Staging a shared future : performance and the search for inclusive narratives in the "new” Belfast



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Staging a Shared Future argues that theatre provides vital insight into the construction and use of narratives in the Northern Ireland since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA). This document signaled the end of thirty years of violent conflict between Protestants and Catholics, but could not heal the distrust that remained. Thus, one of the goals of the ongoing peace process has been to replace old sectarian narratives emphasizing differences and grievances between the communities with newer narratives emphasizing similarity and shared purpose. I examine nine plays staged in Belfast since the GFA that have endorsed and interrogated these new narratives of progress and argue that theatre, as an inherently communal event, provides an excellent opportunity for residents of the state to collectively imagine what a "shared society" actually means. I conduct close readings of complete productions including script, direction, acting choices, venue, and marketing. I also compare these performances to other forms of public discourse including television, government policy documents, radio, and fiction. Chapter one provides an overview of Northern Irish theatre and public discourse; each subsequent chapter explores the ways theatre has tackled one particular issue facing the construction of a "shared future" narrative. Chapter two focuses on productions that staged meetings between Catholics and Protestants. The Wedding Community Play Project (1999), Two Roads West (2009), and National Anthem (2010) offered different visions of what it would take for these historical enemies to consider themselves equal partners in the state. Chapter three looks at the state's general discomfort with public discussions of Troubles-related traumas. Convictions (2000), The Chronicles of Long Kesh (2009), and The Sign of the Whale (2010) all advocated for ways of addressing trauma that did not depend on competitive grief or hierarchies of victims. Chapter four concentrates on representations of those who have been marginalized within Northern Ireland. To Be Sure (2007), This is What We Sang (2009), and God's Country (2010) all pointed to the need for Northern Ireland to think broadly about ideas of "belonging" and to create a more inclusive "shared future." Throughout, I argue that theatre will play an essential role in negotiating the continuing tensions within Northern Ireland.