Michael “Mick” Mellamphy is artistic director of the Origin Theatre Company. [Photo by Jimmy Higgins]

1st Irish moves to springtime

“Why not?”

That’s Mick Mellamphy’s go-to reply when asked about the decision to move a theatre festival from the new year to springtime?

“Why not catch some of that Irish spirit that’s going around the city in March?” said the artistic director of the Origin Theatre Company. “It’s a good time to let people know we have this festival of Irish-inspired theatre coming up. The weather is getting nicer, there’s a bit of a stretch in the evenings and also it’s awards season, so people are going to the theatre.”

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They’re also eating out more, and from April 1, outdoors.

Origin’s Annual 1st Irish Festival will begin before that, on this Saturday, March 23,  with Larry Kirwan’s “The Informer,” an adaptation of Liam O’Flaherty’s novel, at the American Irish Historical Society at 7 p.m., and continue through the end of next month.

Mellamphy took over as artistic director in 2020, but had been involved since its inception in 2008 as an actor (he was voted best of the festival twice) and as a producer. So he has some understanding of the thinking that had 1st Irish kick off annually in early fall, and then for its switch to January, late in the tenure of founder George Heslin, who is now executive director of the New York Irish Center.

Fellow Cork-born actor Sarah Street was Mellamphy’s co-curator when 1st Irish was almost entirely online in January 2021. The following year, a hybrid version took place against the backdrop of concerns about the omicron virus. 

“It’s been a little bit more abridged the last couple of years,” he said.

At a time of standstill in the industry, 1st Irish felt it was important it wasn’t forgotten. It was able, then, to pick up the threads as things eased back to normal.

“Last year went down a treat,” Mellamphy said. “We had great numbers.

“One thing we learned about the pandemic is just how important theatre is to so many people in New York, not just as a cultural touchstone but as a social touchstone,” he said. “It really affects people in that way and they just couldn’t get out [during the pandemic] to see their friends and connect over culture and art.”

However last year, he added, “With covid rearing its head people were reticent about buying tickets until the last minute, and also the weather in January is just so unpredictable.”

Asked what is particularly notable about this year’s schedule, Mellamphy cited first, for a very personal reason, “Philadelphia, Here I Come!” The Brian Friel play was the first he acted in professionally in New York in 2005. It was directed by Ciarán O’Reilly, as is the Irish Repertory Theatre’s current production.   “I’m going to be very happy to take a look at that this year,” he said.

 Kathleen Simmonds in “Herself,” a play by Tim McGillicuddy. [Photo by Cody Hanish]

“I’m delighted that Fishamble are coming back,” Mellamphy said, secondly. 

“They’ve really flown the flag of 1st Irish in Ireland. They’re great supporters and they’re great to work with, and, of course, Pat Kinevane was part of the inaugural in 2008 and so I’m really recommending that people get out to see that,” he said, referring to “King,” which runs at 59E59 Theaters from March 26-April 14.

It’s the Dublin company’s 10th production at the festival, but the first time Kinevane has traveled to participate since 2012.

Thirdly, Mellamphy pointed to the number of productions that Origin’s 1st Irish Festival has been working with in development through the pandemic and afterwards— what he called “getting a leg up from the page to the stage” —  such as “Peace & Love in Brooklyn,” “Herself” and “Boann and the The Well of Wisdom.”

And fourth, Mellamphy is “really excited” about the direct involvement of the American Irish Historical Society for the first time. He foresees that institution becoming important not just in the area of academic research but also as a cultural venue. He said that the new director, Dr. Elizabeth Stack, “has been an absolute dynamo in terms of getting things going over there.”

For more about the festival’s schedule and to buy tickets, visit here.