Behind the scenes: A backstage tour of the Abbey Theatre Dublin

Alisa Narbutas

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Logo Abbey Theatre. Photo Credit: Author
Logo Abbey Theatre, on wooden pallets. Photo Credit: Alisa Narbutas

Calling all theatre fans! Taking a glimpse behind the scenes, is a dream come true for everyone who loves to experience the world of theatre. But opportunities like that don’t come along very often, so I was happy to hear, that the Abbey Theatre is offering backstage tours.

When I arrived at the theatre I was surprised to see, that I was the only one representing my generation. Nevertheless, we (myself and a very enthusiastic bunch of pensioners) had a lot of fun 🙂

Here are some interesting facts and inside stories I caught, while walking through these holy halls of Irish theatre:

The theatre first opened its doors to the public over a hundred years ago, back in 1904. The original building was damaged by fire in 1951 and the Abbey had to be re-located but still remained active. The theatre, which is also home to a very impressive arts collection,  was the first state-subsidized theatre in the English-speaking world and can now be found on 26 Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1,  in a building designed by Michael Scott, who was also a dramatist and producer with the Abbey.

Seats in the Abbey Theatre. Photo Credit: Author
Seats in the Abbey Theatre. Photo Credit: Alisa Narbutas

The theatre offers a unique sound experience due to its wooden pallets, which are not obtainable anymore and can only be found in a few remaining locations worldwide. The Abbey holds 394 seats, that all share the same view. The idea was to get rid of the social hierarchy and guarantee every audience member the same experience.

Sign make up room. Photo Credit: Author.
Sign make up room. Photo Credit: Alisa Narbutas

Same applies to the dressing rooms. All actors/actresses share the same fitting and make up department. No special services; well unless you are called Alan Rickman. During his time at the Abbey, in Frank Mc Guinness’s version of John Gabriel Borkman in 2010,  Alan secured his own personal spot at the bar, after every show. Sadly, the actor passed away earlier this year, but I’m sure Mr. Rickman has secured himself a pretty good spot in heaven too.

Hair and Make Up. Photo Credit: Author.
Hair and Make Up. Photo Credit: Alisa Narbutas

Even though the theatre employs its own make up artist, the actors/actresses learn how to apply their own make up, as I spotted, with a very large collection of MAC cosmetics. All wigs are hand made out of human hair, with the intention of making them look as real as possible.

Shoes, shoes and more shoes. Photo Credit: Author.
Shoes, shoes and more shoes. Photo Credit: Alisa Narbutas

The Abbey saves every costume/requisite that they use and store it in their own warehouse. It is located in Finglas and a costume hire is available. While the  costume department itself is working with a lot of tricks to make the costumes look authentic, a lot comes from local high streets such as TK Maxx, which are later replaced with older buttons and other details, depending on the time the play is set in.

The Abbey Rebels. Photo Credit: Author
The Abbey Rebels. Photo Credit: Alisa Narbutas

Actors and staff of the Abbey Theatre took the streets back in 1916, to fight for change and the belief, that culture is a force for change and theatre is a political act. Hundred years later, the theatre still stands for the same values and uses their stage for freedom of expression.

Join them for the Walking the Nations season and experience Irish history on stage, with Sean O Casey’s The Plough and the Stars (set at the tumult of the Easter Rising), running till the April 23.

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Alisa Narbutas