Frank Fay (1871-1931)

[Frank J. Fay]; b. Dublin; elder br. of W. G. Fay; ed. Belvedere College; brought his brother Willie to first performance of Cathleen Ni Houlihan; fndr. of Dublin Dramatic School and Ormonde Dramatic Society, 1898; directed Yeats’s Cathleen Ni Houlihan and AE’s Deirdre, St. Teresa’s Hall, Clarendon St., Dublin, 2-4 April 1902; co-fnd. National Dramatic Society, later Irish National Theatre Society, 1902 (est. Feb. 1903); conducted speech-training at the Abbey;
Fay created parts of Christy in Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, Bartley in his Riders to the Sea, and Martin in his The Well of the Saints; also Naisi in Deirdre, Cuchulain in On Baile’s Strand, and Shawn Keogh in The Playboy of the Western World (1907); Hyacinth in Hyacinth Halvey; left Abbey in 1908 after disagreement triggered by his brother's hot temper, meanwhile complaining that Yeats had brought ‘effeminate artistry’ to the theatre before travelling to America with his brother;
he later worked in London and Birmingham Repertory theatres from 1914 [var. produced Irish plays in America while Willie pursued a successful career in London]; returned to Abbey, and worked as elocution teacher; wrote reviews in United Irishman, July 1899-Nov. 1902, criticising the theatre of of J. W. Whitbread, and unnecessary stage movement; expressed the Fays difference of opinion with Yeats over literary plays against ‘plays which will act’; there is a portrait by John Butler Yeats, 1904 [Abbey Theatre]. BREF DIH OCIL FDA

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  • "Irish Acting", in The United Irishman (15 Nov. 1902, p.6.
His reviews include Wolfe Tone; The Irishman [both by Whitebread]; The Green Bushes [by Buckstone]; Caitheamh an Ghlais, or the Wearing of the Green; The Father’s Oath; Cyrano de Bergerac; Rory O’More; The Shaugraun; Shoulder to Shoulder; Pelléas and Mélisande; Peep o’ Day; The Boys of Wexford; Land of Heart’s Desire [by Yeats]; also comments on Samhain, Sarah Bernhardt in Dublin, and an account of the Early Years of the Irish Literary Theatre, Irish Actors, &c.

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  • W. G. Fay with Catherine Carswell, The Fays of the Abbey Theatre: An Autobiographical Record (London: Rich & Cowan; NY: Harcourt & Brace 1935);
  • Towards A National Theatre, ed. Robt. Hogan (Dolmen 1970) [sel. reviews from United Irishman];
  • Robert Hogan, ed. & intro., Towards a National Theatre, Dramatic Criticism of Frank Fay (Dolmen 1970);
See also Brenna Katz Clarke, The Emergence of the Irish Peasant Play at the Abbey Theatre (Epping: Bowker 1982); cites correspondence between Frank Fay and W. J. Lawrence [on formation of Irish actors]; .


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Joseph Holloway’s Irish Theatre, 3 vols. ed. Robert Hogan & Michael J. O’Neill (Delaware UP 1968-70): ‘In these days it is getting a confused question as to what drama is at all. To some it is the lofty expression of noble thoughts or the tragic exposition of keen emotions. To others it is a ten-ton tractor engine with perhaps a boiler explosion for subsidiary effect ... True literary drama is dead, and we are now living under the reign of the triumvirate of actor, scene shifter, and lime-lighter’ (United Irishman, 20 Oct 1900.) Fay characterised J. H. Whitbread’s The Irishman, revived in 1899, as a ‘crude piece of unconvincing conventionalism’ (Towards a National Theatre, p. 27), while writing that Dion Boucicault’s Irish dramas were ‘nowadays used simply to show off the Irish comedian or the Irish character actor”’ (May 1900) [Hogan, op. cit., q.pp.]

Cheryl Herr, For The Land They Loved (1991), writes: ‘Addressing the Irish Literary Theatre 26 Mar 1900 Holloway, ever the champion of the Queen’s Royal Theatre (commonly abbrev. as the Queen’s) professed to give a “pittite’s” perspective on modern drama that countered the censures of his more educated contemporaries, “literature must take a back seat to the dramatic effectiveness of the work performed”; “The non-playgoing high-and-mighty literary critics ... pretend to know all about what state work ought to be, and despise all real playgoers like myself, for not agreeing with their estimate.” [22-23.] See also remarks on Whitbread’s Wolfe Tone, quoted fully in here [from] Excerpts from ‘Irish Drama and Modern Dublin’, in Irish Playgoer, 12 and 19 Apr. 1900. Holloway became an enthusiastic supporter of the Abbey Theatre. [ftn. 39, p.244]

Stephen Watts, Joyce, O’Casey, and the Irish Popular Theater (1991), Frank Fay, during his brief tenure as drama critic for the United Irishman between 1899 and 1902 cast Queen’s melodrama in the role of nonliterary ... [23] See Ftn., Frank Fay’s Towards A National Theatre, ed. Robt. Hogan (Dolmen 1970), which collects his best reviews from United Irishman. In Aug 1899 Fay reviewed Wolfe Tone in a mildly positive way, although he disagreed with the subtitle ‘A Romantic Irish Drama’. For Fay, Whitebread’s play was really neither more nor less than a well-constructed melodrama with some of the leading incidents of Wolfe Tone’s career ulilised to produce those dramatic situations to which its success is due.” See Towards a National Theatre, pp. 24-26.

