The New York City Council has earmarked $25,000 in support of a nascent cross-cultural exchange between Belfast, Ireland, and Gotham. That announcement was made at a July 14 press conference for Binlids, the Belfast play which will inaugurate the exchange when it plays a two week run in New York this October.
The play, presented by Dubbeljoint Productions and Justus Community Theatre, is a hybrid -- part play, part docudrama; amateur in origin, but professional in production. The venture began when Pam Brighton, artistic director of Dubbeljoint, began conducting interviews with the women of West Belfast regarding their experiences over the past 25 years. West Belfast is a heavily Catholic, Republican area, which has fiercely resisted British rule. The women's remembrances, as depicted in Bidlids, start in 1971, the beginning of the "Internment," the British policy which attempted to combat street violence in Northern Ireland through widespread and random arrests.
"The stories are extraordinary," said Brighton. "There was not a family where someone hadn't been killed or injured." Brighton would interview people one-on-one, and other times put two of three women together in a room and encourage them to improvise, constructing conversations on their share histories. She then extracted and arranged the stories and exchanges into Binlids and recruited seven of the Belfast women, amateurs all, to perform in the piece. She paired the community performers with an equal number of male professionals.
Roughly one third of the text was in place when the cast went into rehearsals last year. Dubbeljoint premiered Binlids, as it does all its plays, at last summer's annual West Belfast community festival, Feile an Phobail. (Binlids, by the way, are the large trash can lids Belfast women would bang on the pavement to warn the men British soldiers were coming.) An employee of the New York City Council caught the show and became dedicated to bringing the show to New York.
Binlids found another unlikely supporter in the figure of Gerry Adams, the controversial president of Sinn Fein. According to Brighton, Adams is a long-standing theatre fan who came up with the idea for Feile an Phobail and has attended all of Dubbeljoint's shows. Adams even plays a role of sorts in Binlids. In the past, Adams had often appeared on television and the radio, but speaking with an actor's voice, as a British ban prohibited Sinn Fein broadcasts. For Binlids, Adams personally recorded a passage which is, in parody, mouthed by one of the show's actors. The New York engagement of Bidlids will be performed at the Angel Orensanz Center on the Lower East Side, a cavernous former synagogue well suited for Binlids' unusual performance approach, in which a standing audience is surrounded by five separate playing stages. It will run Oct. 8-23.
Belfast and New York have made a three-year commitment to the cultural exchange. Selection of the annual participants will be made by a Board of Trustees made up of members from the U.S. and Belfast.
For information on Binlids, call (978) 470-0220.
-- By Robert Simonson