THEATER is different in Ireland.
The small country has produced a disproportionate number of influential playwrights, from Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde to Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh. And compared to the US, "There's more awareness of and engagement with theater," explains Win Goodbody, co-founder of corrib theatre, Portland's Ireland-centric theater collective. "You could be waiting in line at the post office and get in a conversation about a playwright. The audience is pretty deep, and it's definitely healthy in terms of young people."
Goodbody has been involved in Portland's theater world for years, as board president at CoHo Productions and more recently as the writer and photographer behind Portland Theatre Scene (portlandtheatrescene.com), a site devoted to reviews and listings.
In 2012 he took a sabbatical from his job as a software designer to spend six months studying theater at Ireland's Trinity College, seeing shows in Dublin and Belfast, and Galway. "When I went over there, all these names of contemporary playwrights kept coming up," Goodbody says, "and [I realized] how few of the actual repertoire of writers I actually knew."
When he returned to Portland, he joined forces with director/Ireland native Gemma Whelan to found corrib theatre, a collective dedicated to sharing and promoting the work of those playwrights—names like Jimmy Murphy and Marie Jones that are well known in Ireland, but unlikely to be familiar in the US.
Corrib's first fully staged production, McPherson's one-man show St. Nicholas last March, drew rave reviews and packed houses. Their second season kicks off this week with a staged reading of Sebastian Barry's Tales of Ballycumber, to be followed in February with a full production of the soccer-themed A Night in November, starring Third Rail's Damon Kupper.
Goodbody says corrib has found an audience both in the theater-going scene and among Portlanders with cultural ties to Ireland. He hopes to crack the Timbers fanbase with A Night in November—he even went so far as to explore the possibility of staging it at Jeld-Wen. (It'll be at Kell's instead.)
"The interest and turnout at our events surprised us," says Goodbody. "I think in hindsight there was an audience there waiting to be activated. [Irish theater] is one of those brands that's strong on its own.
"I'm driven to try to create the types of experiences that I would seek out," he explains. "Ireland exports writers, both literally and figuratively. Seeing a play there in the midst of this incredibly engaged audience, it's just a different type of experience. We'll do our best to replicate it here."