How Irish Rep Became One of Off-Broadway’s Most Successful Companies

Interview   How Irish Rep Became One of Off-Broadway’s Most Successful Companies
Founders Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O’Reilly reveal their scrappy beginnings and the Tony-winning director that helped put them on the map.
Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O'Reilly
Charlotte Moore and Ciarán O'Reilly Marc J. Franklin

Ciarán O’Reilly and Charlotte Moore met as actors in the ’80s, and, as young actors often do, decided one day to just “put on a play.” In 1988, the two established the Irish Repertory Theatre Company and obtained the rights for what was to be their first show: Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars.

Ciarán O'Reilly and Charlotte Moore
Ciarán O'Reilly and Charlotte Moore Marc J. Franklin

As luck would have it, that same year O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock enjoyed a hit run on Broadway and there was a fresh demand for his work. The timing was right. So, despite having very little money and even less producing experience, O’Reilly and Moore took a leap of faith and rented a small theatre on 18th Street.

“We had a cast of 16 and three different sets. It was a crazy show to start with,” recalls O’Reilly. “We didn’t know any better.” But they somehow pulled it off. The show was reviewed by the New York Times, which hailed the arrival of a legitimate new theatre company in New York, and one with a singular vision: exclusively dedicated to staging the works of Irish playwrights.

“We were flying by the seat of our pants, but we were lucky,” says Moore. It turned out that luck, fittingly, would continue to follow the Irish Rep.

In 1992, legendary director Harold Prince called, completely out of the blue, with a proposition: Would they produce his stage adaptation of O’Casey’s autobiographies, Grandchild of Kings? Suddenly, Moore and O’Reilly were working alongside a Tony-winning creative team and a star-studded entourage. Liza Minnelli and Mel Brooks both attended opening night, but more importantly, the large-scale production helped legitimize Irish Rep even further. The company was ready to find its permanent home in New York City.

Once again, luck came into play. When Moore and O’Reilly signed the lease on a run-down warehouse on 22nd Street in 1995, they had no idea how to transform the space with the little budget they had. The solution: a theatre-loving landlord, who gave them a six-month advance, and a volunteer troupe of students who helped paint, build, and even install plumbing. Nine months later, they opened the doors to their brand-new, two-theatre venue.

These days, Moore and O’Reilly rely less on luck and more on their 30 years of experience running what is now an award-winning and beloved Off-Broadway company. Still dedicated to producing Irish works, the pair is committed to welcoming a new era for the Irish Rep. The future will see more new work, more plays by women, and more diverse programming. “That’s really important to us,” says O’Reilly. Just another reason to love the Irish.

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