Timmy Creed’s play at Cork Midsummer Festival will be performed at a handball alley in his home parish, writes Ellie O’Byrne
THE clash of the ash, the roar of the crowd: hurling and Gaelic football are sports laden with intense action and vivid emotion. It’s material that lends itself to high drama, yet GAA and theatre are two worlds that rarely collide.
Spliced is actor Timmy Creed’s ball-alley play, a one-man show based on his quest to forge a new identity encompassing both his individualism and his roots as a GAA man. Creed played both hurling and football for his Cork club, Bishopstown GAA, for a total of 21 years before embarking on an acting and writing career.
Born the fourth of six children in a Bishopstown gaeilgeoir family, Creed, 31, first got involved in the GAA at the age of five. His brother Tom is also a well-known director in the Irish theatre scene.
“GAA is rooted in the parish,” says Timmy. “The community supports you and watches you grow as a sportsman. As a teenager involved in the GAA, without you knowing it, your identity is formed for you out of the choices you’ve made. Before you know it, that’s what you are.”
It’s a collective identity versus an individual one. On the pitch, this is of necessity. Outside the game, though, running with the pack from a young age can come with a down-side if a sense of self is sacrificed.
There have been innumerable high-profile clashes between individualism and group mentality in the sport, from homophobic heckles endured by Ireland’s first openly gay GAA star, Dónal Óg Cusack, to Cork camogie captain Ashling Thompson’s well-documented battles with depression. The GAA has responded, in recent years, with a series of awareness-raising campaigns and partnerships.
Creed himself hit something of a black spot in his mid-twenties and became depressed, although he never received a clinical diagnosis. His period of darkness and self-doubt coincided with a move away from the GAA.
Graduating as a civil engineer from UCC in 2010, Creed moved to Canada and ended up living on a ski resort, working for the Winter Olympics. He fell in love with snowboarding, an individualist’s sport he describes as “a whole other awakening of the physical body”.
“I was away from the club mentality and the people I grew up with,” he says. “Being in a team celebrates masculinity and physicality and grit. It champions a particular way of being because the more of a unit it is, the stronger the team can be.
“In GAA you express yourself on the field with your body and your skill level. That really affects the mind; I learned to bottle up around people stronger than me. To be able to talk heart to heart with another man is vital, I know now.
Creed’s identity was shaken before his departure for Canada: he was unexpectedly cast in the lead role in an Irish feature film, My Brothers, when director Paul Fraser, who likes to work with non-actors, held open auditions in Cork. “The film premiered in Tribeca and all my family came to it – it was mad,” he says.“But what does that make me now? Arts is a very different community and approach to work.”
Bearded and bespectacled, Creed does indeed look more the part of the actor/writer, and
Since his return to Ireland he’s got himself an agent, studied drama for a year in Oxford and even embarked on a two-month clowning course in Paris last winter.
Yet Spliced still very much roots him in his GAA past. The play is designed to be performed in handball alleys, where Creed punctuates his tale by pucking around a sliotar. The play is 60 minutes, the same duration as a match.
Having premiered in Dublin, Spliced is set for its first home game during Cork’s Midsummer Festival, when Creed will perform it at his own former club.
“There’s more at stake when you’re talking to the group of people who made you who you are,” Creed says.
“It’s written for GAA people on some level. Obviously I want theatre people to come, but the people I want to engage with is GAA people. I’m bringing it back to them, and I hope they respond to it; I want to start a conversation.”
Spliced runs as part of Cork Midsummer Festival from June 20–24 in Bishopstown GAA Club, Cork, at 10.30pm; and at Clonmel Junction Festival on July 5-6. More details at www.spliced.ie