Former Abbey a.d. moves to Theater Royal

DUBLIN — Sixteen months after ankling as artistic director of the Abbey Theater following a prolonged managerial and financial crisis, Ben Barnes is taking over leadership of another Irish theater. Barnes has been appointed director of Theater Royal, a 598-seat Victorian theater in Waterford, Ireland’s fifth-largest city.

Primarily a booking house for touring theater, dance and opera, the company occasionally produces its own fare.

Before taking over the Abbey in 2000, Barnes ran a number of Dublin-based theater orgs, including Groundwork Theater Company and Gaiety Theater. His time at the Abbey was characterized by conservative programming and, from 2004-05, considerable scandal, when it was revealed the theater had amassed a high deficit and could barely meet its running costs.

Barnes ankled along with managing director Brian Jackson and the entire board of directors in May 2005, after news emerged of debts totaling more than E4 million ($5.1 million). The Irish government has since forgiven the Abbey’s debt and is supporting a major building campaign for the theater, headed by Fiach MacConghail.

Barnes directs frequently in Canada, and was known to be seeking employment there since he ankled the Abbey. He is slated to direct Martin McDonagh’s “The Cripple of Inishmaan” at Theater Calgary in March.

In other Irish legit management news, Fergal McGrath is stepping down as managing director of Druid Theater Company after four years, but will continue working with the Galway-based troupe on a freelance basis to help complete renovation of its theater and administrative premises.

Since 2002, Druid has increased its turnover threefold, from $890,000 to a projected $2.7 million. Among the projects McGrath oversaw in his time at the company was the massive DruidSynge marathon, which toured to acclaim in Minneapolis and New York earlier this year.

A former general manager of Galway Arts Festival, McGrath tells Variety his departure in January has been in the works for some time, and that he has numerous management ideas and opportunities, but no firm plans yet. Before working at Druid, McGrath spent 10 years as the general manager of the Galway Arts Festival, and is one of the most respected figures in Irish arts management.

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