For many people, St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity to wear green and celebrate Irish culture, but organizers of Serca Festival are hoping to engage Edmontonians in Irish theatre.

Mark Henderson, the creative director and founder of Serca, explained the festival goes beyond a literal definition of Irish theatre. The plays featured at the festival could be about Ireland or by Irish playwrights, or they could be translations of non-Irish plays by Irish playwrights. They could also, as festival producer Michael Clark said, “be about the Irish experience.”

“It got me to thinking: what is Irish? There are all these English writers you think of as being English, who are actually Irish [like Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw]. There is also Canadian culture that we don’t really realize is Irish, like [Newfoundland comedy troupe] Codco,” said Henderson.

Some of the plays being staged include The Good Thief by Conor McPherson. It is a one-man show about a Dublin thug telling the tale of a job gone wrong and stars local actor Frank Zotter. Another play is Airswimming by Charlotte Jones. Airswimming is about two women who were put in an Irish mental asylum in the 1920s. The play stars Kendra Connor and Jenny McKillop and is directed by Amy DeFelice.

“[In] the Irish stories and the Irish theatre, there’s a simplicity to the storytelling. It goes right to the heart of the human condition. Even if it is bleak, it is incredibly full of heart and quick of mind at the same time,” said Henderson. The plays run from March 18 to 23 at Alberta Avenue Community Centre and the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts.

While Irish theatre is showcased, the festival is evolving. Last year, organizers started to include more family-friendly events like a puppet show and dance workshops. This year, Serca is staging Finn McCool and the Fish of Wisdom and Other Ticklish Tales, a show about “legendary thumb-sucking Irish warrior giant, who has everything but the brains he needs. Along his journey to wisdom we meet an enchanted salmon, a wise woman, and terrible invaders from across the sea.”

There is also a family-friendly event on March 17. St. Patrick’s Day will kick off the festival with an Irish ceilidh at the Alberta Avenue Community Centre. The ceilidh, a term for an Irish social gathering, will include dancing, a five piece band led by Juno award winner Jeremiah McDade, a sing-along, performances, and an Irish stew and soda bread dinner.

About 15 per cent of Edmontonians claim Irish ancestry, according to figures from Statistics Canada. However, everyone is encouraged to come to the festival to learn about Irish theatre and culture. Or, as Clark said, “Anybody who wants to be Irish can come to the festival.”