ISTR Conference 2013

The Irish and The City

Birkbeck, University of London

November 1-2, 2013 | ISTR 2013 Schedule

In his article ‘The Right to the City’, David Harvey suggests that cities are the outcome of values, desires and social relations: “The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire.”[1] Given that theatres tend to be situated at the heart of cities, and are often important architectural and political features of the urban landscape, it is surprising that so little scholarly attention has been paid to the relationship between the Irish, the urban and the theatrical. Since De Valera’s apocryphal ‘comely maidens’, Irish performance has more often been focused on the depiction of rural crossroads rather than on the ring roads, motorways, railways and airports that lead the modern visitor to the cities that host these performances.

Recent scholarship has argued however, that the urban environment in which theatre takes place is crucial for comprehending how performance works within the city, and on the city, as Michael McKinnie has argued: “space is not simply the pre-existing context for theatre practice […] but a series of places through which theatrical and spatial forms are mutually constituted.” [2] The role that theatre and cultural performance have played in imagining, shaping and producing ‘Irish’ cities is therefore worthy of consideration – not only in relation to the cities of the island of Ireland, but equally in the major metropolitan centres that were sometimes literally built by the Irish – Liverpool, London, New York, Boston, Toronto, Sydney, Auckland, and so on.

This conference aims to pay attention to the depiction of the urban landscape in Irish theatre, to the relationship between cultural performance and cities, and to emphasise the ways in which the performance of Irishness has been constituted, imagined and received within the structures of funding, urban planning, spatial politics, metropolitanism, cultural capital, neoliberalism and so on.

The conference invites proposals (and ideas for panels) from all aspects of theatre research but with emphasis on the following questions:

  • What is the relationship among Irish theatre, the performance of Irishness, and questions of metropolitanism, cosmopolitanism, globality and multiculturalism?
  • How has Irish theatre, and the performance of Irishness, emerged through structures of industrialisation and modernity?
  • How does work by contemporary Irish theatre and performance practitioners engage with Irish cities and their histories, e.g. ANU, THEATREclub, THISISPOPBABY?
  • How is the Irish ‘home’ imagined in cities? How is urban Irish identity constituted through nostalgia, homesickness, and the idea of homelessness?
  • How do urban, rural and regional divisions structure ideas of Irishness?
  • What is the relationship between ruins and ghosts and the Irish city – ghost estates, deserted cottages, famine villages and so on?
  • How are cities around the world structured by the performance of Irishness in manifestations such as the Irish pub, the Irish arts centre, the Irish ‘quarter’, famine memorials, St Patrick’s Day parades, theatre festivals etc.?
  • What are the economic structures, systems of patronage and funding, urban planning, architectures etc. that form both the city and the theatre?

Proposals on other topics in the field of Irish theatre (not just plays by Irish authors but the full range of performances that are produced in Ireland and around the world under the rubric of ‘Irishness’) are also welcome.

Only members of the ISTR may present papers at the conference. Membership application forms will be available during the event.

Please send a short (max 300 words) proposal to Aoife Monks ( and Fintan Walsh ( on or before 1st September 2013. Please note that this is the FINAL deadline.

Please include with your proposal your name and institutional affiliation (if any).

[1] (David Harvey, ‘The Right to the City’, New Left Review 53, September-October, 2008, [accessed 12 March 2013]

[2] (Michael McKinnie, City Stages: Theatre and Urban Space in a Global City [Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2007, p. 13)