An exclusive Series Webinar

The Synge Sessions

Hosted by
PICT Classic Theatre
Alan Stanford ,
ainenilaoghaire ,
aoifesh ,
nineachb and

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September 11th
2:00 pm EDT
Series Schedule

Sep 4

2:00 pm EDT

Sep 11

2:00 pm EDT

Riders to the Sea





“I am in Aranmor, sitting over a turf fire, listening to a murmur of Gaelic that is rising from a little public-house under my room.” With this sentence a frail young Dubliner named John Millington Synge begins his groundbreaking book entitled The Aran Islands. The book is a breathless love poem, a series of vivid, rapturous pictures in words of the people and places who would lead to the six plays that would secure for him a place as one of Ireland’s premiere 20th Century dramatists. His life was brilliant but brief: by the age of 37, John Millington Synge was dead.

In our two webinars on Synge, co-hosts Aoife Spillane-Hinks and Alan Stanford will explore how Synge he straddled two worlds, one rural and one urban, as he wrote his entertaining, complicated, and controversial plays. 


How did the language, stories, and people that Synge encountered in rural Ireland shaped his most famous play, The Playboy of the Western World? In it, an itinerant stranger shows up at a pub in the middle of nowhere, with a fantastical tale to tell. We will look at Synge’s exploration of the character of “the Tramp” and of the social value of a good story; at his use of modernist dramatic techniques; and at the riots that occured when The Playboy opened at the Abbey theatre in 1907.


Our second session will focus on J. M. Synge’s Riders to the Sea, a one-act play set on a small island off the west coast of Ireland. On a stormy night, mother Maurya begs her last living son to stay home and not to go out fishing in the treacherous sea. He goes anyway, and when she learns that he has died in the water, Maurya powerfully laments his death. We will look at how Synge transposes the traditional practice of caoineadh (“keening”) to theatrical performance, so that it becomes both a potent dramatic tool and an evocative depiction of rural Irish culture.

Brought to you with the generous support of Eileen Clancy.


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About Aoife Spillane-Hinks

Aoife Spillane-Hinks is a theatre and opera director who lives in Dublin and works in Ireland and the United States. Her PICT credits include Sharon’s Grave, Waiting for Godot, and Our Class. Aoife has curated and directed events for the Abbey Theatre Community and Education Department, for the International Literature Festival Dublin, and for the Royal Irish Academy of Music. She is currently Lead Artist of the Pop-Up Literary Department at the Axis Arts Centre in Ballymun,

Dublin. Aoife holds a BA in Folklore and Mythology from Harvard University and an MA in Drama and Theatre Studies from NUI Galway. She is the artistic director of Then This Theatre.


About Alan Stanford

Alan Stanford has been Artistic and Executive Director of PICT Classic Theatre since 2013, having worked with the company for several years prior to that. He came to Pittsburgh from Dublin in Ireland, where he was an associate actor and director at the renowned Gate Theatre for over 30 years. As an actor at the Gate he portrayed a multitude of roles but was best known for his performances as Pozzo in Waiting for Godot, a production which toured the world, and for Herod in Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a performance that has been acclaimed internationally. He continued to play Pozzo for twenty years on various tours of the United States and around the world as well as repeating the role in a film of the play made for the Beckett on Film series. 

Other noted roles at The Gate include Higgins in Pygmalion, Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Sir in The Dresser, and Judge Brack in Hedda Gabler, (a role he also played with the Abbey Theatre). He has a long association with the works of Oscar Wilde and has given many readings, recitals and lectures across Ireland, in Monaco at the Princess Grace Library and in Pittsburgh. He has performed many of the principle roles in Wilde’s plays including Illingworth in A Woman Of No Importance and Sir Robert Chiltern in An Ideal Husband. In addition, he has performed the role of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest twice: at the Abbey Theatre and for PICT in Pittsburgh.  

Alan is a prolific writer, critically acclaimed for his adaptations of classic text. His work as writer for The Gate include adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Oliver Twist, and Jane Eyre. These adaptations have been staged in several theatres in the USA and were sell out successes at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Another major success for The Gate was The Picture of Dorian Gray, which he co-adapted. He also wrote a stage version of How Many Miles to Babylon, from the book by Irish novelist Jennifer Johnston.

As a director he is regarded as a leading authority on the works of Wilde, as well as Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett. He worked with famed British playwrights Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard and Christopher Hampton. He also established his own company Second Age which concentrated on classic texts especially for younger audiences. He was also Director of Theatre at the Project Arts Centre for four years, directing and appearing in many productions, his most notable performance being de Sade in Marat/Sade. His productions there included works by Shaw, Arbuzov, Grahame Greene, Brecht and Shakespeare. His recent production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at PICT Classic Theatre was nationally recognized for its avant-garde approach to lighting and minimalist staging.

Alan created the long-running character George Manning on the popular Irish television series Glenroe. His other film credits include Waiting for Godot, Michael Collins, Animal Farm, and the Tudors, among many othersA man of many passions, he was also a restaurant critic and weekly columnist for the Irish Independent, Ireland's largest-selling daily newspaper.


About PICT Classic Theatre

PICT Classic Theatre is an internationally-recognized, non-profit theatre company founded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1996. For the past 24 years, PICT Classic Theatre has brought you the very best professional productions and performances of your favorite Classic and Irish drama. Plays that are powerful, poignant, and provocative. Plays that are purely PICT.

Our vision is to present the highest quality productions for the widest audience, featuring our innovative, minimalist design. With over 109 productions in our history, PICT continues to bring beloved works to the stage to approximately 10,000 patrons each season. We are commited to entertaining, engaging, and serving the Pittsburgh community by examining current social issues through the lens of classic text.

The greatest of plays. The best actors. The best creative theatre artists. And as much as possible, we keep it local.

PICT is honored to have a home in the historic Fred Rogers Studio at WQED - the birthplace of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

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September 11th
2:00 pm EDT