Award-winning Roscommon County Youth Theatre’s latest production The Roses of Eyam by Don Taylor: a remarkable true story about the plague that swept Britain in the 1600’s is being performed Friday, 12th April and Saturday 13th in Roscommon Arts Centre.
Artistic Director of Roscommon County Youth Theatre Catherine Sheridan, (nee Simon) talk’s about their latest production The Roses of Eyam and her journey from her first role in senior infant’s to setting up Roscommon County Youth Theatre twelve years ago. RCYT have gone from strength to strength performing several highly acclaimed productions over the years including The Crucible, Car Show, Understanding Marcus, Things I buried in a Small Town, Requiem for Lena, Stories, Toil and Trouble, 4X and Folie Tha. They won an award for their 2012 production of The Railway Children. This year’s production, The Roses of Eyam is their most challenging project to date. As she chats to Rose Byrne, Its clear how passionate she is about her work and the level of professionalism she is instilling in her young charges.
How did you become interested in theatre?
Since I was three all I wanted to do was be an actress. In baby infants I played a duck in a school play. Apparently I was very good at projecting my voice so I got the job of introducing everyone and telling the audience the order of things. I loved being up there talking to everyone. I fell in love with the stage then and there. I grew up in Boyle where there wasn’t much going on to do with the theatre. When I was a teenager I got involved with Boyle Musical Society. I also did a few drama workshops in the summer. One year I was very fortunate and did a course in Stage Wise Gormanstown, Co. Meath which still runs today. That really cemented for me that this was what I wanted to do.
What got you interested in directing and how long have you been directing?
When I started all I wanted to do was act, I loved acting. I never dreamt of facilitating or directing. Then I was working with a theatre school in Dublin and part of the job was to write and direct the end of year production. I was very nervous but found it fascinating. It was brilliant. It kind of just roller coasted from there. Over the years I went on to train in UCD Dublin then NUI Maynooth. I’ve also trained in Galway, Liverpool, Scotland, Russia, and New York. All the different kinds of training feeds into your work, it helps you figure out your own style. It all builds, you know .For me training is on-going. I believe the day you think you know everything is the day you should give up. There’s always something new to learn. Directing is not just about directing the actors. It should be a journey for you too, a learning curve, it helps you discover about yourself, your style and work ethics. I get as much out of it as the group and definitely what I put in I get just as much back. I’ve been working as a freelance Drama facillator and director ever since.
Was there any one play or person that inspired you?
Yes there’s been a few. A lot of playwrights inspired me, Spanish playwright Frederica Garcia Lorca I read one of his scripts when I was young it really impressed me, also the movie script of The Piano and Tennessee Williams. You know sometimes a piece of music or a turn of phrase can inspire me too.
How did RCYT come about and when did you start it?
When I left school I joined Dublin Youth Theatre I thought wow! Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a youth theatre in Roscommon. After my training, I approached Roscommon County Council who had no arts officer at the time. After about a year of me plaguing them about getting one, they appointed Philipp Delemere as an arts officer. When he took up office there were a lot of messages from me to set up a meeting. He was behind me from day one and really believed in me. I had full control and we had a few meetings through the year. I set up RCYT twelve years ago.
Why did you want to start up a youth theatre and what’s it about for you?
I got so much out of it myself when I was younger, I couldn’t see why Roscommon shouldn’t have its own youth theatre. For me, Roscommon County Youth Theatre is about its young people, their contribution and ideas shape the face of youth theatre. Drama workshops are the core element of a youth theatre’s existence. Workshops engage participants in a wide range of skills, themes and issues which can range from practical everyday actions to a more particular skills set. Workshops are designed with specific aims and objectives. Participants are led through a range of exercises, activies and role play with specific outcomes in mind. Members at RCYT had 20 plus core training workshops during the year. Youth theatre can have a profound impact on young people, personally, socially, artistically and aesthetically. As Artistic Director of RCYT I co-ordinate and implement the youth theatres annual program of workshops, theatre trips, guest tutors, festivals and productions, as well as being responsible for youth theatre member’s well-being while in my care.
Who funds RCYT?
Roscommon Council funds RCYT with the member’s fees contributing towards costs. The arts council also funds us but our funding has been cut dramatically over the last few years and we are still trying to put out the same level of work. It’s tough.
Have you any other way of bringing in funds?
