Rough Magic and Opera Theatre Company discover Sky's the limit
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Image: Rough Magic performer Sarah Shine pictured at the announcement of the Sky Arts Ignition partner. Rough Magic will co-produce Brecht and Weill's Rise and Fall of Mahagonny City with Opera Theatre Company. Photo: Maxwell's

Rough Magic and Opera Theatre Company discover Sky's the limit

Rough Magic Theatre Company has been named the next Sky Arts Ignition partner, winning €230,000 in funding from the digital broadcaster Sky Ireland to stage a new co-production with Opera Theatre Company.

Chosen from a long-list of 60 candidates for the award, which was this year restricted to Irish applicants, Rough Magic’s winning submission is a production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1930 political satire, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The production will run at the Olympia Theatre from 12 - 22 June, 2014.

“The Sky Arts Ignition award enables us to bring an electrifying work of art to one of the city’s most beautiful and atmospheric theatres, creating a new relationship between the audience, Brecht’s epic satire and Kurt Weill’s groundbreaking score,” Rough Magic’s Artistic Director Lynne Parker said.

Banned by the Nazis in 1933, Brecht’s stridently Marxist indictment of bourgeois decadence did not enjoy significant revival until the 1960s.

It tells the story of the creation and destruction of the American city of Mahagonny, founded by three criminals, in which pleasure-seekers eventually become bored and descend into gambling, debauchery and murder.

The Olympia Theatre, a 19th Century music hall, is today a premiere venue for live music gigs which is less-frequently used as a theatre space. In this atmospheric building, storied with history, many audience members in the balcony can enjoy authentic 1879 legroom provisions while folding their knees delicately into their chests.

Wisely, perhaps, Parker’s production will employ the Lyric Theatre architects Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey to reimagine the space to allow for an “immersive experience”, threading her performance through the venue from the stage into the auditorium and utilising a 60-piece orchestra and full cast. There’s an enjoyable irony in the big-budget transformation of Brecht’s play: the sets for his original production, a model of Epic Theatre and a satire of both opera and capitalism, were made of cardboard.

That €230,000 will provide for just a ten-day run is an indication of the expense of such a large-scale project and of opera especially. This year Opera Theatre Company postponed two planned productions, one of Wozzeck and one of The Rake’s Progress, while it sought to appoint a new executive. (Rosemary Collier and Fergus Shiel have since been appointed as OTC's Chief Executive and Artistic Director, respectively.) The funding is a significant production budget for Rough Magic, which received €550,000 from the Arts Council for 2013 and awaits news of 2014’s subsidy in ever-straitened times.

What’s in it for Sky Ireland?

Since the start of the year, the digital broadcaster has employed 850 people in its new Dublin offices on Burlington Road, and announced a €1.25 billion investment in Ireland. A subscription channel in a competitive digital age, it is also seeking to grow its subscriber base with exclusive content – and every niche helps.

“This investment, as part of our broader contribution, highlights Sky’s commitment to Ireland, particularly at a time when arts organisations need support to produce creative, original and entertaining work,” said Sky Ireland’s Managing Director JD Buckley.

Following a sixth successive cut to arts funding in Ireland, down from €85m in 2008 to under €56m for 2014, this couldn’t be more on point. Another story, which may never be public, rests in the 72 applications from organisations throughout every sphere of Irish arts who have ambitions to produce work on a major scale if they ever get the chance. Stay tuned.


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