Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Festival of Friel

Back in June, as we were gearing up for the tour of Catalpa, I got an intriguing phone call from Geoff Gould. He had been asked to direct a series of rehearsed readings for an upcoming festival marking the 80th birthday of Brian Friel, widely regarded as Ireland’s greatest living playwright. The only problem was that the weeklong festival coincided with what was supposed to be our first week of rehearsal for Catalpa in Toronto. Geoff had mentioned this to the producers of the “Festival of Friel”, and they had come up with a potential solution: why not fly Andrew over to Ireland so that Geoff and he could do their first week of rehearsals there? Thus began one of the great, if not the greatest boondoggles of my acting career.

To get the opportunity to attend the birthday celebrations for a playwright the likes of Brian Friel was truly extraordinary, and something that I’m not likely to ever forget. There was an appropriate collection of notables on hand to mark the occasion; the opening performance was attended by two nobel prize winners: John Hume and Seamus Heaney. The thing that really struck me about the whole affair was its simplicity. The gala was held in the function room of a small (dare I say quaint) hotel in the town of Glenties, Co. Donegal, a town with great personal significance to Friel. Indeed, at the end of the performance, the organizer of the festival shouted, “Now could everyone move the chairs to the sides so that we can all have a drink?” I suppose what I’m noticing is that the festival was not geared towards glitz and glamour, but it rather focused on this man and his great body of work, and it was therefore much more meaningful. I feel it spoke volumes of the humility and sincerity of the Irish. Very thrilling for me to be a part of… that’s right, be a part of… you don’t think I attended the festival without weaseling my way into one of the readings, do you?
--Andrew Musselman

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