Marketa Dowling, Belltable programme manager and actor Mike Finn, below Pictures: Adrian Butler
THE Belltable has announced details of several major new programmes to work with and stimulate theatre makers in Limerick.
Belltable:Connect, an initiative spearheaded by new programme manager Marketa Dowling, is operating across a number of strands, but has chiefly received Arts Council funding to run a six month theatre artist development scheme starting in January.
A legacy of the Hatch LK scheme run by Maeve McGrath and Monica Spencer under the auspices of the Lime Tree and Louise Donlon, the Connect scheme will allow theatre artists living and working here to share ideas both with each other and with international mentors.
Separately, a ten month mentoring scheme for playwrights and directors will see a group work with Fishamble, the renowned ‘new play company’, and a workshop for prospective Arts Council applicants will take place in the Belltable on July 15.
And in a major boost to the arts centre, playwright Mike Finn has received Arts Council funding to be a theatre artist in residence at the Belltable in 2017, spending a year developing material for his planned Limerick Soviet play to co-incide with the centenary of the historical event in 2019.
All told, it is all building towards Dowling’s plans for the Belltable to become a “hub of artistic activity”.
“The Belltable:Connect initiative is the realisation of the idea that the Belltable is not just a receiving house, but a centre for development of theatre in Limerick as well,” explains the former Fishamble general manager, who took over as programme manager in April and has just put out a call for artists to apply for the various schemes.
“I applied to the Arts Council for funding for their theatre artist development scheme and we are delighted to say that we were successful, they saw the value of the programme, of it happening in Limerick and here, theatre artists living and working here, sharing ideas with each other, getting ideas and different perspectives from national and international practitioners and all that happening here in Limerick. We are really pleased the Arts Council has supported the project.”
Ms Dowling, who has taken up the baton handed to her by Louise Donlon - a champion of the Belltable since taking over the Lime Tree - says that such a scheme is “absolutely vital to the future of theatre in Limerick”.
“I would love to see theatre makers staying in Limerick and doing work here, or even coming back to Limerick after training or stints abroad,” she says.
“It is my passion to develop new work, new writing and theatre, and that is really a big part of my job here as programme manager.
“Limerick is a creative city and there are creative people here. It just seems that, up to now, they haven’t been served that well. Since the downturn in the economy and we all know what happened to theatre companies, the vast majority of them had their funding cut. I think, as a venue, a physical space with resources such as that space, and stage, their is an onus on us now to help these artists, in the absence of theatre companies, where they traditionally have started off.”
Finn, for his part, is absolutely chuffed with the award, which will located him in a venue that was once a second home - indeed he was worked everywhere from the kitchens to front of house and on the stage.
“It is exciting and the plan is that it will run for the calendar year of 2017 and the idea, my plan is to develop a play about the Limerick Soviet, with a view to putting it on in 2019, the centenary,” he says.
“It is exciting to be able to cut out that amount of time to do this, it is a project I have wanted to do for the longest time and now is the time to do it, now or never. So to get the award is great, and to be back here in a resurgent Belltable, which has had its ups and downs and hopefully this will be part of it.
“For the building to be not just a passive, receiving venue of other shows, but to be helping to produce stuff, that is exciting. It has been done, but a lot of the time it has been a passive venue, so to be called an arts centre, I think it is important that it is helping to produce stuff and become a powerhouse."