Lofty ambition on a shoestring
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Above: Language Unbecoming a Lady, written and performed by Myles Breen, directed by Liam O'Brien.

Left:    Forestburgh Playhouse's Romeo and Juliet

Lofty ambition on a shoestring

A touring co-production of 'Romeo and Juliet' this week is the latest venture from Bottom Dog theatre company, whose performance space above a pub in Limerick has been drawing crowds for almost a year. 

It was either bravery or foolishness, but whatever it took, Bottom Dog theatre company was established in Limerick city in November 2008, and in April last year it found a home in the Loft Venue, above the Locke Bar on George’s Quay. Co-founders of Bottom Dog, Mike Finn, Myles Breen, Mike Burke and Liam O’Brien, share a lot of history. They were involved in Limerick’s Island Theatre and have worked as writers, directors and performers in the region for many years. But just as Island Theatre celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2008 the company lost its funding, along with numerous theatre companies locally and nationally that year. A lot of history was lost, but the legacy lived.

In response to Island Theatre’s demise, the four theatre-makers took the decision to set up their own company, with no funding from the Arts Council. Having produced seventy-five nights of theatre to date, it is a great success with audiences, though revenue is scarce. Occasionally it breaks even after a production. Co-founder and director Liam O’Brien says: “it would make more sense for us to charge a bit more to cover more costs, but we do recognise that in this climate it’s important to get people who aren’t going to theatre, or who have stopped, to come back.

“We’re compelled to do it. Our hearts are in the theatre. We want to create live performance as much as any musician or artist or dancer,” he says. “We have a great writer in Mike, a great director in Myles, we are all actors as well, and Mike Burke is a great production manager. That’s the core of the company.”

ITMLimerickLoftRJ2-1-(2).jpgHowever, they do bring in other companies, including their first international co-production, with Forestburgh Playhouse from New York state, who performed a sell-out show of Romeo and Juliet last weekend, with a tour that includes Kilkenny, Nenagh, Killmallock and Galway. Last summer Bottom Dog recruited twenty volunteers for the Irish premiere of Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, to coincide with Gay Pride in 2010, and raised €1,500 for Red Ribbon Project. Their productions range from Mike Finn’s version of The Revenger’s Tragedy seen in the Limerick Theatre Hub last year, to Myles Breen’s play portraying the life of a gay man living in a small town (pictured), Language Unbecoming a Lady, which also toured, and the upcoming Killer Kabaret – a theatrical night of music inspired by murder, as part of Limerick’s 2011 Unfringed Festival this week.

The Loft hosts music, comedy, theatre, DJs and rock bands. The fact that the venue is over the Locke Bar is a bonus, creating a symbiotic relationship. “The Locke Bar have rebranded themselves: they have new chefs, and you can get a meal before the show,” says O’Brien. “There is a bar in the theatre venue upstairs, so you can hang around afterwards and have a drink. That is the only reason that it makes it possible for us to be here. Because there is an increase in people in the bar downstairs, and they are coming to our shows, it generates business both for the Locke Bar and for Bottom Dog Theatre. It’s a perfect confluence of art and commerce.”

According to O’Brien, there is no sense of competition between Bottom Dog and other theatre companies in Limerick. The Belltable Arts Centre’s re-opening in November 2010 has not impinged on the number of people attending the Loft Venue. He suggests that people go to certain venues for a specific experience, and that the Loft Venue offers something unique: the social aspect of interacting with friends before the show in the bar upstairs, and with actors, directors, and producers afterwards. “In this recession people may have less to spend, but when they spend it, they want a good night out. They want the whole package,” he says.

The Loft Venue is on George’s Quay, Limerick. Tel: 085-2085737. www.bottomdogtheatre.com

Ciara Peters is a journalist based in Limerick.

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