Steel Magnolias set to bloom on circuit
Ballyshannon Drama Society are to take a full-length play on the festival circuit for the first time in 50 years. They are giving a special performance of Steel Magnolias at the Abbey Centre on Thursday, February 17 as a fundraiser for the tour.
John Travers, one of the stalwarts of Ballyshannon Drama Society, says taking part in the festival circuit again was an idea that never went away.
"We always talked about doing it again. In 1961, the Premier Players, as the group was known then, won the All-Ireland title with Old Road by MJ Molloy.
"Two years before, that, the only other time we ever took part, we placed third with The Wood of the Whispering. The winning group that year was the Listowel Players, with John B. Keane's Sive. He saw our play and was so impressed that he gave us the rights for the Irish amateur premier of Sharon's Grave. He even came up to Ballyshannon to see our production. It seems fitting that Sharon's Grave is actually going to be performed again in Ballyshannon this year, this time by Coolera Dramatic Society, as part of our Drama Festival.
"The only other time that Ballyshannon took part in the festival circuit, I believe was with a one-act play called The Extraordinary Revelation of Orca the Goldfish in 1999. That production featured Maura Logue and Richard Hurst.
"We're very much looking forward to the many challenges of ‘entering the festival fray' again after all this time.
"It's wonderful to put on a play and have people say good things about you but it's another thing entirely to take your play to another audience that doesn't know you and is likely to be much more critical. And, of course, the production is scrutinised by a professional adjudicator and you are given all his or her comments afterwards. It all helps you hone your skills.
"In addition to that, taking a play on tour to such a wide variety of venues, from local parish halls to purpose-built state of the art theatres like the Waterside in Derry and the Alley in Strabane, will require us to step to another level in terms of the technical management of the production as well."
John believes Steel Magnolias is just the right type of play for such an ambitious comeback. "It's very well-known because of the film that was made, but I'm not sure how many people know that Robert Harling actually wrote about it after his younger sister died of cancer. He felt that the people who meant the most to her were the characters she met in the hairdresser's, so that's where he set it. The play is wonderful, full of warmth and humour but touching and poignant as well. It's gone down very well in Ballyshannon and we hope we meet with the same success on the circuit."
Steel Magnolias at The Abbey Centre, Ballyshannon on Thursday, February 17 at 8.30pm. Tickets e10 from Abbey Centre (071 985 1375) or Pearse O Neill's Newsagents.
The play tours to: Newtownstewart on February 26; The Waterside Theatre, Derry on March 6; Tubbercurry on March 7, Kiltyclogher on March 9; Enniskillen on March 10; Carrickmore on March 21 and at the Alley Theatre, Strabane on March 23.