Fifty years of drama schooling

Founder Eileen Nolan is still at the helm of the Montfort College of Performing Arts as it launches its new HQ, says Colette Sheridan

Fifty years of drama schooling

THE Montfort College of Performing Arts, a Cork institution, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Founder, Eileen Nolan, who has taught drama, dance, and singing to generations of children and teenagers, has no plans to retire.

Raised in Turner’s Cross, but now living in Ballyvolane, Ms Nolan learned the violin as a child. She studied speech and drama at Trinity College in London, and gained a teaching diploma from Maria Assumpta College in Dublin. Ms Nolan employs 12 teachers, who instruct 600 students in 10 locations around Cork City and county.

Aged “a little over 70,” Ms Nolan regards her students as her family. “I love teaching and directing and I love going out to schools, but I’m absolutely hopeless at newfangled things, like the iPad and the iPhone,” she says.

The college is embarking on a new chapter, with the appointment of actor and drama teacher, Trevor Ryan, as a partner and director of the college. Mr Ryan, who joined the Montforts at 12 years of age, has been teaching there for 20 years. He offered to be a partner. “It was as if God sent him to me,” says Ms Nolan.

The college’s new headquarters are at Penrose Wharf in Cork City. The drama school is introducing a database of student CVs for film and television companies casting young performers. Under the direction of Pádraig Trehy, workshops will be given by filmmakers. Richie Hayes, runner-up on The Voice of Ireland, will give workshops on musical theatre. Killian Donnelly, who has a successful career in the West End, will give a Les Miserables workshop in the new year, and Seán Hackett, an ex-pupil of the Montforts, will give a dance workshop.

Mr Ryan will direct Disney’s Camp Rock, starring students of the Montforts, at the Everyman Theatre in October. He plans to stage a musical every year. Ms Nolan plans to direct Oklahoma, in Clonakilty, in November and she will also be doing a production of Grease in Midleton.

Despite the pervasiveness of TV programmes such as The X Factor and The Voice promising showbiz careers, Ms Nolan says that her pupils are not under any illusions about stardom.

“You have only a small percentage who want that. Nowadays, the children are more academically inclined than they were before. Most of their parents want them to get a degree before they think about the stage.”

As well as teaching the dramatic arts, Ms Nolan says the college is about instilling confidence. “To love yourself is the greatest love of all,” she says.

Past pupils include Michael McCarthy, who starred in Les Miserables, on Broadway and in the West End; Catherine Mahon-Buckley, teacher and director; Michael Sands, of Les Miserables and Fiddler on the Roof, and actor, Frank Twomey.

Irene Warren, who had a career in the West End, joined the Montforts at the age of ten, where she learned tap dancing and modern dance.

In London, Ms Warren starred in Les Miserables, Starlight Express, Miss Saigon and Grease. She returned to Cork in 2002, after nine years in the UK, and now runs a musical theatre school with Bryan Flynn.

“Having a background with the Montforts, particularly in dance, was hugely helpful to me when I worked in the West End. I had ferocious determination. Having Eileen Nolan as a mentor was great. I admire her hugely. She is a very good business woman and has an innate love of the arts. As a child, I felt a bit in awe of her. She is such an iconic figure in theatre in Cork,” she says.

Damien Delaney, who was with the original West End cast of Billy Elliott for four years, joined the Montforts at the age of ten. “I begged my mother to allow me to join. I had watched all the Gene Kelly films,” he says.

Mr Delaney learned tap dancing, singing, and acting at the Montfort College of Performing Arts. “It was a really good training ground for me when I was young. I stayed there until I was 18 and then trained for three years at the London Studio Centre.

“In my third year at college, I got a part in Cats in the West End and did that for two years,” he says.

Other jobs followed, including a role in a UK tour of Singing in the Rain. “I’m now a senior lecturer in musical theatre at the University of Chichester. My training with the Montforts still stands to me. Eileen Nolan instilled a great deal of discipline in all of us, which I have to this day,” he says.

Mr Delaney also works as a choreographer and will be choreographing an RTÉ programme for children entitled Pump Up My Dance.

Grateful that the Montforts have given him a solid foundation in the performing arts, Mr Delaney hopes that they will still be around for another 50 years.

* Minister Micheál Martin will launch the Montfort College of Performing Arts’s new studio at Penrose Wharf, at its 50th birthday party, tomorrow.

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