The Alabama Writers' Forum posted their review of Steve's latest books, Stanislavski in Ireland & Breaking Boundaries.
Reviewed by Nicholas Helms
Founded in 1963 by the Irish American actor Deirdre O’Connell, the Focus Theatre of Dublin brought Stanislavskian method acting to Ireland and challenged the country’s parochial preconceptions about theatre. Two recent works chronicle the life of Focus Theatre: Stanislavski in Ireland: Focus at Fifty, a collection of essays that serve as biography of the Focus Theatre and of its talented and eccentric founder, Deirdre O’Connell, edited by Brian McAvera and University of Alabama theatre professor Steven Dedalus Burch; and Breaking Boundaries: An Anthology of Original Plays from the Focus Theatre, a collection of Focus Theatre’s work, edited by Steven Dedalus Burch. Together, these volumes put a microscope to the theatre of Dublin in the 20th and early 21st centuries, charting the type of regional theatre work that, despite its far-reaching influence, so often goes unrecorded. Together they sketch a lively narrative of a theatre that produced high quality work for fifty years while scraping by economically and struggling against the established theatres of Dublin. O’Connell’s Focus Theatre revolutionized Irish theatrical practice, and these two volumes chronicle the far-reaching—and often unremarked—effects that a small theatre on the fringe of the mainstream can have.
It’s not every day an author celebrates his book launch at the Áras, the Irish equivalent of the White House. However, Dr. Steve Burch, a University of Alabama faculty member, has experienced just that.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins and First Lady Sabina Coyne welcomed Burch and co-editor Brian McAvera to the Áras to celebrate the launch of Burch’s books “Stanislavski in Ireland—Focus at Fifty,” a history of Ireland’s Focus Theatre co-edited with McAvera, and “Breaking Boundaries—An Anthology of Original Plays.”
Deirdre O’Connell, the American-born daughter of two Irish immigrants, moved to Ireland to open the Focus Theatre in 1963. This was the first theatre in Ireland to use the acting techniques Constantin Stanislavski taught, techniques that teach a series of exercises to help an actor portray believable emotion night after night. The original acting company trained for four years before producing its first work.
O’Connell shook up the Irish theatre world. She introduced plays by Anton Chekhov and Tennessee Williams that had never performed in Ireland.
“The critics and audiences were blown away,” said Burch, UA associate professor of theatre and dance. “It was the first time an Irish audience had seen a piece that was so emotionally true, and the first time they had seen this type of ensemble work.”
“[Deirdre O’Connell] is the greatest single influence in Irish theatre since the 1960s,” said Higgins. For 40 years, O’Connell directed, acted and managed the theatre until her death in 2001.
Burch co-edited “Stanislavski in Ireland–Focus at Fifty” with McAvera, a long-time friend and colleague. The book details how Focus sustained its place at the forefront of Irish theatre through the stories of the people who built the theatre.
“I went to Ireland in the summer of 2012 to conduct interviews with many members of the original troupe,” Burch said. “Many famous people in the industry got their start at Focus, and so many of them opened up their stories and, in many cases, their homes for the book.”
The accompanying anthology “Breaking Boundaries—An Anthology of Original Plays” is a collection of original scripts produced at Focus. Burch says he wanted to gather a collection of plays that best represents the breadth of performance at Focus.
“Irish theatre has been a lifelong pursuit. I am part Irish, and I grew up in Boston. When I was 14, I went to the public library and read ‘The Plough and the Stars’ by Sean O’Casey. Irish theatre has been a part of my life ever since,” said Burch.
Read the original story in the Dialogue.