No. Even the budget for this year’s production is half of what last year’s budget was. It can be very disheartening especially when you see the potential of the group. When you see where some people have gone and I know where others will go in the future. You find a way though to keep it going when you see what the members’ get out of it. It would be fantastic to get more support, we could do other projects. We’re really limited to what we can do.
What sort of a response did you get when you started RCYT?
I got a great response. Twenty young people joined up as members it was brilliant. I was living and working in Dublin and used to travel down every Sunday in my old Toyota Starlet which I called “Scarlet Starlet” to deliver the workshops. Now we have the Arts Centre to train in but at the time we trained in a school hall. We then moved to Frenchpark to the old court house. We cleaned the place and painted the walls all different colours; we used whatever paint we could get. I remember we painted some of the walls a shocking pink. We ran out of paint and had to use black. It reminded me of liqueurice all sorts! It was great the students were very enthuastic and it turned out to be a very creative space. We’re really lucky to have the arts centre to train in now. It’s a great facility.
What was the first production RCYT put on?
It was a forty five minute play called Folie Tha by Ciaran Gray. Ciaran was a friend of mine and we worked together in Dublin.
What have some of the highlights been in the last twelve years with RCYT?
A big thing for me is seeing some of the members when they join can be shy, quiet, insecure, and unsure of themselves. Over time then you’re watching them being transformed. They also make solid friends for life. You know it’s great they’re happy and passionate about the work. They’re really close and the support they have for one another is unquestionable. Then some of the members apply for projects outside. We’ve had members being part of the Young Critics indeed a present member Ronan Kearney was on the panel this year. Then we’ve had members being accepted for Dublin Youth Theatre residential program. That’s a fantastic opportunity where 16 young people are picked from auditions from all over the country to work with an established director. After four weeks they put on a production in The Peacock Theatre Dublin for seven nights. You have to be over 16 to apply. We have some members applying this year. Hopefully some of them will be successful in getting on the program.
Has any former member gone into acting as a career?
Yes at the moment we have Michelle Simon (Fine Art & Set Design, Acting and Stage Management)) Noelle Kielty (Acting and Facilitating) Diarmuid Woods (Performing Arts – Sligo IT) Ruadhan Mew (Music NUI Maynooth, Acting, Singing, Composed original music on previous productions) Sarah Byrne (Theatre, Australia) Previous members were also involved in The National Theatre – Stephanie Hudson, Laurence Cole and Diarmuid Woods. We have another student in her fourth year in college studying drama and many more coming up who want to pursue drama. It’s very rewarding.
For RCYT’s 10th anniversary you put on four short plays entitled 4x with past and present members. You also brought three other directors as well as yourself to work with the group. How did you find that?
It was a great experience. We had Directors’ Padraig McIntyre (Livin Dred Theatre Company), Jo Mangan (Performance Corporation) and Jason Byrne (Loose Cannon Theatre Company) working with us. If I’d had more resources it could have been a bit better co-coordinated. There should have been more of a cross pollination, there never really came a point where the four groups came together, but it was a really great project that went fantastic. It was really nice to see the guys working with other directors and in smaller groups as opposed to a large cast as we always have. It can be quite difficult to find a good meaty script for a large cast; you can find brilliant scripts for small casts. It was lovely to have some past members come back for the project and see how they were getting on.
Last year’s production, The Railway Children won an award. Can you tell us about that?
Well we didn’t receive it yet. I think that’s taking place in April. Yeah we won an award from Shannonside Arts and Entertainment Awards for our production of The Railway Children. We’re delighted it’s a great honour and we look forward to the ceremony.
How did RCYT happen to be in the Mansion House last Year?
NCYI – National Youth Council of Ireland invited us to participate to represent Youth Theatre in Ireland at the Youth Advocacy Showcase at the Mansion House last October. It was a great experience for the cast.
You are a very active group with quite a lot of projects achieved to date. Apart from acting do the members learn other aspects of theatre?
Yes members involved in youth theatre learn many aspects of theatre from acting to script writing, set design to movement, costume to marketing and stage management to lighting. An important social benefit of youth theatres is a sense of belonging and inclusion. RCYT encourage the sense of community, which helps members bond inside and outside of workshops. They recently worked with NAYD in the creating of a promotional DVD of the youth theatre CAPTURE YT. It can be viewed at: http:/www.youtube.com/watch?y=
Your upcoming production in April The Roses of Eyam by Don Taylor is based on a true story about the plague. Would you say this is your most ambitious project to date and can you outline the play for us?
