Interview with Garry Hynes

by Gwen Orel

Garry Hynes likes to break ground. She's Director and co-founder of Druid Theatre, the first professional theatre in Ireland outside of Dublin. She's the first woman ever to win a Tony Award for Directing, for Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane, in 1998. She recently directed her first musical, Juno, music and lyrics by Marc Blitzstein and book by Joseph Stein (based on Sean O'Casey's classic Juno and the Paycock) for Encores!. DruidSynge, a cycle of six Synge's plays, produced by Druid, at Lincoln Center Theatre in summer 2006 (following performances in Galway, Dublin and Edinburgh the summer before), was a singular event.

Druid's production of Enda Walsh's The Walworth Farce, which ran at St. Ann's Warehouse through May 4th, is the first American production of Walsh's Edinburgh Fringe 2007 hit.

Hynes will be directing The Cripple of Inishmaan at Atlantic Theatre Company in December...Druid will be returning to the US in October with a tour of The Playboy of the Western World and Shadow of the Glen-look for dates to be announced here!

But for all these firsts, what she really loves about directing is being part of a collaboration, working with a group of people who have the same end in view. In a way, her own theatrical influences are a sort of collaboration between the formative experiences she had as a young woman in America, and the Irish theatrical heritage she grew to love. We caught up with her shortly before the opening of The Walworth Farce at St. Ann's Warehouse. Commentary and notes by Celtic Cafe in parentheses.

Celtic Cafe: What do you think is special, unique, about Irish theatre?
Hynes: It's the writers- we've been extraordinarily lucky to have had the writers. I'm just very grateful. There's a tradition of storytelling. In Ireland, it's still possible to speak to a national audience. We'd be nowhere without our writers. The nearest thing to a national theatre in America is Broadway. When you look at the plays of Brian Friel and Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh-you couldn't get 3 more different writers, but each tell great, driving stories, that hook an audience.

I see a connection between Boucicault and Synge, between Synge and Beckett. O'Casey was influenced by music hall, and Boucicault had a big connection with America.

Celtic Cafe: What do you love about Dion Boucicault? (The prolific 19th-century writer, 1820-1885, was hugely popular in his time, and instrumental in developing copyright laws. The Irish melodramatic writer emigrated to the US, and died in New York. Among his many works were a trilogy of "Irish plays," The Colleen Bawn, Arrah-Na-Pogue, and The Shaughraun. The Shaughraun, written in 1874, includes explicit references to the Fenian uprising). On the surface it wouldn't seem as though Boucicault has much in common with contemporary Irish writers.

Hynes: I'm still a huge admirer of Boucicault. I've done The Shaughraun 2 or 3 times and would do it again in the morning. Boucicault created the embryo "playboy"-with Myles-Na-Coppalen (in The Colleen Bawn, 1860) and the Shaugraun. He moved the character forward from a buffoonish "stage Irishman" to create a character that was smarter than anybody else onstage. The Shaughraun is the father of Playboy's Christy Mann.

Celtic Cafe: So now you're presenting Enda Walsh. What's special about this new Irish writer?

Hynes: Whatever it is you expect, forget about it- he burst upon the scene with Disco Pigs in 1996. It was a play unlike anything else anybody had ever seen. I first came into contact with him when the Dublin Theatre Festival commissioned him. He wrote Bedbound, and asked me to direct. I read it, and thought it was stunning- and I said no, I don't think it's for me- wisely. He has such a searingly unique vision, I felt that I wold not be the right person for it. He directed it himself, and it was one of the rare occasions on which I've thanked myself for my wisdom. What I saw onstage was unlike anything I would have done-it was absolutely brilliant.

Since then he's been constantly produced to greater degree. I agreed 3 years ago to do The Walworth Farce and New Electric Ballroom (they are companion pieces). We wanted to do them in repertory, but we got less money from the Arts Council. We are doing New Electric Ballroom this year, debuting in Galway in July, then going on to Edinburgh. The Walworth Farce is in New York now, and goes to London in September (it debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe in summer 2007).

