This short film comprises a reading of the Proclamation by an actor in a theatrical setting. A coda to the Proclamation’s text is posed in the form of a question to the viewer, to an imagined audience or to a director.
This work was initiated in late 2013 in response to Ireland’s loss of economic sovereignty and to the policies of austerity enacted at the time by the government at the beshest of the Troika; the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It has been developed out of close engagement with the remarkable language of the Proclamation as a challenge to our collective memory, to received notions of cultural identity, societal ideals and achievements.
REHEARSAL engages exclusively with the language of the Proclamation so as not to distract in any way from the meaning it seeks to express. The camerawork is simple and direct, the delivery straightforward to the audience. Presenting the work as an act of theatre invites engagement by the audience with the Proclamation’s language and challenges viewers to ask themselves whether the ideals and republican goals it so eloquently expresses – and for the establishment of which so many lives were sacrificed or lost – have actually been realised. Have we, as citizens of this republic, vindicated that sacrifice?
As almost all of us know, the first reading of the Proclamation, ‘the founding act of a democratic state’, was delivered by Patrick Pearse on the portico of the General Post Office on April 24th 1916 to a small audience of surprised onlookers. James Connolly, standing by Pearse’s side, is reported to have cried out : “Thanks be to God, Pearse, that we have lived to see this day.” In hindsight it seems as though he knew this act and document would be their greatest success, their enduring legacy. It is the success of that same public drama, not the subsequent military failures, that subsequent generations have sought to annually reclaim or re-enact. Are all these re-enactments also theatrical acts?
Nuala Johnson has written of how ‘the fusion of the religious, the historical and the mythological all contributed to conceiving and executing the rebellion as a dramatic performance’. Declan Kiberd describes it as having been ‘seen by many as a foredoomed classical tragedy’. Even Michael Collins, who fought alongside his comrades in the GPO, later wrote of it having ‘the air of a Greek tragedy about it’. To view this theatrical metaphor as ‘the guiding aesthetic’ of the Proclamation’s presentation (and of the Rising itself) is not to belittle it. On the contrary. Devised by intellectuals, some of whom were poets and playwrights, the reading of the Proclamation was an act of theatre that announced an act of violent insurrection and the enduring legacy of both act and document are testament to their efficacy.
Ironically, in the context of this work, the first rebel casualty of the Easter Rising, and the first rebel to take another’s life during the rebellion, was the Abbey actor, Sean Connolly. Certainly for him and his comrades, the rebellion was no performance. Perhaps, in light of their sacrifice, we should now be asking ourselves what exactly we are about.
(Thanks again to filmmaker Kevin Hughes, Barnstorm Theatre Company, Gypsy Ray, Ruairi McReynolds and Catriona McReynolds for helping to make this work possible).