Footsbarn Travelling Theatre not afraid to be popular

By Colette Sheridan

‘Popular in the noble sense of the word,” is how actor Paddy Hayter, describes Footsbarn Travelling Theatre.

The company will pitch its 400-seater big top tent in Clonakilty’s showgrounds during the town’s Guitar Festival to perform Bottom’s Dream, adapted from Shakespeare’s The Midsummer Night’s Dream; and Mingling with Moliere comprising two farces by the French writer.

Footsbarn is one of the world’s leading touring companies that mostly performs in circus big tops but also in theatres all over the world.

The company, formed in Cornwall in 1971 by Oliver Foot and John Paul Cooke, left the UK in 1984 with the aim of taking its inclusive form of theatre to international audiences.

It remained without a base until 1991 when a farm was purchased in La Chaussée in central France.

Hayter has been with the company since 1973. “I’m 66 now and I’ve travelled all over the world with Footsbarn,” he says.

Hayter’s wife, Fredericka, is the company’s scenic artist. The couple (who have five grandchildren) brought their four children on the road while touring.

Like other offspring of Footsbarn staff, the children were schooled while travelling.

“We have been to Australia, Russia and South America. It was a great adventure for the children.”

The company, which uses puppets and musicians as well as actors, left the UK because of a desire to travel and perform for international audiences.

“We started working in tents in 1975 and we’re still in them in the belief that we can take our theatre to populations that wouldn’t normally have access to theatre.”

Footsbarn receives some funding from the French ministry of culture as well as regional funding.

“Ten or 15 years ago, the funding was pretty solid. Now, as in many parts of the world, money for culture is going down.

"It tends to be centred on big companies and big operas. It’s getting harder for smaller companies. But we’re still here, still touring and happy to be back in Ireland.”

Bottom’s Dream includes the artisans and spirits of the woods that populate The Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies.

Mingling with Moliere is a presentation of farces, The Forced Marriage and The Jealousy of the Squeamish One.

Both farces feature Sganarelle, played by Hayter. The character is an old man who dreams of having a young wife, realises his dream but has his nightmare of being cuckolded come true.

Footsbarn has a cast and crew of 12, all of whom are coming to Clonakilty. Transporting them as well as the company’s two trucks and trailers comes to about €16,000.

“It’s an expensive business. But we have a friend in the transport business who drives our trucks and we’re well housed and fed. People take great care of us.

“We really just have to earn enough to pay 12 people’s pretty basic salaries. We’re also going to Dingle and we’ve been in Cootehill.”

Footsbarn are touring with Glen Hansard, with whom they’ve been friendly for about 10 years. The

Dubliner even travelled to India with the company a few years ago. Hansard will also be playing in Footsbarn’s big top for Clonakilty Guitar Festival.

Popular music and popular theatre — a winning combination indeed.

Bottom’s Dream will be performed in Clonakilty’s show grounds on September 17; and Mingling with Moliere will be performed there on September 21.

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