Cork Midsummer Festival: When all the city becomes a stage

This year’s Cork Midsummer Festival uses a combination of local and international talent to put on a fine series of events on Leeside, writes Colette Sheridan

THE main theme emerging from the forthcoming Cork Midsummer Festival (Jun 21-30) is that “it’s all about Cork,” says Tom Creed, now in his second year as artistic director.

From 100 Cork-based citizens taking to the stage of the Cork Opera House in a show called 100% Cork, to local school children learning how to be restaurant critics, the festival is reaching out to the city’s populace in a way that is imaginative and clever in these straitened times. Such events are curated by international artists who are re-imagining the city, having executed the same shows in different cities all over the world.

One of the directors of Rimini Protokoll, the internationally acclaimed German documentary theatre company behind 100% Cork, is Stefan Kaegi. He was involved in last year’s festival hit, Parallel Cities, where the public was given an insight into the lives of hotel chambermaids. In executing 100% Cork, Kaegi and other directors of Rimini Protokoll have teamed up with Irish theatre maker, Una McKevitt, to produce a unique portrait of Cork city. The starting point was the Central Statistics Office (CSO) where facts and figures relating to the citizenry were noted. An employee of the CSO, Mary Malone, who is also a writer, was the first person to be invited to take part in 100% Cork.

“The casting process is like a chain reaction,” explains Creed. “Each person invited to take part has to invite someone they know to join up. Every place from Blackpool to Blackrock will be represented.”

Canadian company Secret Theatre has devised a show called Farewell Cork, which is about good-byes, an apt subject in a time when many people are emigrating in search of work. “It’s a goodbye party in a shop unit and is remade in every city that Secret Theatre goes to.” Two performers transform a busy street corner into a live video backdrop. Audience participation is part of this event.

What is perhaps surprising is the amount of new and emerging artists who are choosing to work in Cork, despite the difficulties in accessing funding. Some of these artists are creating work for the festival.

“That’s something I’m really excited about,” says Creed. “My own Cork Midsummer Festival story started with me devising the show Soap 10 years ago. It’s really important that the festival takes a strong hand in discovering, supporting and presenting the work of a new generation of artists who are making a commitment to working in the city.

“When I arrived back to Cork from Dublin to join the festival in 2011, I was thrilled at all the activity going on, happening in places like the old FÁS building and the Theatre Development Centre at Triskel. There’s this whole new generation of artists that makes it feel as if I and my contemporaries have moved on.

“I had been in college with people such as filmmaker Oonagh Kearney and Lynda Radley, a creative collaborator of mine. We all graduated at the beginning of the last decade and we stayed around for the Capital of Culture in 2005 and then moved on. Now, the scene has refreshed itself. This new generation are making work which is very new across dance, music, theatre and circus.”

Young artists were involved in a structure called Solstice at the Cork Midsummer Festival where they made space in buildings from where they presented their work. “By introducing the We Live Here platform this year, there’s an opportunity for the festival to be a little bit more hands on in seeking out and supporting these artists.”

We Live Here involves six companies or individuals who are developing innovative work in the performing arts who will present their work at the festival. “We’ve worked with some of them before and we’re also delighted to welcome new discoveries. The festival audience has always been curious and excited to discover the next big thing, to see new work before anyone else sees it. Whether that is work from Hammergrin or Corcadorca and Enda Walsh back in the day, there has always been this opportunity for people to see work that they may not have known was going on under their noses.”

Corcadorca Theatre Company, which used to stage large scale site specific productions at the festival, is presenting a small scale production at the Theatre Development Centre. It’s a play called The Tallest Man in the World, written by Cork-born playwright and composer, Ailís Ní Riain.

“In the last couple of years, Corcadorca has made a decision to put on its major annual production later in the year. I suppose that within the festival, there’s a lot of shows and events competing for attention. What’s really exciting is that Corcadorca is producing a play by the remarkable Ailís. She’s someone who’s been on my radar for a while. Her play is an extraordinary piece of writing.”

Ray Scannell’s Deep should be a big draw, as it’s about the former music venue, Sir Henrys, centre of the city’s clubbing and rave scene in its heyday. “That’s a really important work. Ray started his career at the festival and has gone on to tour the world with his one man show, Mimic. For Ray to come back and make something that is so tied up with the city’s recent cultural history is fantastic.”

The Cork Midsummer Festival has a turnover of half a million euros. It is funded by the Arts Council, Cork City Council and Fáilte Ireland. It also has funding from sponsors and patrons as well as some funding from the Gathering and Ireland’s presidency of the EU. Despite this help, the festival is heavily dependent on box office receipts. Last year, 11,500 tickets were issued. Tickets for Mick Flannery’s opening concert at City Hall are €29.50 and most other events will cost €15 and under. There are also free events.

“Even in a time when people feel that things are difficult to the point of being impossible, we deal in possibility,” says Creed.


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