Mitchell Scholar Explores Theater and Politics in Ireland
When W.B. Yeats’ The Countess Cathleen famously launched what would become Ireland’s National Theater in 1899, it provoked a riot among the audience for its perceived anti-Catholicism and depiction of the rural Irish population. For Cassie Farrelly (FCRH ’99), the relationship between theater and politics continues to be an important one.
“I think theater does have an obligation when it sees fit to be political,” Farrelly said. “Ireland has a history of that tradition.”
Farrelly, the first Fordham graduate to receive a prestigious George J. Mitchell Scholarship, used her year at Trinity College in Dublin to explore stage representations of one of the most pressing issues Ireland faces. For her master’s thesis, Farrelly looked at the representations of asylum seekers and refugees in Irish theater over the past 10 years, as Ireland emerges from a post-colonial to a post-national emphasis. The issue could not be more timely.
In a June 2004 referendum in Ireland, nearly 80 percent of voters approved the elimination of automatic citizenship for babies born in the country without at least one Irish parent. Much of the discussion focused on foreign national women seeking refugee or asylum status who came to Ireland heavily pregnant. This is a new issue for Ireland, a result of its lately booming economy. Long an exporter of its young people, Ireland in recent years has marked immigration outpacing emigration for the first time in the history of the state.
Farrelly calls theater “one of the first very positive forces” in the immigration debate. “Theater, as a creative medium, has been able to put a positive spin on it, to speak out on behalf of the plight of asylum seekers,” she said.
Theater has long been an important part of Farrelly’s life. Farrelly had been involved in Mimes and Mummers at Fordham, and during her junior year abroad at Oxford University she helped to run the New Writing Festival there. After graduation, she moved to Washington, D.C., to attend law school “and realized I had no interest in practicing law,” she said. She returned to New York in 2001 and started working in Fordham’s Office of Development and University Relations, as she pursued her passion for the theater. In September 2004, fresh from her year of study in Ireland, Farrelly began serving as the administrative director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Fordham University.
“Everyone involved in arts, for the most part, is working full-time somewhere else,” Farrelly said with a laugh. She has worked as the education director and resident artist at the Playwrights Theater of New York, as dramaturge for the Looking Glass Theater’s production of King Lear, and as literary manager of the New York theater. She has had two of her plays produced off-Broadway and has written another play, Arklow Blue, that received a staged reading at Trinity.
For Farrelly, the Mitchell Scholarship helped her combine her passion for theater with her interest in Irish literature and drama. The scholarship was established by the US-Ireland Alliance, and named to honor former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell for his contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland.
For the long term, Farrelly would like to fund a theater company that brings Irish theater to the United States, and American theater to Ireland. “You have classic Irish plays by classic Irish authors performed all the time, but Ireland is a very different country now than what it was,” she said. “I would like to bring [theater] over in a way that reflects the newer Ireland.”
—Carolyn Farrar (FCO ’82)