Bringing the Past to Life

Ireland’s foremost Gaelic theatre company, Fíbín, has created and toured 21 productions across Ireland, Europe and Africa, performing to over 300,000 people. This week, the company is making its North American debut at St. Vlad’s Theatre in Toronto as part of Fringe 2012. Celtic Life International interviewed the troupe’s Brendan Murray about their performances of An Rón Dall/The Blind Seal, a delightful, bilingual adaptation of a traditional Gaelic tale.

What is the troupe’s history and mandate?
Fibin was started in 2003 by two Jim Henson trained puppeteers, Darach O Tuairisg and Micheal O Domhnaill. Based in Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland, it is unique in that it operates in Gaelic and English and the aim of the Company is to produce high quality theatre, using both languages that will enhance audiences understanding and respect for Irish, which is under constant threat of extinction. Fibin believes that to attract people to shows using Gaelic, the visuals have to be very strong to elucidate the narrative. Therefore the Company uses puppets, masks and multi-media as part of its mise-en-scene. The performance style is very physical and strongly influenced by Commedie del’Arte.

How many members are in the troupe, and where are they from?
Like all other theatre companies in Ireland now, there is no troupe per se. We draw from a limited pool of actors because of the Irish language dimension. There are three main dialects in Gaelic and we draw from each of these areas. Most professional actors in Ireland are based in Dublin and from time to time we hold open auditions there and in Galway. Last year we initiated a Youth School of Excellence in Galway to commence a training process for future, potential talent. As most of our shows are devised, during the rehearsal process actors are inculcated in the ways and operations of the Company and its performance style. It is a very rewarding experience for both sides.

Where does the troupe generally perform?
We tour at least twice a year to all the major venues in Ireland and have travelled extensively abroad – Britain, France, Belgium, Norway and even Africa. Next year we have been invited to a festival in Singapore.

Is this a world-premier for The Blind Seal / An Ron Dall?
No, The Blind Seal has been in rep for four years now and has played in Europe and all over Ireland.

How did you get involved with the Toronto Fringe Fest?
We checked out the website, liked what we saw and put our name into the hat!

What can audiences expect during the run?
It is a delightful show that has captivated young and old alike. Its unique blend of storytelling and music, both of which are life-bloods of Irish language and culture, and the use of live art onstage, never fails to raise a positive response from audiences. For non-Irish speakers, we are always amazed at the warm response we get. Audiences tell us time and again that the experience of hearing the guttural textures of Gaelic is hugely enjoyable and rewarding. Irish Theatre Magazine described it as “eclectic, aesthetic and hugely entertaining”. It is a novel mix of sound and vision.

What’s next for the troupe?
We are into rehearsal for two new shows that will tour this Autumn. One is and adult show and one is for children Fibin believes it is essential to cross all age boundaries.