In September 2017, in its 25th Year, The Playhouse released tickets for a theatre production with a difference.
Tickets sold out in just three minutes, and anticipation mounted for a pioneering new type of theatre, one that would step between real and virtual worlds, using human actors, theatrical direction and digital puppeteering.
On Saturday 14 October, The Playhouse presented the world's first to be performed live on stage and inside the Minecraft video game.
That night The Playhouse shared a unique the theatrical experience with a global audience by broadcasting it live to the world, and within a month Playcraft Live was watched across all continents with 400,000 views for the play itself and 580,000 views for other videos and content around the groundbreaking project. Figures that grow every day.
This was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of an exceptional quarter of a century anniversary for the Artillery Street theatre.
2017 began with wheels in motion for the theatre's biggest collaboration to date, work with the National Theatre. The Playhouse joined the National in the days following the Brexit vote, as part of a team who spoke to people nationwide, aged 9 to 97, to hear their views on the country we call home. These real testimonials are interwoven with speeches from party leaders of the time in a bold new play by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and director Rufus Norris. The Playhouse was the only theatre in all of Ireland hosting the production of ‘MY COUNTRY: A Work In Progress', which was described as "compassionate, funny and insightful" by WhatsOnStage and "Uncategorisable brilliance. A political intervention" by The Independent.
These two major national productions were followed by national tours of The Playhouse productions of ‘Bag for Life' by Colin Bateman and ‘An Evening with Bette Midler' by Felicity McCall. For the children a new experience in sensory deprivation for Halloween, ‘See No Evil' was developed in the haunted setting of the famous Artillery Street buildings.
The year was completed with a Christmas Spectacular, ‘A Miracle on Artillery Street' featuring 40 local primary school aged children. As well as performing the evening of classic Christmas songs, Christmas vignettes by local writers, and some favourite festive musicals, the group have also got involved behind the scenes. The children- many of who are gracing the stage for the first time- have become involved in the collaborative process, chosen their own character names and contribute to the script.
The Playhouse also hosted a spectacular 25th Anniversary Masquerade ball in the Guildhall, a visit by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, their 25th Children's and Teens Arts Festival, and The NI Science Festival.
The important work carried out through The Playhouse's Education and Outreach Programme has continued to developed throughout the year.
The Little Playhouse, an exciting new project for 3-5 year olds, began, 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 used visual art, dance, and circus skills to develop gross and fine motor skills, communication, self-awareness, and interdependence.
Hundreds of students gained an accredited qualification through accredited programmes, facilitated throughout the city and across the island of Ireland. The Playhouses continued to run a large selection of socially engaged arts programmes, including work in partnership with RNIB, Action on Hearing Loss, Rossdowney House, and Glenoaks (Formerly Foyle Disability Resource Centre).
Street Talk, a cross community project involving young people who come together to address the impact crime has on the community, created three powerful short films to be used as educational tools to warn young people about the impact of crime, including ‘Recruited', building awareness about the danger of paramilitaries (by Colin Bateman), ‘One Glance', building awareness about the impact of careless driving (by Max Beer), and impact of ‘One Punch' (by Colm Herron).
Next year will see an extraordinary new PEACE IV funded programme to begin at The Playhouse, building on previous work of Theatre of Witness. Working in partnership with Holywell Trust, Thomas D'Arcy McGee Foundation and Queen's University, this programme will deliver a range of internationally based artists, with experience of using arts activity in conflict areas / areas of social breakdown throughout the world. Theatre will be used as a tool to explore community relation issues in a safe and accessible environment, promoting healing and reconciliation throughout Northern Ireland and Border Countries.
We're also looking forward to two our new productions for Spring 2018. Set in the Rossville Flats in the Bogside in 1976, ‘The Bog Couple' (inspired by Neil Simon's The Odd Couple) is a brand new laugh out loud comedy by Liam Campbell, coming to The Playhouse in February 2018.
"How to mark a quarter of a century!" Niall McCaughan, CEO of The Playhouse said.
"We wanted to make sure 2017 was an exceptional year for The Playhouse, from changing the landscape of what we can achieve with theatre and technology, to developing ways in which the arts provide a platform to explore complex social and political issues- there is no end to what we can achieve when we harness local talent, stories and creativity.
"We are particularly proud that we have achieved this in a time when cuts to arts continue to threaten, and when our city still feels the keen disappointment of our denial to the European Capital of Culture 2023. We hope to continue to be optimistic and ambitious, to grow, develop and deliver many more creative, innovative and accessible Arts, Education and Peace-building Programmes that enrich the lives of the people that we serve.
"We'd like to wish all our patrons, friends and supporters a very happy New Year."
Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said,
"It's been a remarkable year for The Playhouse. The commitment to making the venue an integral part of the life of the community, through international-quality performances and innovative education and outreach work, has seen The Playhouse outperform itself in 2017, even by its own high standards. The Arts Council as Principal Funder, through our public and National Lottery funds, is proud to support The Playhouse in all of its achievements."