Publish Date: Wednesday, 15th March 2017
Limerick.ie's Q&A with Louise Donlon, Theatre Director, Lime Tree Theatre, as they prepare to host the world premiere of Angela’s Ashes – The Musical.
You were the Director of Dunamaise Arts Centre in Co. Laois for 12 years before moving to Limerick. What were the key factors that attracted you to here?
There were a number of factors that influenced my decision to move, both personal and professional. The scale and size of the project was a significant factor in attracting me in the first instance to the position. I had been the founder director of the Dunamaise Arts Centre in Portlaoise and at that point it had been up and running successfully for some time. I had a sense that I had done a good job there, but that it was a good time to move on and find a new, bigger challenge.
What advice would you give to others considering a move to Limerick for employment?
I had worked in Limerick in the early 1990s and really enjoyed my time there. After moving to Galway and on to Laois, I always spoke fondly of Limerick and felt that it didn’t get the credit it deserved for being a vibrant and exciting place to work. I would say to anyone contemplating a move to Limerick that it is a great place to work and live and this is an exciting time to be here.
How has Limerick’s arts & culture scene developed during your time here?
A lot has happened in the Limerick arts & culture scene since I arrived. The National City of Culture in 2014 brought arts & culture to the fore in terms of civic engagement and investment in the arts. The bid for Limerick 2020, while ultimately unsuccessful, kept arts on the agenda, with Limerick City and County Council committing to continue its significant investment in the area. The re-opening of Belltable has brought a new impetus to the scene, providing ever more opportunities for presenting, collaborating and devising to theatre practitioners in the city.
In your opinion, how has the business landscape changed in Limerick since you’ve been working here?
There is a much greater sense of optimism and the continued focus on making Limerick a major city is to be hugely welcomed. There is a feel good factor about the city that wasn’t so obvious to me when I came back in 2012. A lot of positive news in terms of jobs, development, civic engagement contribute to a greater sense of optimism, which in turn generates more business for us.
Having worked in the arts sector for more than 20 years, what do you think Limerick’s strongest assets are when competing with other locations, both nationally and internationally?
Its uniqueness, its Georgian heritage, its relatively smaller size and ease of movement. It has a high population, relative to other larger towns that compete with us for touring performances, with discerning audiences that know the value of good work.
How do you think Limerick’s cultural environment is viewed externally?
There was a time, particularly in the 1990s, when Limerick would have been seen as a really important cultural destination. The difficulties that the Belltable went through in recent years, culminating with its closure, did have a negative impact, with other towns and cities overtaking Limerick as destinations for certain types of performances. That has definitely changed in the last few years and the high national profile of the Lime Tree Theatre and the re-opened Belltable has made a significant difference. It is seen now as a place where there are exciting new developments happening, particularly in theatre, with the emergence of the BelltableConnect programme and the first Limerick Fringe Festival.
What challenges and successes has the Lime Tree Theatre encountered since it opened in 2012?
There have been many of both! As a brand new venue, the Lime Tree Theatre had to start from zero to build an audience, and to bring those theatre companies and performers back to the city who had stopped touring here for many years. The quality of the work presented on stage, as well as the service the theatre itself provided to the audience was extremely important in building the business over the first five years. Our greatest success has been the fact that companies like The Abbey Theatre, Druid and others have returned to the city with productions that are good enough to grace international stages. Limerick is now a key part of a relatively small group of venues in the country that can present large scale theatre, which definitely gives the city a cultural cachet. The fact that nearly 280,000 have visited the Lime Tree since it opened in October 2012 is one of our greatest achievements.
How big a coup was it for the Lime Tree Theatre to secure the world premiere of Angela’s Ashes – The Musical?
A very big one! A musical of this size and calibre can’t normally play in a theatre with 500 seats – they generally operate on a commercial basis where a minimum of 1,500 seats would be required to break even. A combination of circumstances allowed us to secure the show for Limerick. It will be a big challenge for us as there are 11 performances at a time when theatre is normally in its quiet season, but the advance bookings are already indicating that our audiences realise the uniqueness of the event. We are really pleased with how it is booking as are the producers of the show.
It will be the largest scale show the Lime Tree Theatre has ever seen, how is your team preparing for this?
While it is the largest professional show we will have presented here, we have had experience of other shows with similar numbers attending so that will stand to the team. Essentially, it is a show that will have the same requirements as other, smaller scale productions so the planning and preparation will be similar. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be for the marketing department, led by the very experienced Gill Fenton, but she is very well placed to lead a campaign that will see us achieving a much greater reach out into the wider Munster, south Leinster and western region.
In autumn 2016 the Lime Tree Theatre marked its busiest season yet – what do you owe that to?
It’s about keeping on top of all aspects of our business. Making sure the quality of the product is as best it can be, ensuring that the companies and performers get the support they need and putting the right marketing campaign in place to keep the audiences coming. The team has expanded to include Marketa Dowling, Programme Manager at the Belltable and the work she has generated in this great space also adds to our offering. We aim to serve artists and audiences alike to the highest possible standards and I think we have been successful in that. And it is because of that success that people are coming to us in greater numbers.