Artistic Director of the Backstage Theatre, Mona Considine
When the doors of Backstage Theatre closed in 2020, Artistic Director, Mona Considine, focused on connecting audiences and the local community with artists in a number of inventive and creative ways.
On top of this, she also implemented a bursary scheme to support artists when they needed it most.
These ground-breaking projects received national attention from both the press and the arts sector, strengthening Backstage Theatre’s position as a leading force in the national arts scape.
Such was the success of these projects that Backstage has received an increase in funding this year from the Arts Council, all of which will be used to further enhance the scope and range of these initiatives.
The Activate programme of Artist Residencies was introduced in August 2020. Initially intended as a programme of three residencies, after receiving almost 40 applications from artists all over Ireland, the theatre, with the support of Creative Ireland Longford, extended the programme to deliver nine residencies in all.
The programme, which offered artists bursaries of up to €5,000, as well as access to the building and resources, supported theatre makers, choreographers, writers and filmmakers helping to ensure that artists could continue to make work and that audiences can look forward to exciting new performances once the pandemic is over.
With the support of the Arts Council and Longford County Council, the theatre is now ready to announce a new programme of residencies in 2021. Successful artists will once again receive a bursary of up to €5,000 and access to space and supports at the theatre to research and develop new arts projects.
One of the first major projects delivered after lockdown was the Young Curators Festival. The young curators were initially engaged to deliver a programme of live performances and workshops for children and young people. However, when the pandemic hit in March the young curators quickly adapted the programme to deliver a two-week online festival programme.
The 2020 Young Curators Festival gave young people a voice in arts programming and provided an ambitious programme of work for children and young people, drawing audiences from all over Ireland and across the globe. Such was the success of this project that ambitious plans are now afoot to deliver a nationwide project to theatres across Ireland, with Backstage, and their team of young curators, taking the lead on connecting young people with renowned artists across a number of art forms.
The 2020 Young Curators were mentored by Artist in Residence at Backstage, Maisie Lee, who is now entering her third year in Residence at the theatre. While in residence, Maisie will also deliver the second phase of the Playmaking project for teenagers.
Having delivered the workshop element of the project in 2020, the young playwrights, who were selected for project, can now look forward to seeing a professional cast and design team bring their work to life on stage under the direction of Maisie.
Should Covid continue to prevent the theatre from presenting their work to a live audience plans are in place to create a filmed version of the production which will be streamed online to audiences.
In addition to these valuable Artist Residencies, Backstage has also continued to connect with the local community and their loyal audiences via a regular programme of online initiatives and performances. In 2020, the project ‘Through the Window’, supported by Creative Ireland Longford, saw the theatre engage Artists to work with residents of Nursing Homes to create online theatre pieces, which were a moving and fitting testament to the stories and legacies of our older generation. The theatre hopes to deliver this project once again in 2021, this time working with older people living in the community.
In January 2021 the theatre came together with Shane Crossan and Creative Ireland Longford to develop a new project called ‘Side by Side’. This series of video pieces, each of which brings two Artists, working in different mediums, together to 'present’ and ‘respond' to each other's work, resonates with the theatre’s commitment to stand ‘side by side’ with artists, supporting and promoting their work through the pandemic and is a testament to the role of Artists in helping us appreciate the beauty of our landscape, our lives and each other.
There is no doubt these are challenging times for the theatre, but with the support of the Arts Council, Longford County Council and Creative Ireland Longford, Backstage has demonstrated, not just the capacity to survive this crisis but a determination to support Artists and to continue to bring inspiring, meaningful and moving arts experiences and entertainment to people’s lives during lockdown.