Quarry Players Limerick
Founded November 1969
In his book ‘1969 The Year Everything Changed’, Rob Kirkpatrick explored the birth of punk music, the first Led Zeppelin tour, the publication of The Godfather, the Woodstock Festival, the Manson family and the ill fated Altamont Free Concert with The Rolling Stones, that many view as the end of the sixties.
In November 1969, a half million protesters staged a peaceful demonstration in Washington against the Vietnam War, regular colour TV broadcasts began on the BBC, Pele scored his 1000th goal and John Lennon returned his MBE. In November 1969, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs was born, as were Sonia O’Sullivan and Michelle de Bruin Smith. Those everlasting beauties, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Zeta Jones and Jennifer Lopez were happy in their first nappy. At home, Finance Minister Charlie Haughey, announced tax exemptions for artists, Belfast experienced sectarian riots - so serious that Taoiseach Jack Lynch said the Irish government “can no longer stand by,” and Samuel Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Muriel Day came 7th with the ‘Wages of Love’ in Eurovision, while the Top 20 charts in November 1969 included Je T’Aime, Durham Town, Sweet Caroline, and Two Little Boys. Radio Telefis Eireann broadcast I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart and Hawaii Five O. While the folks laughed at Here’s Lucy, the younger set loved Rowan & Martin’s Laugh -In (sock it to me). The most popular films were Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Midnight Cowboy, Goodbye Mr. Chips and for those in the groove …Easy Rider. Limerick in November 1969 had five good cinemas in the city centre, the City Theatre was the place for professional theatre, the Arch Confraternity was going strong, Edward Walsh wanted NIHE to be “Ireland’s MIT or be better than a University”, the beat scene was led by Granny’s Intentions... and in November 1969, a bunch of kids in the city came together and founded the Quarry Players.
Some of those kids are still with the Quarry Players, considerably wiser, but happy to see the show on the road after forty years. Those grown-up kids are the first to appreciate the real reasons for the durability of the theatre group. Over the four decades, more than 500 people have taken an active part in 77 productions to date. People come and people go and many stay for quite a while, but all have contributed to the continuation of the group and to the cultural life of the city. Staying power would be impossible without the goodwill of many people in the political and business life of the city and without the support of people in community facilities, local government, theatrical venues and the arts. The absolute support will always come from people who attend live theatre and who remain the true reason for any theatre company to continue. There have been barren moments - sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes it’s the play and sometimes it’s bad timing and bad luck. But, there have been more than enough exhilarating moments to keep going. The group survived recessions in the seventies and eighties and will survive this one. At times when live theatre in Limerick might succumb to dodoism, it curiously takes flight and soars once more. As long as that happens, a group like the Quarry Players is in business. After 40 years, there is enough business for the Quarry Players, there are enough people interested and there are enough reasons to continue.
THE FOUNDERS / THE NAME
The group was founded in November 1969, by a group of young people, coming mainly from the Punches Cross area of the city, with a keen interest in plays and theatre. The idea of it all was the brainwave of Gerard Meagher and was eagerly followed by the youngsters and by John Gibbons, a Mayo man with a long experience and knowledge of theatre. John still treads the boards and is a life trustee along with founder member John Ryan, who is devoted to set design and stage crafts. Gerard Meagher specialises in lighting design for the group while being a professional lighting designer in his own right.
The name Quarry Players simply came from a landmark in the area, Gough’s Limestone Quarry, which was about half-way between the houses of the young founders. Over the years, a few style gurus have recommended a more upbeat name, rather than be named after a hole in the ground – that’s been filled-in for years anyway. Any attempt to change the name was firmly scuttled in a public address by the playwright and author, Dr. Bryan MacMahon, when he attended the world premiere of his play ‘The Master‘, which the group staged as the first local group in the newly opened Belltable Arts Centre, in 1981. The distinguished author remarked that,
“the name of the group is apposite, in each boulder of a quarry, statuary already exists, and by using intuition and dedication, the sculptor reveals these as works of art. Much the same process obtains in theatre, where the play puts flesh, bone and blood on the dream figures of the playwright.”
A symbol of the Group is presently being designed to reflect these words, and after forty years without an emblem or logo, it is perhaps about time. It is interesting to note that the stone from Gough’s Quarry was used to build the Coliseum, now the Belltable, which continues to be the keystone of theatrical activity in the city.
