“Loughlin Deegan is to step down as Artistic Director of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival in October to become the Director of The Lir, the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Trinity College Dublin. This is a new position.”
Economical in its phrasing, free of comment, clean and precise, that is how ITM's Entrance and Exits column might have announced the news of one of the most significant shifts in Irish theatre when the eagerly read feature was first compiled by our former contributor, Loughlin Deegan (pictured).
A man whose artistic CV may be uncommonly variegated, Deegan has had a focus that rarely shifted, guided by a passion for theatre in Ireland and in the world. He has worked as a playwright, an arts manager for The Belltable and Druid, as director of ITI's Irish Playography archive, as literary manager and later company producer of Rough Magic, and – for an extended contract of five years – Artistic Director and CEO of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival.
If a festival takes on the personality of its director, the UBDTF under Deegan has become more conspicuously engaged with its city, its country and its culture to become something more than an editorial on the state of the artform. The scope of its programme has widened, as has its taste and ambition. It has achieved a careful balance between works that are daring and those that are bankable. It has built on relationships with established and emerging Irish theatre makers to ensure that the quality of its homegrown work has nothing to apologise for: the last two winners of Best Production at The Irish Times Theatre Awards, Pan Pan and The Stomach Box, have come from its programme; its Reviewed platform has revived and promoted the best of Irish work; and its Next Stage initiative has served the development of participating Irish artists.
His first year at the festival's helm, in 2007, coincided with the festival's 50th anniversary programme; an auspicious occasion which saw an expanded programme (which has largely been sustained), an internationally savvy curatorial approach and crucial new injections of cash: augmented by the Department of Arts Sport and Tourism Minister his first Arts Council budget came to more than €1m, and it was increased by an unconfirmed margin with a significant title sponsorship from Ulster Bank. Ulster Bank's sponsorship, initially committed to three years, has lasted for the precise duration of his tenure: recently, the bank confirmed that 2011 would be its last year as title sponsor.
In a statement, Deegan suggested that this was an appropriate juncture for natural renewal. “All festivals need regular injections of passion and energy,” he said, “and when the opportunity presented itself to be the first Director of Ireland’s new National Academy of Dramatic Art I knew the time had come to move on” . The timing of the transition may be complicated, though. Deegan's last festival will take place between the 29th September and 16th October; the first intake of The Lir's Bachelor in Acting will also begin in September.
The Lir job, which is understood to have been internationally coveted, is uniquely well suited to someone of Deegan's experience. Developed by Trinity College Dublin and the Cathal Ryan Trust in association with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the new Academy is modelled more closely on a professional theatre than a university department and its staff is expected to be drawn from the theatre industry, recruited around Deegan's appointment.
It allows Deegan to lead the direction of the Academy’s courses and also the curation of the Lir's artistic programme while overseeing the opening of its new purpose-built facility on Grand Canal Quay. An eagerly anticipated answer to a lingering question over the best approach towards professional theatre education, The Lir should connect the development of new generations of performers, writers, directors, designers and technicians to the industry at home and abroad. “Being connected to the professional theatre scene right from the beginning of training is a crucial part of the student experience,” goes its prospectus and in that essential continuity, Deegan seems a natural appointment. His career so far has long understood the relationships, connections and possibilities of theatre; and that you can't make an exit without making an entrance.