The Abbey Theatre: Modern History

Abbey Theatre Archives Go Digital | Irish America

As I read Chapter 7 of Kilfeather’s Dublin: A Cultural History, I was struck by how deeply the arts are embedded into the culture of Dublin. From the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art to the Dublin Writer’s Museum, the city proves the respect with which it holds art. As an ancient city now urbanized, modernism is juxtaposed with history throughout Dublin. I was most fascinated, however, with the arguably most beloved hall of the arts: the Abbey Theatre. The Abbey Theatre, founded in 1904 by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, gives testament to how a historical monument can survive among constant modernization.

Old Abbey Theatre gets a new life - Noho
Visualization of the Interior of the Abbey Theatre in 1907
Abbey Theatre/Amharclann na Mainistreach - Venues - Irish Theatre
Interior of the Abbey Theater Today

When the Abbey Theatre was first erected, the stage was surrounded by an elegant archway, the balconies were lined with skillful crowning, and the banisters were made of beautifully carved wood. Today, the theatre takes a more modern approach. The walls are covered with wood, and the seats are adorned with a bright red velvet. While refurbishing the theatre with a look which will attract the modern consumer, Abbey Theatre pays homage to its history through simplicity. The bare walls and modest seating allows viewers to focus their awe toward the stage, honoring the reason the theatre was originally established– the arts. While providing modern luxuries that consumers are accustomed to, such as air conditioning and a bar in the lobby, the Abbey Theatre refuses to adorn itself with fantastical decorations and cushy, intricate seating.

As a theatre built by playwrights, it remains loyal to the art it is presenting, rather than becoming the art itself. Showboating would diminish the dignity of the incredible plays housed in the theatre. The international respect with which the theatre is regarded is evidence of more than the playhouse’s reverence for history; it demonstrates the city’s pride in its past. Dublin is a powerful figure of the endurance of a people, and the Abbey Theatre’s fortitude is a perfect example of the strength that comes with antiquity. It is simple in its appearance, yet incredible in its art.

1 Comment

  1. I like your comment about how the Abbey Theater does not seem to try to become the art itself, leaving the art to the performance–I think that this is definitely true. It makes me think about how many theaters across the world seem to go in the opposite direction, possessing nearly regal decor and becoming a piece of art on their own. Though there is a time and place for that approach, there is something special about more simple venues–where the art does not begin until the show does. The opinions you have of the performance and the life you feel from the show cannot be confused with the effect of the decorations and the architecture. The place does not try to persuade you one way or another–it serves as the simple stage which may only be brought to life by its guests.

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