Sanctuary is the name of a play performed by The Blue Teapot Theatre Company in Galway. They have been successfully producing plays for sixteen years and they hope to become the National theatre for people with intellectual disability in Ireland.
For a theatre company, how can success be measured? Perhaps in the following ways:
- An original commissioned work by a nationally known playwright written for a specific company of actors
- A world premiere in a national theatre festival
Sold-out performances at the festival with an extended run
- 128 individual philanthropic funders from all over the world contributing to produce the work
- Three inquiries (so far) to tour the new work
- One tour date already booked
- Recognition by a national theatre reviewer
- Inquiries by a film company into the success of the play.
Any one of these points would uplift any professional theatre company. All of these are the experience this autumn for Blue Teapot Theatre Company, a professional theatre company for men and women with intellectual disabilities (ID) based in Galway city. This year Blue Teapot commissioned and produced a new play, Sanctuary, by Christian O’Reilly, and the play was premiered in the Galway Theatre Festival in October. The press release said it all:
this poignant, funny and bittersweet play opens a window into the lives and relationships of people with intellectual disabilities and the obstacles they must overcome to be together.
The response of audiences was overwhelming. The final three nights of the nine-performance run were sold out, with waiting lists of 25 people hopeful to get tickets at the door. Audiences have asked Blue Teapot to bring the play back next year, and they will.
Critics have joined in with their opinion on this daring and funny piece of theatre. Irish Theatre Magazine said: ‘Sanctuary is a brilliant insightful piece of work that enlightens and entertains. It also brings to the fore the amazing talents of Pilley’s first-rate cast.’ ‘In Sanctuary we are reminded that no subject is off limits to achieve brilliance in theatre when the ensemble is talented.’ ‘Blue Teapot have set the bar (and it’s very high) for professional theatre productions with roles for and about people with intellectual disabilities.’
Charlie McBride of the Galway Advertiser remarked: ‘O’Reilly and the gifted Teapot cast shine a welcome light on this issue which they illuminate with great tact, perceptiveness and, last but by no means least, a rich vein of humour.’
With Sanctuary, Blue Teapot chose to explore a subject that is often considered taboo, and managed to do so with humour and grace. Quoting the play’s director Petal Pilley: ‘My hope in commissioning this play was to present a living tragedy that demands discussion, awareness and a more enlightened response from our society towards the sexuality and relationships of adults with ID.’
To raise funds to create this professional theatrical production, Blue Teapot looked to the national fundraising site www.fundit.ie to add crucial support to their exciting new work. They met their goal of €4000 with five days to spare, creating new and avid Teapot supporters along the way. The first tour date for Sanctuary was to St Michael’s Theatre in New Ross, Co. Wexford, on 21 November—hopefully the first in a long list of venues for this significant piece of theatre.
Blue Teapot is no stranger to this kind of success. Having worked with scriptwriter Len Collin on a short film script that premiered at Druid Theatre in 2011, producing a full production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2010 to sold-out houses, and performing in the opening ceremonies of the Volvo Ocean Race in 2009 to an audience of over 50,000, this ensemble is used to being in the spotlight. It is a place they rightly deserve to be.
In the short space of sixteen years this talented group of individuals has blossomed into a professional theatre company with a three-year FETAC accredited Performing Arts School for school leavers with ID, and a drama-based community outreach project, Bright Soul.
The company’s vision is to become the National Theatre for people with ID in Ireland, and it looks like they are well on their way of making that happen.
Led by Director Petal Pilley since 2006, their work has blossomed as the core company members have continued to take on more exciting and challenging productions. Six years ago Petal introduced the actors to the Meisner Technique, a well known acting technique that has proven a powerful methodology for the company members and students to access and express emotional, psychological and physical truth. The company regularly trains with the theatre industry’s top professionals, recently working with world-renowned Meisner Maestro Scott Williams in two master class workshops, and periodically with Rod Goodall (founding member of Macnas, and former Artistic Director of the Galway Arts Festival).
Blue Teapot has also been represented on the international stage. Petal Pilley was invited and granted a full scholarship to attend an invitation-only International Convening of Thought Leaders in Theatre, Dance, Disability & Inclusion, hosted by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC. Petal met with leaders in the field of arts and disability from around the world and created strong new ties for the Galway-based company.
This company is constantly training and stands ready for the challenges ahead. If success is what you make of it, Blue Teapot has built a strong foundation for their current achievements. Henry David Thoreau said ’Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.’
Blue Teapot Theatre Company is showing us how they make that possible.