A Donegal woman has been appointed as the Artistic Director of the Abbey Theatre.
Caitríona McLaughlin, who is orginally from Carndonagh, will join the Abbey staff in early May.
The board of the national theatre decided in July 2020 to hold an open competition to fill two separate artistic and executive roles to lead the Abbey over the next five years, including the development of a new building.
Mark O’Brien was appointed as the theatre’s new executive director.
Ms McLaughlin, who has been an associate director of the Abbey since 2017, has directed in London, Dublin and New York.
Her works include the Abbey productions of Patrick Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger at the Irish Museum of Modern Art last autumn; Citysong, by Dylan Coburn Gray and On Raftery’s Hill, by Marina Carr, for which McLaughlin won best director at the 2019 awards.
She said she was thrilled to take the role at “this pivotal moment”.
“We are in a time of profound and existential change but also one of potential and renewal,” she said.
She adds, “We need to find and champion new voices and new ways of seeing. This means identifying combinations of characters we are yet to meet on our stages, having conversations we are yet to hear whilst also engaging in an interrogation of our classical canon with an urgency and curiosity about what makes it speak to this moment.
“Our stories teach us what it is to belong, and what it is to be excluded and exclude.” She says her time as artistic director begins with two questions: “Who were we, and who are we now?”
Caitríona was born in Donegal and studied science at the University of Ulster before moving into theatre.
Since 2017 she has been Associate Director at the Abbey Theatre, where her productions include: The Great Hunger by Patrick Kavanagh (with Conall Morrison); Citysong by Dylan Coburn Gray (ITTA nomination Best New Play); On Raftery’s Hill by Marina Carr, (for which she won Best Director at the 2019 ITTA); and Two Pints by Roddy Doyle, which toured widely in Ireland and the USA.
She has also worked with theatre and opera companies on both sides of the border, including Wexford Opera, Hot for Theatre, INO, The Local Group, and Landmark, and she was the director on O’Casey in the Estate, a TV documentary shown on RTE.
Prior to moving into directing, with Patrick McCabe’s Frank Pig Says Hello at the Finborough Theatre in London in 2003, Caitríona worked as a drama facilitator in Northern Ireland, working with young people and in conflict resolution.
In London, she directed numerous productions, focusing primarily on new writing, and collaborated with the Royal Court in sourcing and developing a new theatre space. She was awarded a Clore Fellowship in 2007 and subsequently spent six summers with LAByrinth Theatre Company in New York developing new plays for Artistic Directors John Ortiz and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, at their Summer Intensive.
During this time Caitríona also directed a number of plays in New York including Killers and other Family (part of the OBIE award-winning Hilltown Plays) and plays at Atlantic Theatre, Rattlestick, and Bard Summerscape.
The appointments come after changes in the Abbey’s production model and the way it fulfils its role as Ireland’s national theatre have caused controversy over the past two years.
The Abbey’s chairwoman, Dr Frances Ruane, says its board is delighted “to have found two co-directors who are so passionate about, and committed to, the mission of our national theatre, and to creating great art that connects with the people of this island, our diaspora and the global artistic community.”