Walsh is part of a new wave of younger Irish writers experimenting with form (Walsh is 41). It has nothing to do with Naturalism. He's different from Martin McDonagh or Conor McPherson, but it's an Ireland that I recognize-sort of electrified by imagination. His work is huge, with a dizzy poetic and visual daring.

Celtic Cafe: Would you call it Beckettian?

Hynes: I wouldn't say that... Beckett is still beyond all of us. In all of the stories Walsh tells, it's like he's seeing something through a distorted mirror-imagination and ability on a roller-coaster ride.

Celtic Cafe: Maybe Flann O'Brian?

Hynes: Yes, more like that.

Celtic Cafe: Would you direct another musical?

Hynes: If there were the right team. Juno is a great musical. It was unusual for Joe Stein to get the rights; O'Casey at that time saw the chance to make a lot of money.

Celtic Cafe: How is working in America different from working in Galway?

Hynes: All my American work has been in New York, outside of Streetcar, at the Kennedy Center (Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, 2004). I'd say the similarities are greater than the differences. The Process of working and putting on a production is essentially the same; when the rehearsal door closes there's no difference.

But the cultures are very different. You get a very different kind of culture fuel in America. Different fuel in the engine. I was weaned on American theatre. I spent time in NY as a student, from 1971-75. It was a program in which Irish students worked in America during the summers. The majority went into the catering industry, but I saw that as just a transference of the Irish campus over to America. I happened to work for a clerical office, and spent time in New York. I spent 4-5 months of each year there, and saw everything. Theatre in Ireland seemed very remote. The fact that theatre could be made in small rooms, about people my age, that's what drove me! That's where I cut my teeth. For me it was like a series of explosions. When I went in and saw (Sam Shepard's) Tooth of Crime at the Performing Garage, in an environment where the audience followed the action around-it blew my head away. Joe Chaiken's performance in Woyczek also blew my head open.

When I went back to Ireland then, I helped found Druid. To a large extent, Druid was founded to recreate that energy and excitement. Only in later years did I begin to explore Irish work.

Celtic Cafe: Did you see anything inspiring when you were in town to direct Juno?

Hynes: The awful trouble is I just don't get a chance to get to enough work. I loved South Pacific (on Broadway)... but that's pretty remote from downtown work.

Celtic Cafe: How do you think running a theatre in America is different from running Druid?

Hynes: There are difficulties with American audiences and the subscriber audience, and the frustrations with that. One longs for some of the financial security subscriber audience gives, we don't have that here. We aren't having to think of subscribers in the front of the mind-though we are thinking of our regular audience in the back of our mind. We can take more risks. Five years ago, I could say, "we're going to spend two years and do all the plays of Synge." At Druid, we don't have to keep the building open; we don't have subscribers to fit in with particular slots. We can turn a play around from reading to producing it in six months. We can say, "we have a scarce amount of money to spend, we're going to commit it to The Walworth Farce" and turn it around in 3 months.

There's a problem of aging audiences everywhere. And there's never enough money. From time to time, I feel like giving up. All the fighting for money-there's a dislocation between the fact that to people in this country, we're state funded, in some sense we're very lucky to be, but funding for the arts is a poor relation in any calculation.

Celtic Cafe: You were the first woman to win a Tony for directing. Why do you think there aren't more women directors?

Hynes: I'm asked that all the time... I bypassed the system, and founded my own company when I was 22. To some extent women have to be self-starters. When producers are hiring a director... they're entrusting a sizable budget to that person.
As in everywhere else, there's sort of glass ceiling.

Celtic Cafe: Are there any great new female Irish writers?

Hynes: I don't think there's any sign of plays by women in Irish theatre.

Celtic Cafe: Why is that?

Hynes: I don't know. But I still seek new writers; I'm constantly reading. We have open submissions (author's note: unlike American theatre, in which most submissions are either agented or query first), we put a lot of resources into it. I probably read everything with notion of could we do this, would we do this... I'm constantly imagining it! You just never know.

Author: Interview by Gwen Orel

Continuing Story

  • 1)   Juno
  • 2)   Interview with Garry Hynes
Garry Hynes