By Marilyn Lester
The Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival has entered its 13th successful year as the world’s only festival devoted to producing and presenting the plays of contemporary Irish playwrights from around the world. The January 11 kickoff, of necessity, was virtual this year due to the ongoing COVID pandemic––but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the luminaries who participated in the virtual opening ceremony. They were led by co-producers, actors Michael Mellamphy and Sarah Street, who took over from Festival founder George C. Heslin, who stepped down when he became the new Executive Director of the New York Irish Center in October 2020. Heslin was on hand virtually to wish them well, and to quip that he looked forward to participating in the Festival, with his feet up, as a viewer.
Also greeting ceremony virtual attendees were Irish dignitaries, including Alison Metcalfe, Executive Vice President of Tourism Ireland and Ciaran Madden, the Consul General of Ireland in New York. Beyond well wishes, each described the support of the Festival by their organizations and associates, which was impressive and far-ranging. Carletta Downs, Chair of the Board of the Origin Theatre, now in its 18th year, spoke of the Festival’s reach and expansion since its inception, including a mission to widen the scope of multi-cultural participation and presentations. During the last 30 years, Ireland has itself transformed from a relatively homogenous society to one influenced by immigration and the blending of cultures.
Mellamphy and Street explained that the Festival, which runs through to Sunday, January 31, will be comprised of 20 virtual events, including recorded theatrical productions made both before and during COVID from Belfast, Dublin, Wexford, London and New York. Also part of this year’s programming are several films and documentaries and a series of panels and talk-backs that focus on the cultural and social intersections between Ireland and the United States, going back centuries and continuing to this day.
Videos of welcome and greeting were also part of the opening, with artists, producers and actors across the globe sending their thoughts and well wishes. They appeared from Northern Ireland to the southern Irish city of Cork to Limerick in the west of Ireland, to Los Angeles and, of course, New York, plus the far reaches of southeast Asia, where musician and historian Mick Moloney is currently in residence. Concluding, Mellamphy and Street, noting the Festival held “something for everyone,” also noted that while the pandemic precluded any activities in person, that an upside was the potential to broaden the scope of participation and viewership to a virtual world-wide audience.
A poignant in memoriam, An Irish-American Farewell, Remembering Those We Lost This Year concluded the video. Moving music, composed by Michael Giacchino and beautifully performed by Gregory Harrington, accompanied the images of notable Irish and Irish-Americans whose legacies live on beyond their mortal years on this planet.
For a full schedule, more information and tickets, please visit www.origintheatre.org