Beckett in Hazelwood, Shackleton in New York and Alice in Wonderland. The range of independent productions staged every year by the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company is staggering for a company based in a town the size of Sligo.
With a full-time staff of two and seven part-time, the company has a national and international reputation that has grown beyond its size. Its funding via the Arts Council, including €178,000 from the National Lottery good causes fund in 2014, ensures its survival.
“It would be impossible to do what we do without the direct provision. We would have to put on purely commercial shows in order to make money,” says Niall Henry, artist director and co-founder of Blue Raincoat.
“Obviously, there is nothing wrong with commercial shows, but we try to be more experimental and there is no way we would be able to do that without the funding. I think we would just have to close our doors,” he says.
The funds go directly into creating the programme for the following year, paying for the production of independent shows including paying the actors, creating the sets and costumes.
The company is just back from touring Scotland with the critically-acclaimed Shackleton and is bringing it to the Project Arts Centre in Dublin next February and March, with plans to bring it to New York next autumn.
It is touring the country – from Roscommon to Cork – with Alice in Wonderland this autumn and Blue Raincoat Offsite presents Beckett Hazelwood at Hazelwood forest in Sligo in September. It also runs an annual theatre academy every January, which provides multi-disciplinary training for all artists and performers at its permanent performance space, called The Factory, in Sligo town.
“We have a great core audience in Sligo and the shows are always sell-outs. It’s been a long time since we’ve had an empty seat. We always try everything out in Sligo first and we know that if it succeeds here, it will succeed anywhere – from Dublin to New York,” says Niall.
Approximately 30 cent of every €1 spent on National Lottery games go back to funding for Good Causes in the areas of sport, youth, health, welfare, education, arts and heritage. In total, more than €5 Billion has been raised for Good Causes since the National Lottery was established 30 years ago. In 2016 alone, the National Lottery raised over €210 million for such good causes.