You’ve got to tell it to sell it
Angela Moore, backbone of everything truly great in Irish America and whose first batch from her new whiskey distillery in Virginia comes on the market in November, reminded me recently that ‘you’ve got to tell it to sell it’.
Fortunately, we Irish have a head start in that field given our proclivity to spinning a good yarn.
One such yarn reached the stage this week when the famed Kabosh Theatre Company staged a new play inspired by a1983 student gay rights conference in Queen’s University Belfast. Forbidden by the union big-wigs from discussing the national question, the students, who had been besieged by DUP-spawned Save Ulster from Sodomy protesters, took up an offer to hear more about the nationalist experience by attending a céilí in their honour in the Marty Forsythe Club in West Belfast.
Kabosh Theatre returned to the Marty Forsythe clubhouse — now named Trinity Lodge — for the opening run of A Queer Céilí where their barnstorming performance brought back to life those heady days when change and revolution was in the air. “Poofs, perverts and Paddies”, as playwright Dominic Montague provocatively puts it, found out that despite the culture clash their struggles had much in common. Much of the eighties anti-LGBT invective from press and pulpit revived at the Marty Forsythe, elicited giggles rather than gasps from the audience — many of whom had lived through those tumultous times. Which probably tells you all you really need to know about how far we have travelled.
We live in changed, more tolerant times where young people, in particular, as I found at a recent dialogue with the students of Methody College in Belfast, are generally aghast at the continuing restrictions on same-sex marriage in the North of Ireland — especially at a time when we’re told no differences between the ‘province’ and ‘the mainland’ can be countenanced even if it leads to Brexit economic armageddon! So, Bravo, Kabosh and the marvellous cast of A Queer Céilí (below, Simon Sweeney, Chris Grant, Paula Carson, Brendan Quinn) and long may we tell the stories of our oft-closeted past so that we can sell our vision of a brighter future.
I’ll be telling it to sell it myself in New York on Friday night when I address the Irish Echo Community Champions Awards in Rosie O’Grady’s on Seventh Avenue to invite these Irish American leaders to join us at this year’s Belfast International Homecoming with its pulsating theme ‘Be The Bridge’. The Community Champions gala is the nearest thing the US has to the Aisling Awards — a celebration of the unsung heroes whose first question to themselves every day is, “what can I do for others?” Our guest of honour this year will be that exceptional Irish American leader Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo and among the nominees will be Dublin native Vince O’Neill, co-founder of the Irish Classical Theatre Company from the same western New York city.
Over thirty years ago, the genesis for what would become one of America’s renowned performing arts institutions began in a Buffalo hotel dining room. The occasion was a performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The performers were Vincent and Chris O’Neill — Dublin-born brothers broadening their thespian careers in the United States. Following an enthusiastic reception, they, along with fellow-Dubliners Jim Warde and Josephine Hogan, founded the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Since its inception, the Company has enjoyed a tradition of presenting literary works, both classic and contemporary, including Irish, international, and American plays of exceptional merit. The Irish Classical Theatre Company is based in the heart of the city’s Theatre District. Today, it features approximately six productions a year delivered from a theatre-in-the-round — an audience-enclosed stage designed to create a close connection with performers.
There are also Irish theatres in St Paul and Philadelphia — and they are only the ones I know about.
Of course, there is no more powerful way to sell it than by telling it in a theatre — as the Greeks have been letting us know for the past couple of thousand years.
All of which makes me ask myself, since the greatest story-tellers of all are the garrulous folk of West Belfast, how come the community of 90,000 souls has no playhouse of its own?
Finally, I have taken the plunge and am now on Instagram. It’s a politics-free, arts and beautiful images-heavy feed, friends, but I hope to see you there. Here’s my first effort: a salute to a local company making waves: Keenan’s Seafood. Click to enjoy!