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Change and continuity: Garry Hynes on Druid

By Hannah Hessel Ratner, Audience Enrichment Manager

When four members of the Druid ensemble proposed a production of Beckett’s classic to Artistic Director Garry Hynes, her reaction was less than enthusiastic. “I don’t know if the world needs another production of Waiting for Godot,” she remembers thinking, reflecting on a famous production by Ireland’s Gate Theatre that ran in their repertoire for 25 years. With many companies the idea might have ended there—but Druid works differently.

Druid’s acting ensemble is a unique component of the historic company. The group is comprised of six actors, deeply imbedded in artistic planning and decision-making. Though the permanent ensemble is more recent, the creativity and collaboration of actors have always been at the center of Druid’s work. “Having that continuing relationship, continuing discussion with actors is a crucial part of Druid,” says Hynes. “I think the ensemble is one of the big things that we’ve lost in the American and European theatre.” So when Marty Rea, Rory Nolan, Aaron Monaghan and Garrett Lombard continued to advocate for Godot, Hynes listened. “Gradually, I could see what sense it made in terms of those actors. We eventually produced it and it’s become one of our biggest hits.”

The ensemble of actors features one of the original company members Marie Mullin, who, along with Hynes and actor Mick Lally, founded Druid in 1975. At that time, professional theatre in Ireland was focused entirely in Dublin, but the group wanted to stay in Galway, where they attended university. “We wanted to make theatre in the West of Ireland. And to make it about our lives there and then,” says Hynes. “So for that reason we decided—as one can do when you’re 21 or 22—to found a professional theatre in Galway.” So they formed Druid, the first professional company beyond the capital city.

Galway has changed in the years since the company’s founding, she explains. “Galway was a Western regional city, reasonably quiet,” but now, “Galway really is, I don’t think anybody would disagree, regarded as the capital of culture in Ireland at the moment.” In fact, the city has been named the 2020 European Capital of Culture.

As the city changed, the company needed to change also. The artistic leader for all but three of its 43 years, Hynes has always felt that arts organizations must constantly evolve or risk becoming irrelevant. “There’s an institutional inertia that organizations can fall into very quickly, unless you change it up. When we started off we were there to provide theatre for the people of Galway, but Galway now has a civic theatre with performances 340 days of the year. It has no shortage of entertainment. So we needed to consider: how do we provide something that nobody else is providing?”

Hynes believes that theatre companies— brand new or long established—should be constantly questioning, looking for opportunities to grow and change. When students ask her about starting a new company, she pushes them: “Why? Not only do you have to have an answer before you do it but you have to answer the question every single day of your life.”

In the early 1980s Druid started touring internationally, as well as traveling to small communities all over Ireland.

Then, in the late 1990s Druid brought the work of Martin McDonagh (now known beyond the theatre for his films, including the Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) to America for the first time. Druid’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane earned Marie Mullen a Tony Award for her performance, and Hynes made history as the first woman to win a Tony Award for Best Direction of a play.

As ever, the future of the company is on Hynes’ mind. As the theatre evolves every decade or so she knows that there is another big change ahead— perhaps this time without its founding artistic director. “I don’t know what the company will be like in ten years’ time, but I do know that it probably won’t be with me. I’m not sure you can plan for what the future is. You just have to restate your ‘why’, ask yourself what counts and make sure the organization is responding to that.”

To learn more about Waiting for Godot, click here.

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