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Dancing at Lughnasa: Context for Prospective Actors

Dancing at Lughnasa is one of the lesser known shows in the 19-20 season and Director Robert Leff has a lot of insight for this touching play that can help prospective actors to better understand the show. Auditions are on May 6th and 7th at 7:30 pm and scripts are currently available for checkout from the Business Office (Hours 12-5 PM Wednesday through Friday).

We’ll let Robert fill you in on the details! Read on for his take on various aspects of the show.

What’s in a title?

People are unsure about the third word in the title, Lughnasa, because they don’t know how to pronounce it. Lughnasa (pronounced Lo͞o′na-sā) is the harvest festival, held yearly in early August, in honor of Lugh (pronounced “Loo”), the Celtic God of the Harvest. One of the rituals of this pagan celebration is dancing, which is a theme throughout the play.

Tell us more about the playwright…

Dancing at Lughnasa was written by Brian Friel (1929-2015). In Ireland, Friel is recognized as the unrivaled playwright of the later half of the twentieth century.  Dancing at Lughnasa was originally presented at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in April 1990.  It transferred to the Royal National Theatre, London in October 1990. The play opened on Broadway in October 1991. It is Friel’s best known and most popular play. It has been and continues to be performed in professional, university, community, and high school theatres around the world.

Why did you propose this play?

I read the play in the early 90’s and loved it. To this day, I remember gasping at a scene, which doesn’t usually happen to me. I first saw a professional production in Portland in around 1993 which was moving. Then in 1995, I saw a production at the Albany Civic Theatre. Dancing at Lughnasa has been on my “to direct” list for a long time.

I proposed the play because there are eight wonderful complex roles, 5 women (ages 26-40) and 3 men (ages 33 – 53).  The five female characters are the heart of the play. This is an ensemble show because the story does not center on one character. Each character is important to the play and none of them are passive.

I asked two actors who were in the 1995 ACT production about their memories of the play.

Harriet Owen-Nixon (Chris): “I found myself drawn in by the relationships between the sisters; their trust and distrust of each other, the complexity of family and love and how the moments of humor were so human and encompassed all of those things.”

Diane Cooper (Kate): “It was one of the most magical experiences. Having fun and allowing the magic of the memories was part of it… love of dance and laughter and not afraid of tears… remembering family joys and sorrows.”

Tell us more about the play…

This extraordinary play is the story of five unmarried sisters eking out their lives in a small village in Ireland in 1936.  We meet them at the time of the festival of Lughnasa, which celebrates the pagan god of the harvest with drunken revelry and dancing. Their spare existence is interrupted by brief, colorful bursts of music from the radio, their only link to the romance and hope of the world at large. The action of the play is told through the memory of the illegitimate son of the youngest sister as he remembers the five women who raised him, his mother and four maiden aunts. He is seven in 1936, the year his elderly uncle, a priest, returns after serving for 25 years as a missionary in a Ugandan leper colony and he meets his father for the first time, a charming Welsh drifter who strolls up the lane and sweeps his mother away in an elegant dance across the fields.  From these small events spring the cracks that destroy the foundation of the family forever.

What is your vision for the play?

Dancing at Lughnasa looks simple on the surface until you look below it. The script demands much from the actors to bring it life, but it will be worth the effort. To bring the play to life on stage, it is important to create a feeling of family among the cast. This will be an actor-centered production where the director’s hand is not seen. To me, the script is funny, sad, moving and human. Each time I read Dancing at Lughnasa, I see glimpses of my mother and her four sisters.

Now for the basics…

Director Robert Leff will hold auditions for Dancing at Lughnasa  by Brian Friel on Monday, May 6th and Tuesday, May 7th at 7:30pm.

Rehearsals begin Monday, July 29. Performances are Sept. 27th – Oct. 6th.

Scripts and Audition Packets are available at the Majestic Theatre Business Office Tuesday – Friday Noon to 5pm.[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][/et_pb_section]


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