Fiona Charleton found out why Rex Ryan is so enthusiastic about his new Dublin theatre club …
Opening a theatre during a pandemic might sound crazy, but speaking to Rex Ryan, one gets the distinct impression that it was just another challenge. “Loads of people told me not to do this but I’m learning in my life that people will always tell you not to do stuff,” says Ryan, “I’m not afraid to fail.”
Not that failure is on the cards. Since opening his Glass Mask Theatre in the Bestseller Café on Dublin’s Dawson Street eight weeks ago, his venue, which he describes as a “Parisian-style café crossed with the madness of a 1970s off-off Broadway theatre”, has been buzzing. While having his own theatre has been an ambition since drama school, it was while in St Petersburg a few years ago, “extremely drunk”, with his wife Migle, that Ryan hit on the name: “I think there was a glass mask up on the wall of the Bolshoi or something!” he laughs. “At that time, we had no plans, no money, just a bit of a dream. But then when I got back to Dublin, I was really galvanised.”
After walking the streets eyeing venues, the main shareholders of the Bestseller Café, where Migle worked, approached him. This serendipitous event means Ryan now works closely with his wife who is also the managing director of the theatre as well as its designer. “It’s great!” he exclaims with enthusiasm: “Obviously I’m biased because she’s my wife and I love her! And, as work colleagues, we’re actually quite good at compartmentalising.”
Theatre is in Ryan’s blood as his grandmother Maureen (his late father, Gerry’s, mother) was part of a theatrical dynasty: “She’d make me perform, make me do a song and dance for my dinner. I’m still doing that actually, so nothing’s changed!” He might be right. Glass Mask’s unique selling point is that you can eat and drink during a show; from tapas to cheese boards. “I want people to stop thinking that theatre is stuffy and elitist,” he insists. “I thought, with the food, the drink, the ceremony, the welcoming atmosphere, then chilling afterwards, it could relieve people of the fears that we’ve been holding for the last year.”
Family is important to Ryan. His sister Babette has designed sets and he describes his mother Morah as “majorly supportive”. He also speaks warmly of Gerry. “He gave me a good bullsh*t detector and he told me how to take a curious and excited view of the world.” Gerry and his mentor, the late Karl Shiels, are also credited for Ryan’s work ethic: “Myself and my wife work ridiculously hard but I always say to her ‘we’re the lucky ones, we’re making money doing plays with an amazing group around us’.” Only staging new plays, his upcoming programme includes works by Stephen Jones and Gemma Kane. But now he’s got to go: “I’m learning lines today,” he explains, “and I’ve got to be off-book before going into rehearsals!”
“Pop Tart Lipstick” by Rex Ryan runs this month at the Glass Mask Theatre, 41 Dawson Street, Dublin 2; tickets €15; “Summerhill” by Stephen Jones starts in November. For more details and to reserve a table, see www.glassmasktheatre.com.
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