Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright W.B. Yeats was very much an Irish nationalist and writer, but his legacy and work are celebrated worldwide with societies, conferences, programs, awards and readings.
2015 marked the 150th anniversary of Yeats' birth and January 2016 inaugurates the centennial of Ireland's Easter Rising political uprising. East Tennessee State University's department of literature and language, storytelling program and Mary B. Martin School of the Arts mark this confluence of occasions Wednesday, Jan. 27, and Thursday, Jan. 28, which is the 86th anniversary of Yeats' death, with a celebration, "For the Ear Alone: A Festival in Honor of W.B. Yeats."
"For the Ear Alone" festival features five events beginning with a free panel discussion "W.B. Yeats and the Poetic Drama" at 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 27, in Reece Museum, ETSU. Panelists include "two of the world's foremost directors of Yeats' poetic dramas," says organizer Dr. Joseph Sobol, an ETSU professor in the storytelling program, "Sam McCready and James Flannery."
McCready, originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, is co-founder of the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and longtime head of the drama workshop at the Yeats International Summer School. Flannery of Emory University is founder and director of the Yeats Drama Foundation. Sobol and Dr. Katherin Weiss complete the expert panel. Sobol is composer and author of "In the Deep Heart's Core: A Mystic Cabaret from the works of W. B. Yeats." Weiss is an Irish drama scholar and chair of the ETSU department of literature and language.
At 7 p.m., Jan. 27 in Martha Street Culp Auditorium, Irish actress Joan McCready portrays Yeats' patron and collaborator Lady Augusta Gregory in "Coole Lady: The Extraordinary Life of Lady Gregory," a ticketed event. In this one-woman show, written by the actress' spouse, Sam McCready, Lady Gregory, a dramatist herself, reflects on a life of service to her country and the arts and struggles in her personal life, at her beloved estate, Coole Park, and throughout Ireland.
A second panel discussion, "Yeats and Contemporary Poetry," kicks off day two of the festival, Thursday, Jan. 28, at 3:30 p.m., in Reece Museum. This panel – of Columbia University visiting professor of literature Emily Bloom, poet and Appalachian State professor Kathryn Kirkpatrick and ETSU literature professors Dan Westover and Thomas Crofts – traces the influence of Yeats on the course of 20th- and 21st-century verse.
Receptions follow the panel discussions, at 5 p.m., each day.
A second ticketed stage performance highlights Thursday's schedule, at 7 p.m. in Culp Auditorium. "In the Deep Heart's Core," a theatrical song cycle of Yeats' poems and stories from his autobiographical writings, composed and arranged by Sobol features Sobol on guitar, and original cast member Kathy Cowan on vocals, as well as local musicians and actors Lee Bidgood, Dominic Aquilino and Clara Ray Burrus.
"In the Deep Heart's Core" premiered in 1993 at the old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, ran for nearly a year at the Bailiwick Theatre in Chicago and toured nationwide, including a five-week run at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. The Chicago Tribune called it, "A joy – poetry to the ears, alternately tender and rousing."
Concluding the two-day "For the Ear Alone" festival is a Yeatsian poetry slam. Titled "A Terrible Beauty Is Born" at 9 p.m., in Culp Auditorium, the slam blends readings and spoken word performances, as well as music and open mic slots. Noted national and regional poets and scholars perform Yeats and Yeats-related poems, Sobol says.
Tickets for "Coole Lady" and "In The Deep Heart's Core" are $10 general and $5 for students of all ages with ID. Special discounts are available for tickets purchased for both stage performances.
For information, contact Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at 423-439-8587 or visit www.etsu.edu/martin.