THE GROUP & REPERTOIRE OF PLAYS
The Quarry Players have grown through so many experiences, that it would be difficult to typecast the group. It’s an open and welcoming company of people who are really only comfortable when actively working on a production. In essence the group has the ability to make all-comers feel wanted and infect them with the terrifying and inspiring experience of live performances. Although the group has an impressive repertoire of plays, it is fair to state that they have largely concentrated on contemporary Irish theatre. The majority of plays staged by the group have been premieres to the city, and some have been Irish premieres, notably ‘The Heretic’ by Morris West, ‘Rashomon’, by Fay and Michael Kanin, and ‘The Master’, by Bryan MacMahon, Lee Dunne's explicit and realistic ‘Goodbye to the Hill’, was never outside Dublin until the playwright relented to the group in 1988. Brian Friel granted the first amateur performing rights to the Quarry Players for his modern classic ‘Translations’, even though its professional period was far from over. ‘In Holy Matrimony’, was written by member Joseph Hennessy, who sadly passed away this year. ‘A Time Under Heaven’ by Limerick based Terry Murray, was commissioned by The Society of St. Vincent De Paul, to celebrate their 150th anniversary in Limerick and was produced at the Belltable as the highlight of a special week of celebration by the Society.
Marina Carr specifically authorised the performing rights to her play, ‘Portia Coughlan’ in 1999, and the group were the first amateur group in Ireland to perform ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’, by Martin McDonagh in 2001.
The first play, ’They Got What They Wanted’ by Louis Dalton was performed in 1970 at the CBS Theatre, Sexton Street and at St. Brendan’s School in Rosbrien. In 1971, ‘Shadow and Substance’ by Paul Vincent Carroll was staged at the Confraternity Theatre in O’Connell Street, Limerick, where the name ‘Coliseum’ could still be seen over the door. The group was also the last to perform in this venue, just before it closed in 1980, with their production of ’Confusions’ by Alan Ayckbourn. This historic building closed for renovations and reopened as the city’s first arts centre, the Belltable. Dr. Patrick Hillary, President of Ireland, performed the official opening ceremony on the 21st April 1981, for the Abbey production of Faith Healer, by Brian Friel. Directly following the Abbey the Quarry Players were in for ten nights with the world premiere of The Master, by Bryan McMahon, who attended the curtain up on April 29th.
Two or more plays were produced at this venue annually for many years afterwards, and while the main commitment is to produce plays in the city, the group has travelled to more than fifteen other venues in the mid- west region. An unusual contract was filled by travelling to The Everyman Theatre in Cork for a six-night run with Bernard Farrell’s All In Favour Said No! The group has participated in a dozen theatre festivals and produced shows for lunchtime theatre, pub theatre, hotel theatre and even fashion show theatre.
In 2001, following problems with the availability of the Belltable, the group took a huge risk and decided to move to the University Concert Hall, for the second run of ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’. The group felt this particular play would appeal to a wide audience and this was borne out in the attendances for the show which averaged almost 800 people per night. A further production of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan was staged at the UCH in 2002 and the group were again the first amateur theatre company to perform in the newly constructed LIT Millennium theatre in 2003 with Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars and returned in 2006 in collaboration with the Belltable for Brian Friel’s Translations and again in 2008 with Martin McDonagh’s bloodcurdling The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The proposed re-development of the Belltable in 2010 will be a huge advance for the arts in the region and the Quarry Players are especially looking forward to future productions in the heart of the city and are buoyant in their optimism with the impressive designs and proposed facilities.
One of the primary considerations in play selection is the potential audience. The group generally select plays that will appeal to a broad spectrum. The company does not fundraise, and its only source of income is box office receipts and the play programme.
After many years of performing in the city, the group has a good idea of what people in the region like to go and see. Audiences are drawn to certain types of plays which include a balance of entertainment value with an Irish cultural theme. Favourite audience reactions have been from the pens of Brian Friel, Tom Murphy, Brian McMahon, Eugene McCabe, John B. Keane, Lee Dunne, Bernard Farrell, Mary O’Malley, Sean O’Casey and more recently, Martin McDonagh.
Over the years, the group has been fortunate to have had an array of directors within the group who were capable and willing. These include John Gibbons, Gerard Meagher and Michael Kearney. Inexperienced directors generally start with one-act plays and the group is always keen to advance director skills. The group also sought external directors to broaden and develop new principles. Kitty Bredin, Nick Browne, Claude and Dairine Byrne and John Butler, all sadly missed, took over direction when most needed. In recent times, John Anthony Murphy, a professional actor who co-founded Island Theatre Company, has directed six productions and is directing the current play, Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats.
In the early years, members attended courses in Gormanstown, to develop their skills. Each year since 1997, group members have attended the Drama League of Ireland (DLI) Summer School which was held in Maynooth University, and which now held at UL, to enhance their theatrical knowledge. The group has had members that have been on the national executive of the DLI, whose number one aim is to increase the standards of drama throughout the country. The group has organised numerous workshops in the Limerick area, for local drama groups, including the Quarry Players. Tutors have included Paul Hadfield, John P. Kelly, Gavin Kostic and Jim Culleton, among many others. These have been extremely successful for the group members, and these workshops are now standard practice for the development of theatrical knowledge.
PRODUCTIONS - 1969 to 2009
The majority of the 77 productions were Limerick premières, while some were Irish stage premières. Almost all productions were presented in the city, and over twenty were also presented at other venues in the mid-west region.
History compiled by John Ryan - November 2009