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);
  • Gerard Fay, ‘The Abbey Theatre’, in Ireland of the Welcomes (July-Aug. 1966), pp.28–32 [see infra]
  • Gerard Fay, The Abbey Theatre: Interviews and Recollections (London: Palgrave 1988), 199-200.
  • Towards A National Theatre: The dramatic criticism of Frank J. Fay, ed. Robt. Hogan [The Irish Theatre Ser., 1] (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1970), 111pp.[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.

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See Gerard Fay, ‘The Abbey Theatre’, in Ireland of the Welcomes (July-Aug. 1966), pp.28–32.

To write about the Abbey Theatre is, for me, almost an act of autobiography. My father, Frank Fay, was one of the founders, with his brother Willie, and the other Willy (Yeats) and Lady G. From the strictest historical point of view I suppose that neither Yeats nor Lady Gregory was a “founder”. They came in, as did Miss Horniman, after the amateur group started by the Fay brothers had been going quite a while and had taken over from the Irish Literary Theatre with such important plays as AE [George Russell]’s Deirdre, Yeats’ Kathleen Ni Houlihan and a whole series of plays including one in Irish at the Camden Street Theatre which had been adapted from some sort of warehouse. When the company and its theatre were thoroughly well established (at the Abbey, with Miss Horniman’s money) Frank and his brother Willie Fay left in 1908 after a stupid quarrel contrived by lesser persons who thought the Fays were getting too big for their boots.
 Willie Fay never returned to Dublin, except once in the 1920s to be interviewed for the job of first director of Radio Eireann, which was then known as 2 RN. Frank settled again in Dublin after wandering all over England in minor touring companies and made a living as a teacher and producer with occasional leading parts at the Abbey. I went to all his performances and played in several of them, under Lennox Robinson as director. I have been going to the Abbey ever since, so I might say that my connection with it and sometimes my despair about it cover forty-five years. It is possible, without being fanciful, to trace a direct line of descent from Dublin's early Abbey- the theatre of which I have direct personal knowledge- to London's national theatre, of which I also have quite a bit of knowledge since I have been writing about it steadily since 1936. Miss Annie Horniman, whose family were of the big tea company, paid for the building of the original Abbey, out of the profits of some shares she had in the Hudson's Bay Company. When she left after a long drawn out struggle against Yeats, Lady Gregory, Synge and the Fays she went to Manchester and started a repertory theatre called the Gaiety. Lilian Baylis2 in London used the Gaiety as her model for the Old Vic. Here is a curious parallel - the first performance of the company which became the Irish National Theatre Society was in the Coffee Palace, Townsend Street, Dublin, which was part of the temperance movement of those days, still running on the inspiration left behind by Father Mathew. The Old Vic was originally called the Royal Victoria Coffee Music Hall, and was part of an exactly similar English temperance movement. What the world theatre owes to tea and coffee! The Old Vic, originally devoted entirely to Shakespeare, spread out as a general repertory theatre, spawned an opera company and a ballet (now one of the greatest dance companies in the world). 3 And the Old Vic was the main foundation on which the national theatre is to be built. When London gets its £10 million theatre on the South Bank, it will be possible to follow the line over. from the Liffey-side to Thames-side.4 The Abbey's influence ranges much more widely. One of its early historians, Fr Dawson Byrne in The Story of Ireland's National Theatre: The Abbey Theatre, Dublin (Talbot Press, Dublin, 1929) attributes the start of [...]

rep. in E. H. Mikhail, The Abbey Theatre: Interviews and Recollections (London: Palgrave 1988), 199-200. Note: Fay is also author of The Abbey Theatre: Cradle of Genius (Dublin: Clonmore & Reynolds 1958)

Cf. Lennox Robinson: ‘It was a clash of personalities. Yeats immensely admired his work as a comedian, and his brother’s as a beautiful speaker of verse, and the comedian brother had contributed so much to Lady Gregory&#q146;s comedies. But neither she nor Yeats were disposed to let the reins slip from their hands. It is difficult, thirty and more years after, to judge who was most in the right; doubtless there were wrongs on both sides’ (Lennox Robinson, Ireland’s Abbey Theatre: A History 1899-1951 (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1951) p.56).

All the foregoing available at Palgrave - online; accessed 26.11.2017.

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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).

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

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