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Festival organiser already looking ahead to future years

Published: 23 Aug 2012 13:000 comments

THE wait is over for Enniskillen's inaugural Happy Days International Beckett Festival.

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Today (Thursday) Enniskillen's multi-arts event, celebrating the life and times of Noble Prize-winning Samuel Beckett will kick off when Enniskillen Castle opens its doors as the Festival Centre throughout the next five days.

Ambitiously billed as the next Edinburgh Festival, Happy Days is set to put Enniskillen and Fermanagh firmly on the map in the Arts world.

And it's all down to the foresight and determination of this man: Festival Director, Sean Doran.

It's been something of a journey for the Irish man to get the festival to this point.

The idea of holding an event that would celebrate the work of Beckett first came to him in 2006.

But it wasn't until a chance conversation with a friend that the possibility of holding it in Enniskillen was ever entertained.

"I have a huge amount of respect for Beckett," says Doran, "Initially I looked at either Paris or Dublin. But I wanted to be able to give something like this to the place I am from, where I hadn't been working for over 20 years.

"I mentioned this to a friend who told me Beckett went to school in Enniskillen. I didn't know that at the time, but when he told me I immediately knew this could work."

Known as a risk-taker anyway in the industry, Doran had no doubts and his heart was set on bringing the festival to Enniskillen.

In the past he has commissioned 51 sculptures from Turner Prize-winning artist Anthony Gormley for a salt lake in the Australian outback, has staged the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on an Australian beach to an audience of 4,000 and has invited former American President, Jimmy Carter to be figurehead of the world's largest literature festival in Wales.

"I know how hard these things are to achieve," he says, "It's ambitious, it's big but this is where I come from, and I think it's important to take risks, because you get greater gains and greater achievements as a result."

And as a sign of his confidence in his latest project, he says he is already looking ahead to year 10.

"I'm here for the marathon -- I'm here for the long term."

He admits though, that he embraces the world's first ever multi-arts Beckett Festival with an element of fear too!

"Everything is sort of virginal, it's a week of firsts really -- the first multi-arts festival in the world for Beckett, its first time in Enniskillen and the first time for many of the team to be involved in something like this and for the people attending the events.

"But I think we have already achieved our hopes in getting it up on its feet and promoting Enniskillen and Fermanagh to the outside world."

Doran believes one of the major strengths of the Beckett festival is that it is entirely unique.

"There's nothing like it in Ireland or any where in the world," he says, "It will over the years help to promote Enniskillen more, in a very positive way. With festivals the first is always harder than any subsequent festival after that.

"But what we have done here for the first one is map out the shape of it in terms of venues. We have come up with a framework that can involve as much of the town as we possibly can.

"We haven't just used theatres or galleries. We are very pleased with what we have done.

"You have got to secure its future in the very first year, because it is after it's finished that the world will start talking and hearing about it."

Doran's biggest challenge has been the tight purse strings to introduce the Beckett Festival to the world.

"For an international festival it's unheard of, but it's still a budget that has been committed by different institutions. It's very hard to market ourselves out there because we haven't got the money to spend. So we are trying every which way possible to get it out there."

And in order to make the festival as accessible to everyone as is possible, ticket prices have been kept deliberately low.

"There are some very familiar names in the programme that are just unmissable," says Doran, "People would pay three to four times as much in London to see the same performances. It really is top top stuff -- which is what I always wanted it to be."

In terms of year one though, Doran says expectations cannot be raised too high too soon,

"Some events in the programme will work, others won't, some events will be well attended, others won't. Once the festival is over, then we can look at it and learn from it to construct year two."

Indeed, as soon as the last event of this year's programme comes to an end, the Festival team will start planning for the following year.

"I might take a bit of a break but we have to get planning for next year quite quickly," Sean explains, "We need to get sitting down with our main funders because at the minute we are only working off one year funding. We didn't hear of our funding for this year until March -- that obviously puts massive pressure on planning -- and planning in something like this is everything."

Looking ahead to today, Sean says the Festival is for the "wider community to enjoy".

"I would say come along, even if its to some of the free events, you have nothing to lose."

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