Abbey Theatre disputes record of talks with theatre workers

National theatre says notes not ‘sufficiently accurate’ as facilitator stands over record

The Abbey Theatre has disputed the accuracy of notes from formal meetings it had with the theatre sector during the summer. The Abbey said it "does not believe that the 'record' of two meetings is sufficiently accurate, or of an acceptable standard, to allow it to sign off on this 'record' ".

The two meetings on June 5th and July 9th were between Abbey management and representatives of 427 theatre professionals, with independent facilitator Aibhlín McCrann of Communique International.

The Abbey said “we are not in a position to stand over this document” and that it had made its position clear to the facilitator. The theatre also said “no audio of the meetings exist” and questioned the work of the note taker, assigned by the facilitator.

“We did not sign off on the contents of this document nor the manner in which it was delivered,” the Abbey said.

Ms McCrann told The Irish Times she stands over the record of the meetings. “I stand over the accuracy and quality of the facilitation notes and I won’t be commenting or expanding beyond what’s contained in them.”

Both sides had decided if there was disagreement, that after consultation with both groups, the facilitator would be the final arbiter on the notes.

The talks followed a letter of January 7th this year to Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan from 311 – now 427 in support – theatre actors, directors, designers, technicians and producers, which protested about the effects of a large increase in coproductions and a reduction in self-produced plays at the national theatre under its directors, Neil Murray and Graham McLaren, leading to reduced job opportunities, reduced pay and knock-on effects across theatre.

Self-produced plays are seen as crucial both for the sector and for employment conditions.

The Abbey said “much productive dialogue happened before and during the meetings, for which the Abbey is grateful” and it looked forward to “continuing productive communications and streamlined engagement with the theatre community”.

The theatre cited examples of what it sees as inaccuracies in the notes circulated after the meetings. One example is a line where the Abbey side is quoted saying: “There will be nine self-produced shows in 2020.”

The Abbey says the full dialogue notes should have captured: “On the Abbey stage we plan to have nine self-produced, two coproduced and two presentations.”

The issue of self-produced shows in the 2020 programme is a bone of contention, as theatre workers maintain they were led to expect nine self-produced shows, but are disappointed the programme announced on November 28th lists three new self-produced plays and three remounts of self-produced shows.

The Abbey pointed out its team had said during talks that its 2020 programme had not been finalised, that “this is indicative” and “we cannot give clarity until the programme is set...Things can change down to the moment we announce”.

The Abbey says taking the reference to nine shows in isolation is misleading and “inevitably caused confusion around the dialogue process”.

While notes were to be circulated by the end of July, there were several months between the final meeting on July 9th and the facilitator’s notes being issued on November 29th. It is understood there was disagreement over what was included.

The Minister for Culture said she welcomed the dialogue but recognised “resolving differences can be challenging”. “It would not be appropriate for me as Minister to intervene in the artistic direction of the Abbey,” she said.