‘THE AMPHITHEATRE’ AN OPEN-AIR PERFORMANCE SPACE SCOIL BHRÍDE (CAILÍNÍ)
The project was planned, developed and installed under the aegis of the Per Cent for Art scheme. The concept of this open-air performance area came about through considerations and dialogues within the school community.
Various concepts and notions were floated, such as the importance of child-centredness, aesthetic form, artistic and creative involvement, pictorial representation of the patron saint, experience and enjoyment of art for children, etc.
Happily, many of these ideas did find substance in the resulting outcome, as what gradually developed was a proposal for an outdoor activities area – a Performance Space – that not only allowed the incorporation of artistic elements such as sculpture, architecture and the decorative arts in the overall design, but that offered the pupils, – and teachers – further creative opportunities to interact in, and with, the space and its elements. Some existing art phenomena, such as the amphitheatre at Wood Quay, and Gaudi’s Guell Park in Barcelona were initially influential.
The Art Work
The circular space with tiered steps of polished concrete at one side, to accommodate an audience, echoes, on a minute scale, the amphitheatres of the ancients, where the great classical dramas were first acted out. The seating area is enclosed at the back with a landscaped mound, planted with ground cover.
The large upright wooden beams opposite act as a ‘backdrop’ to the ‘stage’ and may also be used as props for a performance. Already children have suggested that they might be a temple or a forest! The pure simplicity and strength of the beam shapes, together with their positioning and grouping creates a strong sculptural presence, perhaps echoing the megalithic structures of our forebears, as well as more modern sculpture, such as that of Michael Warren.
The centre of the open performance area incorporates a decorative element consisting of granite pieces saved from the demolition of the old school. It acts as a link to continuity with the past.
The curved backrest of the seating area is embellished with seven mosaic panels depicting the spirit and symbols of St Brigid, the school’s patron saint. This connects the Performance Space with the spirit and ethos of the school. Of importance here are symbolic depictions of beauty and goodness in the world, love of learning and the nurture and care of children. Brigid’s all-encompassing cloak spreads and flows outward from the centre, enclosing all the elements and symbols of the other panels in a caring embrace. The beautifully stylised treatment of the visual details, such as trees and birds, echo the rich illustrations found in many children’s books, further connecting with the child-centred ethos of the school.
The nearby wooden panels bear the carved titles of legends from the many cultures represented by the pupils in the school. These suggest rich possibilities for dramatisations in the Performance Space. They are also a gesture towards the recognition, acceptance and affirmation of the unique cultural and linguistic values which each and every pupil brings to Scoil Bhríde Cailíní.
To bring the project of the Performance Space from initial notions and concepts to a physical work of art, the landscape architects’ company, Doyle-Ó Troithigh, was commissioned. Dáithí Ó Troithigh’s experience and advice were invaluable, as he judiciously decided what could and could not be achieved, and, coupled with his own artistic and creative input, brought the project to its present ‘state of reality’. He further oversaw the landscaping and planting of the surrounding ground, so that the new area fitted organically into its environment.
The artist, Déirdre O’Reilly, was commissioned to create the mosaic panels depicting the life and spirit of St. Brigid. Her glowing colours, pictorial design and skills as a ceramicist contribute richly to the decorative element and overall design of the Performance Space.
The Performance Space and the School
Our Performance Space works well as a ‘stand alone’ art piece, from which the pupils can gain a first-hand experience of the sculptural, architectural, pictorial and decorative aspects of art. It also offers both teachers and pupils endless opportunities to use the space in creative and educational ways, whether for dramatic performances within the class or with an invited audience from within or without the school, or for recitations, story-telling and music/song performance. In fine weather the space can be used simply as an open-air classroom, or a quiet place to read, talk or think.
We see the Performance Space as a new and exciting addition to our school facilities, and as a pleasingly aesthetic enhancement of our school environs. Sincere thanks are due to all those who played a part, great or small, from its initial conception through its building and making, and on to its final finished state.