What is The Local Group?
The Local Group is a new company led by Róise Goan, aiming to bring excellent interdisciplinary performance projects to communities in Ireland’s most rugged rural landscapes, concrete suburbia and beyond our shores. The Local Group will make performance projects with and for communities of place and interest, on the margins.
Although Foyle Punt is our first official project, the identity of the company is informed by a lot of my previous work, especially She Knit The Roof, a performance made with a group of expert hand-knitters in West Donegal in 2015, and Destination Donut, a hop-on, hop-off immersive bus tour of the Inishowen 100 in 2013, both collaborations with artist Caitríona McLaughlin, presented as part of Earagail Arts Festival, and years of experience presenting sited-work as Director of Dublin Fringe Festival.
Over the next 18 months, I hope to present Periphereak, a temporal artwork and one-off focus programme of performance on Dublin’s M50, and a performance project for community centres and parish halls about diet-culture, called Don’t Throw Out Your Fat Pants in partnership with Pentabus Theatre in the UK. We will also be presenting a monthly critical event, Kill Your Darlings, with partner Mermaid Arts Centre, from September onwards. When I say we, I mean me, Róise Goan, and my sometime and ever-growing group of collaborators including Emma Hannon (producer) and Tom Lawlor (communications), Scott Burnett and Rory Bradley (Studio Aad), Niamh O’Donnell, and artists Caitríona McLaughlin, Lian Bell, Jennie Moran, Little John Nee, Farah El Neihum, Sophie Motley and Fiona Hallinan and supporting organisations, including Earagail Arts Festival, Mermaid Arts Centre, Cairde Festival Sligo, and McDonald Boats. Collaboration is the beating heart of The Local Group.
The Local Group takes its name from the neighbourhood of galaxies in which The Milky Way sits. Each galaxy has its own identity, but when looked at together, The Local Group is more than the sum of its parts. So too is our Local Group, which depends on the partnership it creates between professional artists, local authorities, venues, festivals and communities to make excellent work that would otherwise not be possible within the existing structures. The name comes from dear friend and collaborator, Dee Roycroft.
Why is The Local Group?
Having led a big festival in Dublin, focused on the cutting edge of performance and platforming new work by new artists, and having worked all over the country with policy-makers and funders, and with international arts institutions, I am more and more interested in the possibilities and power of performance made with communities, in context. Call me naïve, but I still firmly believe in the radical power of art to transform lives; and for me that power is rooted in a kind of liveness particularly present in sited contexts, where the line between performer, participant and spectator becomes fluid. My interest in rural and suburban locations comes from a desire to make work with communities who are underserved in terms of access to contemporary arts practice and in defiance of the idea that rural and suburban communities are somehow more conservative than their urban counterparts; in my experience the opposite is true.
Through The Local Group, I hope to demonstrate a new model of interdisciplinary performance production in Ireland; one that is socially engaged and nimble, built on a bedrock of partnership, participation and engagement, reflecting the lived experience of people in Ireland with work of the highest possible artistic quality. Our artistic programme is led by a curiosity to engage with particular communities of place or interest in their own context. Thus, The Local Group offers a radical rethink of production models to support the creation of excellent new performance beyond the existing arts infrastructure, and an innovative addition to a future theatre, dance and live art ecology in Ireland.
Via the production of a programme of performance projects embedded in and touring extensively around Ireland (and internationally), The Local Group will look not to prestige and elitism but rather powerfully demonstrate possibilities for new fluid structures in the production of theatre in found and reclaimed spaces with, by, for and about communities of place and interest, with co-operation and co-production at its heart.
The model I propose is about supporting socially engaged and site responsive performance, which works in different ways and on different time-scales to work developed solely by professionals for theatre buildings. It is led by audiences, because work that’s made successfully in rural and suburban contexts demands social engagement. You make the work as you make the audience.
I have been programming, producing, commissioning and supporting site-responsive and socially engaged work for over ten years. I learned how precarious fickle broadband service can be when I line-produced a presentation of Rimini Protokoll’s Call Cutta in a Box in an empty office building in Dublin’s Docklands in 2008, for Project Arts Centre’s We Are Here Festival. As Director of Dublin Fringe Festival I had the great fortune to present the first part of ANU’s The Monto Cycle, which brought immersive and site-responsive performance to the forefront of Irish culture in 2009. Follow by Willfredd Theatre, which was part of DFF in 2011, marked a turning point in how the Deaf community were represented in Irish cultural life, and the first time that a Deaf theatre production was invited onto the stages of our National Theatre. I programmed Heroin, THEATREclub’s project made with recovering addicts in the south inner city in 2010, and was lucky enough to see and support writer/director Grace Dyas’ engagement with that community in the development of the work. I’ve produced two projects in rural Donegal, to date. The most recent, She Knit The Roof, was made with a team of artists and a group of expert hand-knitters in an abandoned doll factory in rural Crolly in the west of the county. The show looked to highlight the untold stories of the tens of thousands of women who knit for money from the late nineteenth to late twentieth centuries in west Donegal, and in doing so, ask broader questions about how we apportion value to tradition, craft and labour in a now rapidly changing society and economy. The experience was hugely rewarding for us as a team of artists, for the participating women and for the hordes of local people and visitors who attended the sold out run. These examples add to a growing suite of projects I have curated and produced - including Fergal McCarthy’s large scale visual art installations Liffeytown and No Mans Land, Dead Centre’s Irish Theatre and Obie-award winning Lippy, HotForTheatre’s I heart Alice heart I among many others. I've learned a lot from these projects and from the artists I have had the privilege to work with; not least the importance of engaging with local services and supports, and the challenges posed by distance, lack of amenities, bad phone signal and the status of the outsider.
I believe that great performance can change the world we live in and I strive in all my work to make that happen. Understanding the context of a particular place or community is central to making great performance that changes people and places, be it in small and slow or sometimes rapid and seismic ways.
In programming great performance that looks to catalyse social change I am a passionate believer in the guiding principles of courage, kindness and integrity, and these principles will guide the way The Local Group works with artists and communities. As an Artistic Director, I am interested in stories that relate to the now: where we have come from, where we are going, and what we might have forgotten along the way, as a society. I am driven to find new ways and new voices to tell those stories, making the familiar strange, the strange familiar. My work to date has been about seeking out great stories from great artists, providing for their needs and paving the road ahead for where they might meet an audience thirsty to hear and see them. This principle has been essential to me from founding a theatre company with friends at University to establishing Project Brand New, a platform to show new work at Project Arts Centre, on to Dublin Fringe Festival and more recently as an independent curator, programmer and producer.
Core Values of The Local Group
· To be courageous in how we approach ambitious projects in difficult landscapes, communities and contexts
· To act with kindness in our relationships with artists, partners, communities and audiences.
· To commit to diversity and inclusion in our programming, artistic and production practices and audience development, and to be vigilant of our unconscious biases and address them.
· To be transparent and open with all stakeholders and our peers. We will share our goals, targets, achievements, successes and failures.
· Our transparency lends itself to a commitment to learning to hold onto what works, and let go of or change what doesn’t
· To act in partnership by developing the principles of collaboration and cooperation with all our stakeholders, in particular with local communities.