel. This has grown by 7,625 since March 2020. 

(The growth in channel subscribers has coincided with the release of new video content.)

Introducing a Blended Programme 

The theatre transitioned in Q1 from a ‘live’, to a blended programme which engaged audiences through free digital broadcasts, pay-for-view digital content and live productions designed for socially-distanced audiences. This pioneering programme boldly met the challenges of theatre-making during COVID-19, embracing the restrictions placed upon artists during the pandemic, and providing the audience with unique, intimate and elemental experiences.

Highlights included:

  • an immersive site-specific telling of Patrick Kavanagh’s epic poem The Great Hunger in the grounds of IMMA;
  • the Abbey’s acclaimed online trilogy Dear Ireland which will now become a time capsule of this momentous time period, for future generations;
  • a witty exploration of living in COVID-19 times through a Zoom adaptation of the award winning play This Beautiful Village;
  • a historic partnership with the GAA, bringing the stories of 14 victims of tragic violence to life in Fourteen Voices from the Bloodied Field;
  • a heart-warming initiative over Christmas, Abbey Calling, that saw 50 actors employed to plug into the Abbey switchboard, in partnership with Aware, to read a poem or song and connect to a member of the audience at home or abroad.

A Message from Graham McLaren and Neil Murray, Directors of the Abbey Theatre 

On 11th March 2020, the curtain fell. Over the next few weeks, we came to understand that the entirety of our planned programme had to be cancelled. But we did not stop. Our core function as Ireland’s national theatre, of connecting artists and audiences, remained the same throughout the year. We worked around the restrictions, seeing this an opportunity to innovate and experiment with form – to create an extraordinary programme for an extraordinary year. Our work on this programme required the development of new technologies and practices which will allow us to confidently continue to engage audiences in 2021, no matter what the restriction might be. This year may have changed theatre for ever, certainly opening our eyes to possibilities of providing greater access to our work. This is an important consideration for a national theatre if we are to be truly ‘national’.

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