Although, originally from Castleconnell, I moved to Wales when I was just 18 years old, living in the UK for eight years in all.
However, I am currently living in Limerick City. I went to the Salesian Secondary School, and later went to the University of Wales, at Newport College, where I studied Interactive Art. After a year out I did a Postgraduate Diploma in Theatre Design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
I always wanted to make my own work.
And like a lot of puppeteers, that means wearing a lot of hats, such as being artistic director, performer, and writer. Indeed, I have had the privilege of working with great puppeteers and theatre practitioners over the years. I was always interested in movement and originally wanted to be an animator. When I was in college, I created moving installations, which had a lot of shadow puppets. I, also, did a great workshop with Handspring, an amazing puppet company, in London in 2006. After that, I went looking for puppetry opportunities and applied to be an apprentice with Bread and Puppet Theater, in Vermont, USA. Up to that point I was only a maker, but I got thrown in at the deep end and got hooked on being a puppeteer, so I returned to the UK to study Puppetry at the London School of Puppetry.
My parents played a huge part in my support network and were behind me all of the way.
Happy for me to make my own decisions in life, they helped out nonetheless, whether I was running off to join a political puppet circus or returning to college to become a puppeteer. In 2007, I started my own company called Beyond the Bark Puppet and Installation Theatre. The name refers to the trees from which puppets are carved. Our first show What The Cat Dragged In was chosen to be part of the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space (2007).
As part of Limerick City of Culture I worked on Noye’s Fludde at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
The set design of the boat was inspired by that cathedral’s roof. I, also, designed the set and costumes for The Tain at The Milk Market working with a very talented group of Hip-Hop professionals under the artistic guidance of Ciarda Tobin. For The River, I worked on a barge in the marina using Helena Enright’s collected stories about the Shannon with director Ciarda Tobin and costume designer Sharon Kiely. Most recently, I also designed the set for The Pigtown Fling with the very talented Jacob Stack. I have had the pleasure of working with Helium Children’s Arts and Health as resident artist since 2009. In addition, I am a member of PLAN, the Professional Limerick Artists Network. So, the theatre community in Limerick is very tightly knit.
Currently, I’m working on Spun, a beautiful new puppet theatre show for children from 2-6 years and beyond.
It is a magical story of friendship and imagination, told through puppetry, animation and song. Produced by my company Beyond the Bark, Spun is directed by internationally-renowned puppeteer Liz Walker. Other members of this fantastic team include Mags O’Donoghue, our Production Stage Manager, and fellow puppeteer Ann Blake (who is also writing the original songs for the show). Mixing the sound live during the performance, as well as ‘puppeteering’ the set, is John Galvin. I’m tying the visuals together working with great designers Kathy Graham (lighting), John Greenwood (sound design), Thorey Mjallhvit Omarsdottir (animation/graphic designer and co-author) and Gemma Morris (costume). I have designed the set and puppets for the show, with Gearóid O’hAllmhuráin and Susan Lynch working with me on set and puppet construction. We are, also, very lucky to have Maeve Butler behind the scenes as our producer. Beyond the Bark was funded by Limerick City of Culture to create Spun as a piece of children’s theatre. The City of Culture has been really fantastic for artists in Limerick.
Spun was inspired by my nephew Ciaran who, when he was only three, had an imaginary friend called Piedva the Spider.
I wrote the book for him. Thorey Mjallhvit Omarsdottir and I went to college together in Wales. We lived across the road from each other in fact and had a lot in common. I always loved her animations and illustrations and asked her if she would make a book with me for Ciaran. She agreed and six years ago we finished it and a friend printed up a few copies. We decided to approach publishers but unfortunately no one picked it up back then. So, in the end, we ran a crowd funding campaign and, thanks to a lot of friends and family, we self-published it. Spun is now for sale in book form at Out of the Blue at The Milk Market.
We have got to work with some great writers, directors, performers and designers over the years.
If someone inspires me artistically, I will ask them to join us on a project. On each project so far, I have taken different roles. However, I never let go of the puppet making one, even though I get lots of help. Financially, it is difficult, and you never know what the future will hold, but you can apply theatre in so many ways to keep yourself going. Theatre performance is only one aspect. For example, some people in theatre run workshops also work in applied theatre in different settings, such as in schools or health settings. I love making puppets and to tour the world with one of my puppet shows would be just fantastic!
Spun is at 69 O’Connell St. (formerly The Belltable), from 14-16 October as part of the Bualadh Bos Children’s Festival. Performance times: 7pm Tuesday, October 14; 10am and 12 noon next Wednesday and Thursday. See www.beyondthebark.ie for more. Tickets are €8 from 061-774774 or www.limetreetheatre.ie