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Posted 17 June 2013

Text of the inroductory address delivered by Ms Finola Cronin on 15 June 2013, on the occasion of the conferring of the Degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa on Patrick Mason

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Deputy-President, Honoured Guests, Ladies and Gentleman.

Patrick Mason is a gargantuan of Irish theatre who has brought to the stage many of the most important plays of the Irish, European and American canons in landmark, memorable and definitive productions.

The sheer scale and breath of his achievement is extraordinary and remarkable; producing over 150 new Irish plays his award-winning work includes premier productions of among the most important texts from Ireland’s leading playwrights including Tom Murphy’s The Gigli Concert; Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa; Frank McGuinness’ Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme; and Marina Carr’s By The Bog of Cats. He has worked as choreographer, voice coach, and opera director, written drama for radio, and adapted plays for the stage. He has directed new plays by Stewart Parker, Hugh Leonard, Seamus Heaney, and Sebastian Barry, and is known for his accomplished revivals which reveal his deep understanding of theatre history and stagecraft.

For Dancing at Lughnasa he was awarded a Tony for Best Theatre Direction and a Drama Desk for Outstanding Direction of a Play; he received a Harvey’s Award for Thomas Kilroy’s Talbot’s Box and an Irish Times Special Theatre Award for his work as Artistic Director at The Abbey Theatre.

Mason is possibly the most important artistic import that Ireland has ever had the pleasure to offer citizenship; born to an Irish mother and English father, he was educated in England and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He first came to Dublin to assist Hugh Hunt in his production of The Silver Tassie for the Abbey Theatre – Mason would return to O’Casey’s masterpiece, in courageous and acclaimed theatre and opera productions, and, as significantly he was to return, after a sojourn lecturing in Performance Studies at Manchester University, to the Abbey Theatre - his Alma Mater.

Mason claims the Abbey theatre defines his work because it is a ‘writer’s theatre’ and his quest to reveal a rich text for what it - ‘a deeply human thing - emotional and intellectual’ - found form brilliantly in his now legendary collaborations with playwright and poet Tom MacIntyre, actor Tom Hickey, and designer Bronwen Casson.

MacIntyre’s adaption of Patrick Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger in particular was a ground-breaking performance of radical imagistic innovation - it was a call to ‘the psyche and the senses’ and invigorated Irish theatre.

Moreover this work, which toured to critical acclaim nationally and internationally was one that linked the national theatre directly back to its founder, to Yeats’ experimental dance plays, to the power and potency of pure theatrical gesture.
Yeats is for Mason, the constant conscience of the Abbey and his tenure as Artistic Director of the National Theatre Society from 1994-99 resounded with Yeats’ call for ‘art and intellect to integrate with the political and the social’. Putting The Abbey at the centre of public debate, Mason questioned adroitly artistic policies of the time that sought to undermine the institution’s position as the ‘locus of dramatic dialogue between the Irish people and their writers’, and the theatre’s purpose ‘to speak the deeper thoughts and emotions of Ireland’.

Mason’s artistic directorship secured ultimately not only the financial future of the national stage but reinforced its powerful voice - and its relevancy - most notably when – in 1994 in response to the IRA ceasefire, Mason seized the moment with a new production of McGuinness’ masterpiece Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme. When the UVF called a ceasefire that happened to coincide with the production run - there occurred a powerful chiming of politics, history and art.

A distinction of Mason’s programming as Artistic Director was the inclusion of world theatre alongside Irish repertoire and while his brilliant and daring production of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America demonstrated both his innate artistic and moral courage, productions such as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Luigi Pirandello’s Six Character’s in Search of an Author affirmed Mason’s belief that most especially in a national theatre, art has no national borders.

Mason’s work has been acclaimed on the international stage: in London, Edinburgh, New York, and on mainland Europe in The Netherlands, Denmark, Russia and farther afield in Australia and the Far East. His fascination with and love of music, evident in productions such as Friel’s Performances is given full rein in his in opera where his directing credits include, among others, Janacek, Verdi, Mozart, and Lortzing in productions for the English National Opera, Buxton Festival, Opera Zuid, Welsh National Opera, Opera North, and Wexford International Festival. 

As much as Mason has been associated with The Abbey Theatre his work more latterly for The Gate Theatre Dublin animates and re-imagines classic productions for new audiences and includes Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, Friel’s Molly Sweeney and G.B. Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

Mason has forged enduring creative partnerships throughout his career with playwrights such as McGuinness, Kilroy, Friel and Murphy, and believes the playwright to be an essential elucidating presence in rehearsal - integral in the process to make word and action in performance, vivid to the imagination.

He has collaborated with the foremost actors and scenographers of his generation; with Maureen Toal, Olwen Fouéré, Donal McCann, Ingrid Craigie, and with Monica Frawley, Wendy Shea, Frank Hallinan Flood, and Francis O’Connor to name but a few, while his very considerable body of work with scenographer Joe Vanek marks a creative affiliation that inspires and enthralls.

Preferring the term producer to director as it best describes his multifaceted process - his leading out of something with a group of very disparate talents from writer to actor to designer and lighting designer – Mason’s work in rehearsal is to create the fabric of a production; to make curious, to stimulate, to provoke, to make - ultimately form and meaning – it is, really, the stuff of the alchemy of theatre - the leading out of the imaginations of artists to meet and hold the imagination of audiences.

It is our great fortune to have Patrick Mason at work in Irish theatre where his immense craft, his intellect, his generosity, his artistry, and his imagination, emplace the director as producer, at the core of Irish theatrical experience.

Praehonorabilis Pro-Praeses, totaque Universitas,

Praesento vobis hunc meum filium, quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad gradum Doctoratus in Litteris; idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo, totique Academiae.

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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