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AIMS presentation to Dail Committee on Arts and Culture

The Future of Musical Theatre Education in Ireland 21.9.2022
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“The Future of Musical Theatre Education in Ireland”

Presented by the Association of Irish Musical Societies (A.I.M.S)

Represented by

Rob Donnelly (National President) & Frank Foley (National Secretary)

For almost 60 years AIMS (The Association of Irish Musical Societies) has been the

governing body for 120 musical societies based in the 32 counties on the island of

Ireland. We have over 14,000 members performing in on average 800 productions a

year from full scale musicals to concerts and pantomimes. Our audiences average 1.2

million. Although we are seen as an amateur organisation, we stage shows to a very

professional standard with an average cost of 40-50K. We also employ many

technicians, musicians, directors, and choreographers. Along with many lighting

operators, sound technicians, set builders/painters, costume suppliers, props, hair and

makeup crews, stage crews, Front of House teams, kitchen staff there could be on

average 100 people working on every production. Our societies perform in theatres,

community halls and schools nationwide. Our societies are a vital part of our

communities sometimes being the first introduction to Broadway/WestEnd Shows. Live

Theatre and Live Entertainment is vital in today’s society. It’s an opportunity for

audiences to socialise, meet friends & family, get out of the house, have somewhere to

go, switch off and be entertained. It’s also a chance for all members to do the same but

also to learn a craft and be educated, be it singing, dancing, acting, stay fit whilst making

friends. Most societies rehearse a production for an average of 3 months which in a lot

of cases carries them through the cold and bleak winter months. Being part of a group

be it sporting or artistic is so important and is very positive in regards of mental health.

The impact of the corona virus pandemic on amateur theatre and amateur musical

theatre has been devastating all over the island of Ireland over the past few years. The

absence of this platform for all involved created a huge void in towns and villages all

over the country.

Putting on stage activities in the autumn and winter periods is to a community what

sporting activities are in the summer period. These activities galvanise a community,

and not just local communities, but neighbouring communities support each other in

these activities, creating a complex web of social and cultural interaction and

networking that is unique to Irish Society. After the shutdown due to Covid I’m

delighted to say we are now returning to stage. With 42 societies back on stage last

season, we are expecting upwards of 85 to return this season i.e. between June 2022

and June 2023. Our participants range in age from infants to people in their 80’s, it

embraces all age groups, irrelevant of class, gender, orientation, religion or creed.

We are here today to discuss the future of Musical Theatre Education in Ireland. I know

some other speakers here today are more qualified professionally in that regard, but I’d

like to speak about my own personal experiences if that is ok. I moved to Arklow from

Drogheda in 1996 in my early 20’s. Drogheda had no musical society, and I was asked to

join the local Arklow society Avonmore Musical Society, purely as a way of making

friends. But it completely changed my life and I am still there 26 years later. Having

never been on stage, sang, dance or acted before to now having taken part in every

show since. I learned how to sing, dance, act, gained loads of confidence, served on

committees in a variety of roles from committee member, to PRO to Chairperson. I can

operate the lights, help with sound, work front of house, back stage, build sets, compile

programmes, everything really involved in the production. All of this learned by joining

my local society and all the time having fun. And today I have the great honour of

addressing you all as National President of AIMS. My job and the job of all involved in

AIMS is to continue the growth of our organisation and the Musical Theatre education of

all our members.

As stated, I started my musical theatre education at the age of 21 but I’m delighted to

say lots of our members are being educated in musical theatre from a very young age

through a variety of dance schools, stage schools, choirs, many music festivals and

through main stream schooling. We take young members in our society from the age of

6 depending on the need for them in various productions. We accept all members then

from Transition School age but don’t let members partake if they are in school exam


For over 20 years AIMS has been running a Youth Summer School in Thurles, Co

Tipperary. The Summer School is a weeklong residential course for members aged

between 15 and 18. During the week the participants work with a Director, Musical

Director and Choreographer and stage a concert at the end of the course. We are proud

to say some of our past members have gone on to star in and work on many West End

Shows and even appear in Hollywood movies. I am also delighted to say that a lot of our

members have gone on to join Musical Societies in third level colleges around Ireland

and some even forming new musical societies where none existed. Travelling to college

in the UK has been the route for many of our members but I am so delighted that now

there are college courses now available here in Ireland which enables our young people

to stay in Ireland to pursue their musical theatre careers. AIMS are proud to offer 2

bursaries each year along with the Anne O’Neill Bursary to help some of our members

progress their careers in college. We are also delighted to be able to offer a collaborative

Scholarship with the American College Dublin for an AIMS member wishing to study

musical theatre at third level.

One of the positives for AIMS during Covid was that Musical Theatre was finally

recognised by the Arts Council. I would like to say a massive thanks to Niall Doyle and

all in the Arts Council for all the help and support given to us and especially for the

much-needed funding which we hope will continue in the years ahead. This funding

enabled us to put in place a “Mentoring & Performance Critical Appraisal” pilot

programme which is currently running, and will be complete in summer 2023.

We would like to develop this programme for the entire School Musical Theatre sector,

to educate and develop this sector in schools with a tailor made programme suitable for

school Musical Theatre Performances. This to be carried out on our AIMS regional

basis, with regional based Mentors. This input with professional and experienced

mentors will greatly benefit the schools and enhance the standard of performances in

School musical theatre, and further help the Musical theatre sector as the students

move into third level education and the professional sector

For us today we are hoping with your support that the role of Musical Theatre

Education can be protected, nurtured and helped to continue growing. I believe and I

am excited to hear that there are changes coming in the Leaving Cert Curriculum

including a new subject Drama, Film and Theatre Studies. I would hope that Musical

Theatre could be a part of this new subject. As stated a lot of secondary Schools already

perform and stage full musicals annually and I think having Musical theatre added as

part of this subject would be very beneficial.

Many Thanks

Rob Donnelly (National President of AIMS) & Frank Foley (National Secretary

1 Comment

Martin McNelis
Martin McNelis
Oct 01, 2022

Great address Rob. Well done all.

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