Kelleher relishes chance at the helm of the Everyman

Actor, director and producer Julie Kelleher is relishing the challenge of taking the helm at the Everyman Theatre, writes Colette Sheridan

Kelleher relishes chance at the helm of the Everyman

The new artistic director of Cork’s Everyman, Julie Kelleher, has eclectic taste in theatre. Replacing Michael Barker-Caven at the helm of the theatre which will see her programming the venue, Kelleher says she loves commercial musical theatre.

“I think it can be absolutely transporting and exciting and a great spectacle. At the same time, put me in front of Conor Lovett doing Beckett and I’m equally enraptured. If I’m in some way transported or carried away by what’s in front of me, I’m happy.”

At 31, Kelleher reckons she’s the youngest ever artistic director of the venue. But despite her relative youth, she has built up a considerable body of work as a director, actor, producer and administrator. She holds an MA in drama and theatre studies from UCC (her thesis was on playwright Martin McDonagh) and she was among the first cohort of students to study drama at the university for her BA, graduating in 2004.

Kelleher, from Carrigaline, says she wasn’t consciously coveting the artistic director job.

“I didn’t expect the opportunity to arise. When it did, my initial impulse was to think about it and then dismiss it immediately. But a colleague said I should think about it for a little longer. So I did. I sent in the application last December so I’ve had a few months to really think about it. It’s amazing the change of perspective that getting the job has given me, imagining myself in the role. I’ve always treaded the line of working as a producer and as an actor and theatre-maker. I think that is something that will serve me well. In many ways, I hope to be a facilitator of sorts.”

Having performed on the stage of the Everyman as well as working temporarily in marketing at the venue, Kelleher says that for her, the Everyman has always been a strong space in the community.

“I hope to continue that and to try to make it accessible to as many people as possible, particularly theatre practitioners. The door of the theatre is already open. Michael Barker-Caven did fantastic work in that regard over the last couple of years. An ensemble of actors was put together (during his tenure) and he made himself available to talk to all sorts of people.”

Barker-Caven will direct the opera, Der Vampyr, which opens at the Everyman in June. He is collaborating with John O’Brien, following the success of their 2012 production of Pagliacci.

“I hope Michael will continue to come back, directing for the Everyman,” says Kelleher. One of Barker-Caven’s legacies will be the Everyman Youth Theatre, which will be launched soon.

One of Kelleher’s goals is to create more balance in terms of the number of women on stage. “There are so many phenomenally talented women working in this city as actors who don’t get the opportunities they deserve. The more we see of those ladies on stage, the better our chances of keeping them in Cork.”

Working in theatre in Cork can be tough, says Kelleher. “Most people who work in theatre in general are forced to diversify. They have to teach or run workshops and do odd jobs.” However, Corcadorca’s establishment of the Theatre Development Centre (TDC) at the Triskel in 2011 allows theatre practitioners to develop their work free of charge and present it to the public for feedback. Kelleher is on the steering committee of the TDC.

“The year the TDC was set up was really a watershed in Cork. It was around the time that Tom Creed came to the Cork Midsummer Festival and there was Mary Hickson, establishing herself at the Cork Opera House. Michael Barker-Caven was just starting at the Everyman. It felt like a regeneration in the city. The next step for the TDC is to help people find new ways to produce really good work and to earn a little bit from it.”

From an early age, Kelleher was drawn to theatre and story-telling, having done speech and drama classes as a child. She started attending drama classes given by Marian Wyatt when she was 14. “I really felt that I had met like-minded people, people who were a little left of centre.”

Although Kelleher’s parents were concerned about the lack of job security in the theatre world, she stuck to her guns. “When I was 18, I had a strong belief that as long as I studied something I really liked, it couldn’t go wrong. Something would turn up.”

Having worked voluntarily for Meridian Theatre Company and for Playgroup during a year’s break between her BA and her MA, Kelleher spent a year in Dublin after completing her studies, where she worked as an assistant producer for Maura O’Keeffe.

“It was an extraordinary year. I worked on the Fringe Festival and the Dublin Theatre Festival. I met a lot of people. But it was difficult because Dublin is so expensive. In the end, I wasn’t able to cover my costs but in terms of what I learned, it was almost like an apprenticeship.”

On returning to Cork, Kelleher worked for Meridian, initially as the company’s administrator and subsequently, as the company manager. Kelleher went on to work freelance, including as a singer in a covers band. Last year, she co-created and co-produced The Scarlet Letter which was staged by Conflicted Theatre for the Cork Midsummer Festival.

Kelleher is not so keen on the business end of theatre. “I don’t like budgets but they’re a reality, especially in the arts.” She says the Everyman is in “solid” financial health despite Arts Council cuts. “We need to look at other ways of fundraising for theatre such as corporate and private funding.”

Kelleher will announce the Everyman’s summer programme in mid-May. “The one thing I’d like to see more of is contemporary theatre from the UK and Europe rather than the more classic titles,” she says.

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