Everyman reaching out to all

Cork City theatre is nurturing talent by funding new plays, and by inviting the public to collaborate, says Colette Sheridan

ARTISTIC director of Cork City’s Everyman Theatre, Michael Barker-Caven, is nurturing local talent and will extend this to County Cork, working with Ian McDonagh, the county arts officer. Barker-Caven is coping with Arts Council cuts by applying for the project funding that enabled the ambitious production of Pagliacci to be staged last summer at the Cork Midsummer Festival. Co-directed by Barker-Caven, it won the ‘best opera production’ at the Irish Times Theatre Awards.

“The award is a great motivator to continue this kind of work with the Cork Operatic Society. It shows that you can produce work of the highest calibre, in the city, that will be recognised nationally. The word is spreading that, once again, Cork is a place from which to produce great opera. There are many talented people living and working in Cork who want to make opera,” he says.

The Everyman Theatre has funding to produce an opera with the Cork Operatic Society in the autumn. “It’s important to go after money that will actually appear on the stage, rather than seeking money to put into biros and desks. Through project funding, we’ve managed to bring in several hundred thousand euro in additional fund-raising.”

For a county touring initiative, the Everyman Theatre and Cork County Council will fund locally-based new theatre in small venues, as well as at the Everyman Theatre. This will begin in April with a new one-man play, The Chronicles of Oggle, by Youghal native, Peter Gowen, who starred in RTÉ’s gangland drama, Love/Hate. Directed by Dónal Gallagher, of Cork-based Asylum Productions, the play is about “a wonderful, Forrest Gump-type of character who’s a real survivor and has been through some pretty torrid times during his schooling, and with the Church, as well as with bigoted people. Yet, he comes up smiling every time.”

The play will premiere in Youghal. (‘Oggle’ is the nickname of the seaside town.) The play will open at the Everyman Theatre on Apr 22 and will tour small venues. “There are people around the county doing extraordinary things in theatre. But, sometimes, they can be left without access to top-quality professional work. What we’re putting together is a co-operative process, which will have the Everyman as its hub.”

A county-wide project, ‘The Gathering: Dear Cork’ asks the public to send their stories of Cork to the Everyman. The theme is ‘comings and goings’. It is run by the Everyman’s writer-in-residence, Carmel Winters, and Cork City and County Councils.

“At the moment, we’re keeping it very open. We’re going to be driven by what we receive from the public ... ‘Dear Cork’ could end up as a play based on one letter. We don’t know yet. We want to look at different ways of bringing the stories to life,” Barker-Caven says. A website will display the stories. The year-long project will involve writers’ groups, libraries and amateur groups. People are being asked to search drawers and computer files to see if they have letters/emails that could be used. “We may end up presenting various pieces in some of the theatres around the county and then we would bring them all in and show them at the Everyman.”

Winters, an award-winning Cork playwright and screenplay writer, will premiere her latest play, Best Man, directed by Barker-Caven, at the Cork Midsummer Festival. “It’s a wonderful, daring piece of modern playwrighting. People complain that there are no new plays. We’re going to stage this major play and it will then transfer to Galway and Dublin. Again, we have got a funding award to produce it,” Barker-Caven says.

Transferring from the Abbey/Peacock, Denis Conway will stage Shakespeare’s Richard 11: Within The Hollow Crown through his company, Ouroboros, with the Everyman Theatre in May. Shakespeare’s history plays are rarely produced in Ireland because of “understandable historical reasons. Why would we want to see plays about dead English kings? But the interesting thing is that the history plays are produced repeatedly all over the world. They have an awful lot to say about the way power is abused. Richard 11 is an extraordinarily beautiful, very lyrical play about what happens when the leadership elite lets down the people. We feel it speaks to us as a country, at the moment.” This will be the first professional staging of the play in Cork.

Barker-Caven is determined to harness resources to realise his vision for the Everyman Theatre. “It’s called ‘Everyman’ for a reason. The theatre belongs to everybody, both in the city and county. But it’s not going to remain if we don’t look after it. We’re very keen to closely discuss support with city council, which historically has been a tremendous support to the Cork Opera House. The Everyman, a huge asset to the city, is not going to stay the way it is if the city doesn’t care for it. We have leaks in ceilings and we’d love to have the resources to upgrade the theatre and improve the service we give. You can’t do that without support, particularly from important people, and business people, in the city. But we’re proud to say that, in very difficult times, when we know how strapped people are, they’re still coming out. We’re getting a wonderful reception from them.”

*www.everymanpalace.com/dearcork.

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