James W. Flannery, ‘The Fays and the Early Abbey Theatre’, in Yeats and the Idea of a Theatre (1976), cites Yeats’s comments connection with the Fays, notably a letter to Lady Gregory in which he declared that if it were necessary to prove his sincerity to the nationalists by making himself ‘unpopular to wealth’ he would have to accept ‘the baptism of the gutter’ (Letters, ed. Hone, p.339; Flannery, p.175, ftn.81.) Also comments on Frank Fay’s ‘enthusiastic yet judicious review of the final series of plays presented by the Irish Literary Theatre’ (viz, Casadh na Sugain and Diarmuid and Grania): ‘To my mind the reatest triumph of the authors lies in having written a play in which English actors are intolerable. All the way through the play the English voice grates on one’s ears, and the stolid English temperament was equally at variance with what one wanted. They actors did not act the play as if they beleived in it; the fact is they could not, for it is not in their nature. I do not, therefore, intend to say anything about the interpretation, because the play was not interpreted at all.’ (‘The Irish Literary Theatre’, in The United Irishman, 26 Oct. 1901; rep. in Towards a National Theatre, ed. Robert Hogan, 1970, p.71; Flannery, p.166-67) [further extract under Maud Gonne, RX].

James W. Flannery (‘The Fays and the Early Abbey Theatre’): ‘The Fays and the Early Abbey Theatre’, 1976): Yeats first saw the Fays company, National Dramatic Society acting in Alice Milligan’s Red Hugh (Aug. 1901), and came away ‘with his ‘head on fire’, ‘I wanted to hear my own unfinished On Baile’s Strand, to hear Greek tragedy spoken, spoken with a Dublin accent. After consulting with Lady Gregory, I gave William Fay my Cathleen ni Houlihan, the first play where dialect was not used with an exclusively comic intention, to be produced in April 1902, in a hall attached to a church in a back street’ (p.449; [Flannery p.174].) Fay writes critically of Yeats, ‘Mr Yeats can, undoubtedly, be an immense power for good in our Theatres ... but if he insists on sitting among the stars or living in the land of feary [sic] of which he and I and all our countrymen are only to fond, he can be of no use to us at present. ... In Ireland we are at present only to anxious to shun reality. Our drama ought to teach us to face it. Let Mr Yeats give us plays in verse or prose that will rouse this sleeping land. There is a heard of Saxon and other swine fattening on us. They must be swept into the sea along with the pestilent breed of West Britons with which we are troubled, or they will sweep us there.’ (in The United Irishman, May 1901.)

James W. Flannery (‘The Fays and the Early Abbey Theatre’): In interview, Fay said, ‘There’s no use trying to force a new kind of drama down its [the public’s] throat. It’s all right to tell people they ought to know better, but it’s a costly business trying to prove it to them’ (interview with Burns Mantle, Chicago 1908; Fay Papers, NLI, Ms.5981; Flannery, 189). Flannery’s Bibliog. includes T. G. Keller, ‘The Irish Theatre Movement: Some Early Memories’, in Sunday Indpendent (6 Jan. 1929); Joseph Holloway, Impressions of a Dublin Playgoer (21 Sept. 1906; NLI MMS 1804; also (29 June 1915; NLI Ms 4456, pp.1471-73 [contains list of articles on theatre from 1882 compiled by Fay]; Andre J. Stewart, The Acting of the Abbey Theatre’, in Theatre Arts, XVII (Mar 1933), p.245; Dudley Digges, ‘A theatre was Made’, in The Irish Digest (Oct. 1939), p.14; Padraic Colum, ‘Early Days of the Irish Theatre’, in The Dublin Magazine (Oct.-Dec. 1949), p.15; Maire Ní Shuilbhlaigh, The Splendid Years (1955); also Lectures and scrapbooks of Frank Fay, NLI, MSS 10951-53 [incl. untitled essay on traditions of English acting].

Richard Allen Cave, ed., W., B. Yeats: Selected Plays (Penguin 1997), Introduction: ‘Fortuitously, one like minded-man came to Yeats’s aid: Frank Fay. For some months in the columns of the United Irishman Fay had been writing criticism of the routine nature of most Dublin theatrical fare [...] Actually Fay already had [such] a group in training under his direction, Inghínidhe na hEireann (The Daughters of Erin); they were in time to form the nucleus of the Abbey company. / Fay as a dierector set great store by the primacy of the spoken text and musical delivery by technically accomplished voices that did not self-consciously spurn their Irish accents or rhythms. To focus attention on the vocal riches of a performance, he had evolved a mode of acting that eschewed exaggerated, overtly theatrical gesture. Movement was to be sparing, simple and rarely timed to coincide with speech unless on the part of the actual speaker. Delivery under these circumstances had to be worth the listening, hence Fay’s concern with musicality and rhythm. It was a self-consistent theory of performance and it perfeclty matched [W. B.] Yeats’s ambitions.’ (p.xxi.) Later speaks of ‘political controversies that led to the secession of some prominent members of the original Abbey company (including, in time, Frank Fay)’ (ibid. p.xxii).

See also Lennox Robinson, Ireland’s Abbey Theatre (1951), p.27 for account of the Fays part in the Irish National Theatre.

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Irish accent: ‘We thought it was time to make the Irish accent and idiom in the speaking of English a vehicle for the expression of Irish character on the stage and not for the sole purpose of providing laughter.’ (Quoted in Frank Tuohy, Yeats, 1976, p.100.)

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Fay’s Ormonde Dramatic Society, of which Fred Ryan was secretary in 1902 (see under Ryan).

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