On the train to Dublin. A long meander across England and Wales and then a ferry ride to the Emerald Isle. My own connection to Ireland is somewhat dubious. Some years ago I was artistic director of the Liffey Players, an Irish community theatre group in Calgary Alberta. When they offered me the position, I informed them that my only link to Ireland was that my grandfather ‘served’ there in the twenties. But he was regular army and not the Black and Tan.
They said they forgave me but the less said the better. I went on to direct about six plays for them including “The Cure at Troy” by Seamus Heaney. This was the year before he won the Nobel Prize for literature. If we’d done it a year later we might have packed the house but it might have been harder to get the rights.
The play had only been produced once before and had been published by a non-theatrical publisher. Inside the cover it instructed one to call Mr. Heaney directly to negotiate the rights. His number was listed right there in the book. I dialed long distance and the line was quickly picked up by the poet himself.
He was a pleasant fellow to talk with, a nice soft lilting voice. Accented but not heavily so. He listened as I explained about the production – small company, limited budget. How much for the rights I asked. Fifty punts a performance he said – that is, 400 for the 8 show run. That’s half my budget I exclaimed. Couldn’t he see his way clear to giving us a deal? He sympathized, said he recognized the vicissitudes of doing art and hoped I would, too. 400 punts is the price and there was nothing to be done.
I thought briefly of saying no, I’ll do another work. But it was clear that no negotiations would take place. I could have performed the play without paying the artist – but that would be stealing. Information wants to be free, but Mr. Heaney wanted to be paid.
So I sighed and agreed and found a bit more money for the rest of the show. The show went on and so did life. But it’s a great thing to know that I helped support one of the greatest poets of our time.
And that’s ten minutes.