William George Fay (1872-1947)


Life
[fam. Willie;] b. Dublin; ed. Belvedere College to age of 16; ran away to join touring ‘fit-up’ theatre, experiencing all aspects of theatrical work; spent six years on the road to 1897 as fit-up theatre manager before setting up in Dublin; Fays production of Alice Milligan’s Red Hugh seen in Aug. 1901 by Yeats; produced Hyde’s Casadh an tSúgain (1901); staged Yeats’s Cathleen ni Houlihan, April. 1902; Yeats joined Fay’s Irish National Dramatic Society with Lady Gregory in 1903, the society becoming Irish National Theatre Society, with W. G. Fay as stage-manager;
 
produced plays for the nascent Abbey from Dec. 1904; became National Theatre Society, 1905, forming nucleus of actors at the Abbey Co.; under the Abbey’s policy of distinguishing between ‘poetic plays’ and ‘peasant drama’, he undertook the direction of the latter; appeared in Yeats’s The Hour Glass (1903), and played Martin Dhoul in The Well of the Saints (1905); played Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World (1907), aggravating the riotous response by substituting ‘Mayo girls [...]’ for ‘chosen females in their shifts alone’;
 
open contention with actor Wm. Kerrigan, et al., occasioned by his hot temper; actors’ group splits from authors’ group in 1908; resigned January 1908, failing to secure authority of Manager-Producer; travelled to America with his brother in 1908, returning to London in 1914, rather than to Dublin (as his brother did); published with Catherine Carswell The Fays of the Abbey (1935); his is one of the signatures on Lady Gregory’s ‘Autograph Tree’ at Coole Park. DIB BREF ODNB DIH MAX OCIL FDA

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Works
with Catherine Carswell, The Fays of the Abbey (London 1935); Abbey Theatre: The Cradle of Genius ( NY: Macmillan 1958), ills.

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Criticism
Ann Saddlemyer, Theatre Business (Gerrard’s Cross: Colin Smythe 1982). See also often-contested contemporary versions of Abbey history featuring Fay given by Lady Gregory, Lennox Robinson, Hugh Hunt, et al.

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Commentary
W. B. Yeats:‘We owe our National Theatre Society to him and his brother, and we have always owed to his playing our chief successes.’ (Samhain, No. 3, p.8; rep. in ‘The Play, the Palyer and the Scene’, Explorations, pp.173-74).

Maire Ní Shuibhlaigh, The Splendid Years (1955): ‘As Christy Mahon, the weak-willed Playboy who strives for the admiration of the community and the love of the girl, Pegeen Mike, Willie Fay was a revelation. He broke completely new ground as the weak-willed poetic Mahon. Never will there be a Playboy to equal his. One forgot his diminutive stature and sharp features in the utter mastery of his playing. His love scene with Pegeen, played exquisitely by Maire O’Neill, was one of the most beautiful pieces of acting I have ever seen.’

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Quotations
Forget realism: ‘If the theatre is to continue to live under present conditions it should return to the beginning. It should return to theatricality, and forget the alleged realism that has crept in during the last twenty years. The attempts to make plays real in the photographic sense belongs to the tradesmen f the theatre and not to artists. No Art is real in that way. The theatre never was real and never can be.’ (‘The Amateur and the Theatre’, March 1930, pamphl [NLI , MS 5974]; quoted in Una Kealy, “George Fitzmaurice”, PhD UU 2005.)

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References
Brian de Breffny, Ireland: A Cultural Encyclopaedia (London: Thames & Hudson), Frank, 1871-1931; bros., b. Dublin, own company till joining Irish Lit. Theatre in 1902; Willie created economic style of Abbey Theatre productions, as well as parts of Christy, Bartley, and Martin in Well of the Saints. Frank noted for verse-speaking, created Naisi in Deirdre, Cuchulain in On Baile’s Strand, and Sean Keogh in The Playboy, and Hycacinth in Hyacinth Halvey. The Fays left the Abbey in 1908 and produced Irish plays in USA, Willie going on to a London stage career after 1914. Port. by John Butler Yeats, Municipal Gallery, Dublin.

Kevin Rockett, et al., eds, Cinema & Ireland (1988), Fay, WG, 153 [Fr. Tom in Odd Man Out, 1947.]

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Notes
Portrait by John Butler Yeats, inscribed ‘Irish National Theatre, A [Pot] of Broth’ [Abbey Theatre]; another, pencil drawing, 7 Aug. 1904, purchased in Lady Gregory collection sale., 1932 [NGI].

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