Smock Alley Theatre is a renovated 17th century theatre on the banks of the River Liffey, on Essex Quay.
What happens there?
The Smock Alley Theatre of today plays host to a huge variety of events ranging from theatre, dance, music, literature + fine-art to weddings, award ceremonies, conferences, fashion shows, pop-up markets, gala dinners, college society balls, secret gigs, product launches and presentations, film shoots and festivals, right through to murder mystery tours and paranormal investigations.
Can you describe Smock Alley, for someone who’s never been there: what makes it different?
Well it’s a very impressive building with 2 highly atmospheric theatre venues and a quite stunning Banquet Hall which can be hired for private and public events. We pride ourselves on our friendly staff and try to make sure that everyone who comes through the doors feels welcome.
Has it always been a theatre or has it had other identities along the way? Can you talk about how it fits into the history of the city?
Smock Alley was the first Theatre Royal built in Dublin. John Ogilby opened it in 1662 as part of the Restoration of the British monarchy and King Charles II in 1660 along with London’s Drury Lane (1662) and Lincoln’s Inn Fields (1661). It was the first custom-built theatre in the city and still remains in substantially the same form, making it one of the most important sites in European theatre history.
The old theatre closed in 1787. The building was then used as a whiskey store until Father Michael Blake bought it to set a church. When the bell tolled in 1811, 18 years before the Catholic Emancipation, it was the first Catholic bell to ring in Dublin in nearly 300 years. The facade still boasts ornate stained glass windows and the original ceiling plaster work remain in Smock Alley as a witness of this time.
Smock Alley had been built on land re-claimed from the Liffey, it was unstable and the gallery collapsed twice; it was rebuilt in 1735. The old theatre closed in 1787, where its’ story continued with the ‘church chapters’ of the building’s history. It was a 7 years struggle to raise the funds for the excavation and restorations but doors were eventually re-opened in May 2012 making this month our 2nd birthday (or 352nd!).
Can you talk about its location (in the heart of Temple Bar, set back from but facing the river), its surroundings and the general atmosphere? Temple Bar gets bad press sometimes, it’s associated with bars and crowds, with stags and hens, and then there is this extraordinary fusion of past and present, slightly off the beaten track but facing the quays … Do you think people are fully aware that it’s there? Do you think Dubliners have taken it to their hearts?
We’re building our reputation as a great place to spend an evening. The most common reaction of first time visitors is one of shock as they either had no idea we were here or that they didn’t realise how amazing the building is. It really is a hidden gem. Although we’re in Temple Bar, we’re in the ‘old city’ area, which is much quieter, so we don’t have issues with marauding hens and stags.
Can you describe your relationship with the streets outside the walls, your neighbours etc?
We are very lucky to be situated in such a supportive community, we have excellent relationships with those in our vicinity Dublin City Council, The Gaiety School of Acting, Queen of Tarts, Tamp + Stitch, The Bakery and local businesses round these parts. We also run a series of literary talks with our neighbours The Gutter Bookshop.
What’s your role and how did you get there?
I am currently the marketing manager. I was originally hired to project-manage the build and development but I loved the building so much I couldn’t leave.
What do you love about your job?
The high ceilings, the pace, the volume of people you meet each day, week, year. So much culture, so little time.
What’s your favourite recent event?
We had TEDX Talks here in April talking on the subject of creativity. The energy was electric.
Have you had any disasters?
*Sigh* An old building sometimes has leaky roofs…and walls. But nothing compared to the several gallery collapses in the early years of the original theatre. Due to nature of the land it was built on; marshy and reclaimed from the Liffey, the upper galeries collapsed during a performance, on more than one occasion. Quite a number of people died as a result of these collapses. Thankfully these days patrons don’t need to put their lives at risk to come and see a show.
If Smock Alley wasn’t a theatre, or if it hadn’t been rescued and restored, what do you think it would it be?
Perhaps an absolutely enormous Costa Coffee or maybe some kind of McDonalds mothership…
What do you imagine will be here in the future?
After 352 years, I hope and suspect we won’t be going anywhere for a while.