Brian Fenton


Associate Producer, Druid: The Galway Tour


From April, Druid will realise an ambitious project touring a series of one-act plays across Galway County for three months. Druid: The Galway Tour puts a company of Druid actors in touch with communities throughout Galway, culminating in a month-long residency at The Mick Lally Theatre in July.

Associate producer Brian Fenton explains to us just what it takes to put a feat like this together, and how 2020 will be the year of productive risks.

What is The Galway Tour and how does it operate?

It’s one of those ideas that’s a little crazy but it just might work! We are putting together a company of ten actors who will tour County Galway for three months with a whole series of the greatest Irish one-act plays. Featuring writers like Seán O’Casey, Lady Gregory, Teresa Deevy and T.C. Murray, some plays will be known to audiences, some will be relatively or totally new. Our actors will tour as far as Inis Bo Finne, Inis Meáin, Clifden, right across to Ballinasloe, down to Portumna, up to Glenamaddy and many places in between.


How will the tour work logistically?

I’ve been anecdotally describing it as the Druid circus – we will roll into town, play there for a week and move onto the next community the following week. The plays will feature some well known acting faces that many Galway audiences will know and it should be a whole load of fun. Then we end up in the city in July for the Galway International Arts Festival, here in The Mick Lally Theatre, where we will run them for three weeks.


Can you tell us a little more about the plays themselves?

We think we’ll end up with about 12–13 plays. Half of them have already been announced and then we’ve some really exciting plays which we’re still working into the schedule. Because they’re only half-hour plays, they generally haven’t been done in recent years, so that presents a brilliant opportunity.

How would you describe your role within the project?

In basic terms, my job is to make sure that we’re doing the right plays, in the right place, on the right night, for the right price, with the right people, and that everyone knows that they’re happening. I’m putting the project together from the beginning. My responsibility is to schedule, to go out to these communities and book the venues. I look after the casting of the plays: who designs them, who directs them, who stage-manages them. There’s also the logistical thing of accommodation, travel and trying to move 20 people across the county for three months. It’s a nice little challenge!


When did you start putting this project together?

We’ve been working on it full time for about nine months. [The Galway Tour is] an idea that’s been in the works for a long time; it goes back to the roots of the company, which is county touring. In the very early days, Druid seduced audiences to come to plays by putting on these short one-act plays at lunchtimes. We’ve come full circle in that we’re reviving a lot of these great plays and going back to these great communities.

“This idea is true to both what Galway 2020 is, in that it’s a county designation as much as a city designation, and also true to the roots of Druid. We’re proudly of Galway, and community is a huge thing for us.”

Why has the broader county always been an important part of the narrative?

No matter where you are in the city or county, you deserve to have professional theatre. The infrastructure around Galway County is great. You’ve got amazing community centres, art centres and town halls, so it’s going to be a real joy to play in those. Then, of course, you have the landscape – which is a huge theme for 2020. We’ll be doing unique outdoor performances in some extraordinary locations around the county. This idea is true to both what Galway 2020 is, in that it’s a county designation as much as a city designation, and also true to the roots of Druid. We’re proudly of Galway, and community is a huge thing for us.


What is the most exciting part of bringing this project to life?

One of the things we’ll be doing is producing a play by Tom Murphy called On the Outside (1959). Tom is a well known Galway playwright who sadly passed away in 2018. On the Outside is his first play and it’s a short one-act about two lads in Tuam trying to get some money together to get into a dance hall. We’ll be performing that in schools in Tuam, which is really exciting! Equally, we’re going to re-explore some of the Lady Gregory one-acts – a Galway writer who probably isn’t done as much as she should be. I’m also really looking forward to getting back out to the county and seeing all these beautiful places.


What gives you the most joy every day in your role as producer?

I’m a sucker for planning – I love a good excel spreadsheet. The really exciting bit for me is in the early conversations with the executive director and the artistic director. Putting the ideas together and saying, ‘that play stands up and we’re going to do it’ because we think it should be done. Then there’s a whole blank canvas as to where and how often we do it, who might be in the play, and who might direct and design it. Those big decision-making moments are really thrilling. You must know your audience, you must know the venues and the right times of year, the right ticket price. During that whole process before anything is announced, there’s an element of holding onto [the project] as a secret, which is great.