I would think it is the most ambitious project with youth theatre. It’s a three act play with 140 pages. There are over forty characters in the play so a lot of the cast are doubling up playing two characters. The play is set in 1665 in a village “Eyam” which is a real village in Derbyshire, England. A new reverend William Mopession comes into the village. The old reverend Thomas Stanley and Mopesson are not very compatible so there is a lot of tension between the two. The villagers’ don’t really like the change. Meanwhile, the local tailor buys a consignment of cloth from London to keep Eyam up to fashion however, that’s when things change. The cloth is wet and is rolled out to dry but it actually contains the plague. The story is set over a year and tells of the villagers’ bravery and commitment with the rectors help to keep the plague contained in the village at great cost to themselves. Although it’s a serious subject there is very witty dialogue throughout and we can be in stitches in rehearsals. I think it’s a fantastic play for the cast to show how capable, professional and mature they are, but that’s the way we work. As my late father used to say, if you’re going to do something do it right, or don’t do it at all. We have very high standards, a very high bar and we want to keep on raising that bar. I have strict rules in rehearsals; no wishy washy or slacking is allowed. I think that’s the way it should be its good discipline. It’s really good for concentration and focus. The group respect that and they know themselves when they put in a good rehearsal. We’ve put a lot of work in but we’re very excited and looking forward to the production.
Have there been any unexpected hurdles or difficulties working on such a big play with a large number of roles?
Funding has been a big issue. We’ve a massive amount of costumes to get; a lot of them have to be made. There are a lot of props to get and a large set to build. Trying to source some of these things has been difficult because of when the play is set. My husband Daniel Sheridan has been kind enough to build the sets the last few years with the help of my brother Seamus Simon and Michelle Simon. He’s doing it this year also. Then we have the usual hidden costs such as posters, sound, lighting, and the rights to perform the play which costs a lot. There’s an awful lot goes on behind the scenes that people don’t realize. It’s been tough with all the funding cuts.
Have there been any surprises on this production so far?
There have been some really big surprises with the cast and definitely there are some people to really watch during this show.
Have there been any difficulties knowing you are dealing with a piece of history and this happened to real people?
We are trying to be sincere and as true to it as we can. I’m trying to get the cast to connect with the characters and the story to bring out the emotions of what happened to these people. It’s also difficult finding some of the props because it’s set in the 1600’s. I want to have the set as authentic as I can get it.
Has any other youth theatre ever performed this play in Ireland?
No not as far as I know which is very exciting. It’s been performed in England a few times.
What’s your vision for the future of RCYT?
If we had more funding we could do a lot more projects. I’d love to put on two or three productions a year. I’d also love to do a film project, another radio project. I’d really like to do something with Valentine’s Day and art and perhaps live media. I’d also love to do a project that brings together old members. I’d love the group to write a play that would be a good experience. I’m also looking into doing an international exchange with them. I’ve already made some contacts.
You set up your own theatre company “Drama Works Ireland” Can you outline some of the work you do with your company and other area’s of work you’re involved in?
I set up Drama Works Ireland in 2006. We’re a multidisciplinary theatre company. We work in schools, theatres and community settings offering workshops to young people, adults and professionals. We have worked with over 20,000 young people and directed over 35 productions with young people and adults. I specialise in Drama Facilitation and Directing. I also write, do street theatre, performance and film. I am currently involved with a project with Calipo Theatre and Film Company.
If you weren’t involved with drama, what would you be doing?
I don’t know…I can never see myself doing anything else other than theatre or film to be honest with you. I don’t know anything else.
Finally Catherine, is there anything you would like to add about the play The Roses of Eyam?
I just think everyone should come and see it. It’s an amazing play that you won’t see anywhere else. I think it’s a play a lot of people can relate to on a number of different levels. I think people should see what young people are capable of. It’s a really professional, high quality educational production. I feel people are going to be really surprised by it.
The Roses of Eyam performances are as follows:
Friday 12th of April at 11am & 8pm
Saturday 13th of April at 3pm & 8pm
Tickets for The Roses of Eyam are on sale now at The Arts Centre or on line at www.roscommonartscentre.ie/ or by calling (090) 6625824
RCYT are supported by Roscommon County Council and The Arts Council of Ireland/An Chomhairie Ealaion.
Catherine can be contacted at
Phone: +353 868747024