Celebrating 2019- Playhouse reflects on a year internationally recognised for peacebuilding, challenging new commissions and socially engaged arts!

Posted on: 20th December 2019

"You guys are doing an amazing job of telling peoples personal stories, in a non-confrontational way, which allows people to be both honest and truthful, through the medium of art. I feel the more people can talk about their stories, the quicker we can move forward" Audience Member


A music album based of real experiences of the Troubles, 34 qualifications for young people in Crime Justice and Citizenship, and a new Theatre Bursary…to name a few. 

2019 saw television crews and journalist from Brussels, Strasberg, London, and Dublin flocking to The Playhouse to cover its peacebuilding, challenging new commissions and socially engaged arts work.

Some of the theatre’s work included a multi-media event exploring the landscape of South Armagh through the eyes of victims/survivors from the conflict, work with seven community groups in Greater Belfast and Derry, awarding Level 1 and 2 OCNs in Crime Justice and Citizenship to 34 young people, and an immersive look at the refugee crisis through a dystopian drama.

2019 began with a journey down the road for The Playhouse with a visit to The Millennium Forum with their popular hit The Bog Couple’ by Liam Campbell, followed quickly by a “visceral, gritty and emotional, local testimony of the conflict and the struggle for truth and justice” in ‘Blood Red Lines by The Playhouse Theatre and Peacebuilding Academy. Developed with and performed by victims and survivors of the tragedies of South Armagh, Border counties and Dublin in the darkest days of The Troubles, ‘Blood Red Lines’ received standing ovations and overwhelming feedback on its sold out tour of Newry, Belfast and Dundalk.

A live EU PEACE IV-funded multi-media event exploring the landscape of South Armagh through the eyes of seven survivors from the Troubles then opened in April. The Playhouse Theatre and Peacebuilding Academy production of ‘In the Shadow of Gullion’ by renowned playwright, scriptwriter and filmmaker Laurence McKeown received standing ovations and overwhelming feedback during its short run. A “moving, portrayed both sides of the conflict”, the multi-media event was staged in Tí Chulainn, South Armagh and The Duncairn Arts Centre, Belfast.

Fifteen students from Artez University of the Arts' international Master Artist Educator (iMAE) programme also took residencies in The Playhouse in April. The students were based at The Playhouse as part of the innovative programme that looks at the creative potential of the arts to engage with challenges of contemporary life across the globe.

The Playhouse stage was then transformed into an immersive dystopian world of arbitrary border crossings, torture, and vast concentration camps in May. A new commission by award winning writer Seamas Keenan, ‘Albino Parts’ was praised by audiences as “gripping, ‘fantastic” and “very powerful".

A short film on paramilitarism by The Playhouse won a Community Safety Award in June. The film, written by Colin Bateman, received the Award for Contribution to embedding a culture of lawfulness at the first ever PCSP Community Safety Awards. Created by The Playhouse and funded by Derry and Strabane Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP), ‘Recruited’ aims to warn young people about paramilitary influence.

A special exhibition by The Playhouse Painters and students from North West Regional College HND and Apprenticeship Painting Programmes was also launched in June. Students worked to a live brief, developing stunning artwork around the theme of The Playhouse and its work, and apprentice painters prepared select spaces in our building for the work to be permanently displayed.

GlenOaks Day Centre's 2019 performance showcase followed the same month. The Players are comprised of people with physical and sensory disabilities and people with acquired brain injuries, and through training in professional acting and stage craft and with support from Western Health and Social Care Trust The Playhouse, and GlenOaks staff, they are always aspiring to ever greater performances every year!

June also saw a stunning solo show based on New York Times bestseller, The God Box project by Mary Lou Quinlan, coming to Playhouse and raising over £1,000 to benefit Foyle Hospice.

July was tinged with sadness for The Playhouse as it lost its friend, author, political activist and Playhouse board member Margie Bernard. Margie was an enthusiastic and committed supporter of The Playhouse, being a member of its board for 19 years. She led the Derry Playhouse Writers support group for many years, helping many writers in the city – especially women – to become acknowledged and published authors. An impassioned campaigner for Women’s Equality, a political livewire, an elegant wordsmith and a formidable creative force, she will be sorely missed by anyone who ever had the joy to experience time with her.

In October young people from four local communities used film and Virtual Reality to express their views on community safety, bullying and sectarianism. Young people from Enagh, Raphoe, Clooney and Ballymagroarty created the four short films with The Playhouse Street Talk Project.

October also saw the Western Trust Rossdowney Recovery Team launch a special CD by the ‘Song for the Soul’ Choir, a collaboration between various agencies including the Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland, Playhouse, Western Trust and Blast Furnace Recording Studios. 

November finished with a high as Portrush actor Faye Deering was awarded a special new Theatre Bursary by The Playhouse. She was awarded The Aloysius Fund for Theatre, which offers £1000 funding for a local talent toward Music Theatre Education. Open for candidates aged who need financial support to follow their theatre dreams, the fund was open to anyone wanting to further their theatre careers, by fund accommodation or travel to auditions, expert singing, dancing or acting lessons, or help with higher education fees. Each successful candidate received intense training / rehearsal with a Professional Production team working toward a performance of ‘Chicago, which completed a sold-out run at The Playhouse that month.

Faye performed the role of Merry Murderess in the production, which was praised as “breath taking” and “fabulous” take on the Broadway hit, which left audiences “on the edge of [their] seat the whole time”.

Set in the round in The Playhouse’s simple, accessible play space, audiences celebrated the “must see” production of Chicago as a “joy from start to finish”. The Aloysius Fund for Theatrewas made available through the kind generosity of Mary Lou and Joe Quinlan and The Ireland Funds.

December also saw two inspirational young people share their experiences of mental health for a new short film by The Playhouse and Quaker Service Teenage Project in Belfast. Created by The Playhouse Street Talk Project, ‘A Smile Hides Everything’  was produced by a storytelling project that helped empower seven young people build friendships and share their experiences and stories, covering issues such as the loss of a parent, issues with policing, drugs and bullying.

Throughout 2019 The Playhouse has also been involved in a Erasmus European project EIRENE. The main objective of this project us to use community learning paths to tackle bullying in schools through drama and social media campaigns. Teachers from five countries, Poland, Lithuania, Greece, Portugal and Italy will be hosted by The Playhouse in January 2020 to participate in a week’s long training to learn about the techniques of drama facilitation.  The Playhouse has also developed a 12 week workshop pack on anti-bullying as a school resource for teachers.

The Little Playhouse programme with early years also continued to thrive, with a year-long programme of workshops for 3-5 year olds, providing a neutral safe space for children from different backgrounds to come together and participate in a positive shared experience that promotes diversity and celebrates difference. The workshops use visual art, dance, and circus skills to develop gross and fine motor skills, communication, self-awareness, and interdependence.

“Across 2019 we were delighted to host a staggering 1,810 events, workshops and rehearsals, including a massive 87 nights of theatre” Interim CEO at The Playhouse Max Beer said.

“We’re proud to keep providing educational projects and access to the arts- through theatre, dance, comedy and visual arts. We’re delighted that this work continues to grow- and it’s been a honour to spend another year working with this cities remarkable communities and artists. This local talent and creativity has become part of a wider global arts movement, receiving international attention as a result. 

"We'd like to say a massive thank you to all the loyal patrons, friends and supporters who made all this work possible, and wish them a very Happy New Year."


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