What is your history with Druid?

I’m from Cork originally and when I was in college there, the one company that I would never miss was Druid. I think that we are one of the greatest theatre companies in the world; the quality of the work has always been first class. I love the fact that it’s a Galway-based theatre company. It’s effectively a student theatre company which was set up in 1975 and is still going. It has such a huge footprint both in Ireland by and within the county of Galway but also internationally. It’s a tiny team as well; there are nine of us full time in the office on Flood Street. We paddle furiously and we think big. I’m fiercely proud to work for Druid.


Have you always worked in theatre? What has it given you over the years?

I trained as an actor initially in the UK, worked as an actor for a few years and started to produce shows in the Fringe in London. That’s when I got seduced into the ‘dark side’ of theatre – into producing. I’ve effectively only ever worked in theatre or in the arts. I love it. I often have moments when things are incredibly stressful, when you’re trying to get something launched or over the line. Then you step back and think wow, “I am actually being paid for something that’s creative.”

What is Galway to you?

I genuinely believe it’s a state of mind. It’s a city of a conglomeration of tribes, people from all over the world visiting and living here. Having lived in London for seven years, I am drawn like a moth to a flame to something that’s vibrant, multicultural and diverse. Galway is everywhere and nowhere at the same time; it’s open. That’s what being a Galwegian is to me – someone who is expansive, open-hearted and has a bit of madness in there somewhere.


Broadly speaking, what are you most looking forward to in 2020?

I am really looking forward to being a citizen in 2020 and a proud host to whoever comes here. It’s going to be a slightly smug feeling to say, “Look, this is our city and everyone is welcome here.”

“I am really looking forward to being a citizen in 2020 and a proud host to whoever comes here. It’s going to be a slightly smug feeling to say, “Look, this is our city and everyone is welcome here.”

We’re in the beautiful Mick Lally Theatre today. What do you think is its most stunning feature?

The auditorium downstairs – it’s just an old warehouse with stone walls but there is something special when you put in a stage floor and a couple of seats. I’m thinking for example about the Waiting for Godot production we did last year. That was done as a tryout but it became this absolute phenomenon which has subsequently toured the world. When you think of all the productions that have started here, going back to the early days of Druid, that magic is within those walls. It’s not tangible, you can’t quite put your finger on it, but there’s something in the air.


If Galway was a play, what would it be?

I think it would have to be something sea-faring. I have this feeling it would be about shipwrecks, love, feuds and passion. Which leads me to think of Shakespeare and Tempest – something just a little bit ‘elsewhere’.


What are some of your favourite local creators?

It would have to be those arts companies and organisations like Branar Téater do Pháistí and Macnas. Branar are a children’s theatre company doing extraordinary work. It’s a tiny team that certainly punch above their weight. With Macnas, I think their parade captures the spirit of everything it means to be Galway. That madness, outlandish ideas, big ambition and not making any apologies for it. These companies work so hard to keep their heads above water all the time and are driven by passion, energy and excitement.


For someone who isn’t a huge theatre buff, what would be the best way for them to enter the world of theatre in Galway?

If ever there was a year to step in and book a piece of theatre, it’s 2020. With our project, The Galway Tour, we’re working very hard to make sure that it’s accessible and ultimately a great night out – nothing too droll, heavy or high-minded. We’ve intentionally made it a barnstorming circus tour of great plays, often comedy and farce. The one thing we always try to do in theatre is to take down any barriers in getting people to see work. I’d encourage people to take risks in 2020, to turn up if there’s a free event or an exhibition. You might even find something that changes your outlook or your life.

Hundreds of creatives have been involved in the making of the Galway 2020 programme. In our Meet the Makers series, we meet the people who are making it  happen.

Photos and interviews by Julia Monard.

Videography by Lakshika Serasinhe.