“They shall be speaking forever” : performing revolution, riot, and the nation in the centenary commemorations of Ireland’s 1916 Rising
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Throughout 2016, Irish theatre-makers created scores of commemorative performances for the centenary of Ireland’s 1916 Rising. These performances, whether commissioned by or created in opposition to the government-funded national commemorative initiative Ireland 2016, transmitted and unsettled collective and incommensurable memories of a nationalist revolution. “They shall be speaking forever” concerns the cultural production of national identity and collective memory through the theatre, dance, and television productions commemorating the centenary of Ireland’s 1916 Rising. Focusing on representations of state and revolutionary violence, I offer close readings of over twenty performances, ranging from reenactments of historical events and productions of original scripts, to immersive site-specific dance theatre and televised historical dramas, to school pageants, military parades, and bus tours. I investigate what remains compelling about the scenario of uprising in 2016, what national visions it supports through state deployment, and how artists and policy-makers make use of contemporary repetition. In chapter one, I provide an overview of theatre in Ireland as a crucial site for the negotiation of national identity and memory, and of the entanglement of the Rising -- which was mistaken for a performance by several witnesses early on -- with theatre and theatricality. In chapter two, I explore the production history of Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), by W.B. Yeats and Augusta, Lady Gregory, in order to illuminate how nationalists in Ireland represented and performed nation, gender, and violence in the years leading up to the Rising. Examining the play as an example of the “blood sacrifice” scenario, I consider how it influenced theatre practitioners and spectators by structuring their understanding of history, colonization, military conflict, and sacrifice, and of their own potential roles and agency. In chapter three, I analyze performances of blood sacrifice in the centenary commemorations, identifying Cathleen ni Houlihan’s major influence on imaginative engagements with the Rising in 2016. Chapter four features site-specific reenactments of the Rising in the GPO, Kilmainham Jail, and on the streets of Dublin. These events mark a productive collision between long-standing commemorative traditions and contemporary, participatory performance practices. In chapter five, I discuss productions that take up the banner of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars (1926) in order to engage critically with the relationship between the Irish revolutionary republic and vulnerable citizens. These plays stage the cost of political violence for civilians, demand that audiences witness the dispossession and alienation of Ireland’s most marginalized residents, and enact protests against the contemporary Irish state, its foundational mythology, and its failures to realize the radical visions of rebels and artists of the past century. The histories of labor, suffragist, and other social justice movements in Ireland are often sidelined or subsumed by the history of the nationalist movement; this dissertation investigates art that explores these fraught relationships. Throughout, I argue that the centenary commemorations dramatize the ongoing struggle of the contemporary Irish nation-state to come to terms with its foundational violence and the century of political violence inaugurated by the Rising.