Julie Kelleher: The drama of running a theatre

RUNNING a theatre can be a juggling act.

Julie Kelleher: The drama of running a theatre

Twelve months into her role as artistic director of Cork’s Everyman, Julie Kelleher is conscious of the need to present popular events, such as concerts and comedy, as well as more serious theatre. That mix is what the Everyman is known for, says the 32-year-old who is the theatre’s youngest ever artistic director, and also an actor and director in her own right.

Kelleher is attuned to commercial realities and says keeping the doors of the theatre open is a challenge. “We have 650 seats. For an ordinary theatre show, we can probably only expect an audience of between 120 to 150 each night. That’s a struggle. We try all the time to improve this. But it’s a question of resources. There’s never a shortage of ideas here. It’s a question of trying to find the time and money to implement our ideas with a relatively small number of staff.”

In competition with “getting a box-set, sitting in and pulling down the shutters, we have a job to do which applies to the broader theatre industry. It’s about trying to convince people that theatre is an exciting live experience. There’s been a resurgence of live music, with bands coming out of retirement to tour. There is an appetite to hear things live, but that hasn’t quite transcended to theatre. For some reason, it doesn’t have the pulling power. For me, the live experience is the exciting thing about theatre.”

The Everyman’s programme is quite varied, but does have several perennial favourites. Alongside this weekend’s opening of a new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust, comedian Des Bishop is back on March 6-7; Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer is back for the seventh time, and other repeat shows include God Bless the Child, a play based on the short stories of Frank O’Connor. The latter is a local production, something Kelleher is keen to encourage. “As a theatre fan, there’s plays I’d have loved to have had, but in terms of keeping the balance right, you sometimes have to let things go.”

Kelleher is particularly excited about Decadent Theatre Company’s production of The Pillowman, by Martin McDonagh.

“I think it’s a brilliant play and it was the reason I did my masters degree on Martin McDonagh. It’s very different from his usual plays. Geographically, it could be set anywhere. It’s got a fairytale type of landscape. You could call it ‘fairytale meets Pinter’.”

Kelleher is pleased that the Everyman received funding from the Arts Council this year of €175,000. The venue also received €35,000 from Cork City Council. Box-office receipts pay the staff’s wages, among other expenses.

“It can be a struggle, but it’s like anything; you have good days and bad days,” she says.

Kelleher says there are potentially exciting shows coming to the theatre later in the year, which she’s not in a position to announce just yet. “They’re contingent on Arts Council touring funding. One of the things I’d love to try is an in-house production that might run for up to four weeks. The received wisdom is that a show can’t go beyond 10 nights. But if we got it right, the people of Cork would, I believe, come and out and support the work. It’s something we’re working on.”

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