Flying the flag for enjoyable theatre in North Cork

Katie Holly is based in Charleville, so is thrilled that her latest play is getting a run as part of the Blackwater Valley Fit-Up Festival, writes Colette Sheridan.

CHARLEVILLE-BASED playwright, Katie Holly, took a circuitous route before settling for a writing career which she combines with teaching drama. Her second play, Sharon, which premiered at last year’s Cork Midsummer Festival, will be performed as part of the Blackwater Valley Fit-Up Festival. The festival will see actors and stage crews pitching up in Buttevant, Banteer, Kiskeam, Watergrasshill, Youghal and Fermoy to perform plays in local venues.

Having attended speech and drama classes as a child, Holly was among the first cohort of students to graduate from drama and theatre studies at UCC in 2004. She also studied music as part of her degree. She went on to complete a Masters degree in Irish literature. While an undergraduate, Holly was keen to make “my cool college friends laugh”. So she wrote funny songs with titles such as ‘You’re 3 Vodkas Short of Being Handsome’.

A member of Shoestring Theatre Company in Charleville, Holly says that the amateur company tends to only produce canonical plays by writers such as John B Keane and Brian Friel. “The degree in drama and theatre studies opened my eyes to different ways of doing theatre.”

Having succeeded in making her friends laugh while at college, Holly worked for a while on the open mic circuit, doing comedy gigs at the Everyman.

“I had a generous audience but I wouldn’t be drawn to working as a stand-up comic. I felt like my whole body was shaking with nerves. I was getting palpations but at the end of performances, friends told me I looked totally relaxed. I used to play music at the comedy gigs. It’s a bit lazy and can be a crutch but you can hide behind the instrument. If a line doesn’t land, you can play a song to cover up any silence. I think you’d need to be a lot braver than I am to work as a stand-up.”

After six months travelling around Australia and south-east Asia, Holly returned home to run a charity shop — a job that lasted for eight years. She enjoyed working for the St Vincent de Paul shop in Charleville. And it allowed her to observe people, which helped her writing. Holly eventually decided to commit to writing for the stage and screen. Her first play, Marion, premiered at the 2016 Cork Midsummer Festival and went on to tour festivals and venues around the country.

Sharon, which stars Irene Kelleher, is about a young woman who, after a decade of living it up in Dublin returns to her hometown at the request of her mother.

Sharon gets a job in a bar, hangs out with the local drama group, falls in love, but begins to feel cornered into following in everyone else’s footsteps which involves getting married, buying a house and having a baby.

Holly is working on a screenplay adaptation of the play, and another drama inspired by life in small-town Ireland.

She recalls bringing Sharon to the West Cork Fit-Up Festival last summer, when a ferry crossing didn’t go according to plan.

“When we went out earlier that day, the sun was shining. But on our way back, there was a big thunderstorm. There was sound equipment in the boat. The heavens just opened. My actors were getting pelted with rain and the wind. I wasn’t a bit worried about the sound equipment. All I was worried about was my cast getting sick and not being able to do the rest of the week. That’s the mindset of a director. We survived it!”

- The Blackwater Valley Fit-Up Festival is on from January 23-February 18. [][/timgcap]

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