What does it take to bring a theatre company to life?
For the people behind Atlanta’s Arís Theatre, it takes hard work, enthusiasm, plenty of experience and several generations of Irish literary and dramatic tradition. Founded in 2013, Aris Theatre was born of a desire to maintain a home for Irish theatre in the city following the closure of Theatre Gael, another Irish-focused company in Atlanta.
Traditions of Celtic culture
“The mission of Arís Theatre is to foster the traditions and expressions of a Celtic culture and sensibility,” theatre artist Rob Shaw-Smith explains.
“We seek to explore, teach, promote and present the rich dramatic traditions of this diverse culture in a way that is innovative, exciting and inclusive, and which we see as deeply connected to our contemporary culture and world.”
In the years since 2013, Shaw-Smith, his co-founder Kathleen McManus and board member Jim Horgan have been able to continue their work with Arís thanks in part to the Emigrant Support Programme. At a time when Irish presence in the dramatic arts all over the world reaches new heights, theatre companies big and small are still in dire need of support to survive.
Emigrant Support Programme
“Without the Emigrant Support Programme, we would be staging readings in each others’ living rooms, rather than mounting full productions,” says McManus. Recent productions that have received support from the programme include Brian Friel’s Philadelphia, Here I Come! in 2014, Woman and Scarecrow by Marina Carr in 2019 and Ulysses, adapted by Dermot Bolger, in 2022.
“Arís provides the Atlanta community with an opportunity to experience the spoken word as art, as only the Irish can do.”
The trio point out that there’s a broad and active Irish-American presence in Atlanta, with about 9% of the population in the metropolitan area claiming Irish heritage. “We’re not only presenting Irish plays to the greater Atlanta audience, but are creating original works that clearly speak to the Irish experience in Ireland and in the diaspora,” says Horgan.
“We are all Americans, by birth or choice, who honour the Irish by sharing with our Atlanta community the work of some of the greatest dramatists who ever wrote in the English language.”
To that end, the company works closely with the Irish Consulate in Atlanta every year for Bloomsday as well as for St Brigid’s Day and St Patrick’s Day events.
In 2023, Arís Theatre has embarked on a new chapter in its journey, with brand new plays programmed including the world premiere of Rob Shaw-Smith’s The Legend of Finn McCool, and the regional premiere of Karl Harpur’s Cinderella.
“Bringing a family musical and a traditional pantomime to Atlanta audiences has been a long held dream,” says Shaw-Smith. “We could not do this without the Emigrant Support Programme. Thank you.”