How Róise Goan grew the Fringe

Five years on from her ‘mad’ appointment – ‘they hired a 27-year-old amateur’ – Róise Goan, outgoing director of the Dublin Fringe Festival, leaves it in its most mature state yet

Thu, Sep 5, 2013, 09:54


Late last week, a sizeable portion of the Irish arts community gathered in a brand new Dublin bar, and tried to keep quiet. This was a surprise party for Róise Goan, who, following five years as director of the Dublin Fringe Festival, will depart at the end of her forthcoming programme.

Most people in attendance, many of whom have emerged as leading artists in their field during her tenure, felt they owed her something. When Goan finally arrived – “surprise!” – she seemed genuinely overwhelmed – so it took a while to realise she had arrived bearing presents for her co-workers. Naive she is not.

Goan was appointed to the role at the age of 27. This was not without precedent: Jimmy Fay was 25 when he founded the Fringe, and delivered its first programme when he was 26; Ali Curran, his immediate successor, was also 26 when she was appointed. When Goan was appointed, Una Carmody was chairwoman of the Fringe. She recently told Goan that one sceptical journalist phoned to ask: “What have you done? Do you have a comment about the child you’ve just appointed?”

By any reading of the Fringe’s next five years, though, Goan was the right person at the right time. A writer, director and producer who began her professional career just five years earlier, Goan now describes her appointment as “mad – they hired a 27-year-old amateur”. It’s closer to the truth to say that an organisation defined by its sense of adventure gave some young talent a big break. That also sounds like Goan’s defining policy.

If the landscape of Irish arts is distinctly different from even five years ago, the Fringe has helped shape our most imaginative responses to crisis.

Take Louise Lowe and Owen Boss’s Anu Productions, the company responsible for the most searing and innovative works of the past decade, which now returns with its latest and biggest production, Thirteen. Or Amy Conroy’s Hot for Theatre, which premieres the writer-performer’s third play, Break, following the international success of her previous works. Or a Fringe honour roll that includes TheatreClub, the Company, Thisispopbaby, Junk Ensemble, WillFredd Theatre, Ponydance, Making Strange, Talking Shop Ensemble, Rise Productions, PaperDolls and Fishamble’s Show in a Bag programme.

Keeping it home-grown
In a time of dwindling resources, Goan did more with less, investing in home-grown talent by introducing developmental initiatives such as Make and Fringe Lab. When one condition of a four-year title sponsorship was to sacrifice a portion of its identity (Absolut Fringe), the programme counterbalanced by drawing more attention to Dublin itself, whether through Fergal McCarthy’s buoyant installations Liffey Town and No Man’s Land, which directed focus to the artery of the city; Playgroup recasting the capital’s streets in German roles for Berlin Love Tour; or Anu bringing audiences wandering through historical secrets, rediscovered and re-inhabited.

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