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Navigating Ireland's Theatre Archive

Theory, Practice, Performance

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Edited By Barry Houlihan

The historiography of Irish theatre has largely been dependent on in-depth studies of the play-text as the definitive primary source. This volume explores the processes of engaging with the documented and undocumented record of Irish theatre and broadens the concept of evidential study of performance through the use of increasingly diverse sources. The archive is regarded here as a broad repository of evidence including annotated scripts, photographs, correspondence, administrative documents, recordings and other remnants of the mechanics of producing theatre. It is an invaluable resource for scholars and artists in interrogating Ireland’s performance history.

This collection brings together key thinkers, scholars and practitioners who engage with the archive of Irish theatre and performance in terms of its creation, management and scholarly as well as artistic interpretation. New technological advances and mass digitization allow for new interventions in this field. The essays gathered here present new critical thought and detailed case studies from archivists, theatre scholars, historians and artists, each working in different ways to uncover and reconstruct the past practice of Irish performance through new means.

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‘Creatures of his Imagination’: The Becoming of Plays and the Archive of Thomas Kilroy (Barry Houlihan)

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Barry Houlihan

‘Creatures of his Imagination’: The Becoming of Plays and the Archive of Thomas Kilroy

In the preface to the published edition of The Seagull, Thomas Kilroy’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1896 play, Kilroy commented on the writing processes of Chekhov:

Chekhov wrote his plays by projecting himself into a future and from this mysterious point in time he was able to look back at the creatures of his imagination . . . Certainly, no other playwright has a more acute sensibility in the way the plays are authentic records of a time past but also in the way they are permeated by the ordeal of time passing and haunted by the glimmer of time to come. (Kilroy, 1993, p. 11)

Within his own writing processes Kilroy often explored the structures and overtures of a Chekhovian dramatic composition. The ‘distribution of attention’ to minor characters, awareness of the processes of time, the ‘conjunction of morality and style’ is the product of rigorous personal investment of the craft of the playwright. The ‘creatures of the imagination’ that Kilroy mentions, take the form of ethereal and spectral remnants of theatrical creation and which are recorded in assorted records and manuscript drafts within his literary archive. These effigies question the sense of finality or completion of a play, individually fulfilling a function for the latter succeeding draft to be completed. The residual archival drafts form a metatheatricality of the unperformed. They also probe the question of where...

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