The Arts Interview: Terry O’Donovan

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

The arts interview: Terry ODonovan
Born in Limerick, I grew-up in Parteen but have lived in the UK since 2000.

Born in Limerick, I grew-up in Parteen but have lived in the UK since 2000.

My education began in Parteen National School followed by St. Nessan’s Community College. After that, I headed away to the University of Reading to study Film and Theatre before doing an MA in Advanced Theatre Practice at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. I have been based there since 2003.

It was as a ten year old, that I first started performing, forcing the neighbourhood children to create an epic musical in my back garden.

My parents soon realised that I was quite serious about performing and enrolled me in the Expressive Arts Stage School which I loved. At 16, I was lucky enough to be part of the first ever cohort of Limerick Youth Theatre (LYT). Here, I performed in, and directed short plays and films, while simultaneously gaining an insight into contemporary dance and street performance. In all this, I was greatly encouraged by LYT’s Director Ciarda Toibin and by numerous professional tutors and directors.

Always a keen collaborator I soon began making original shows with some of my fellow students in London.

Director Daphna Attias and I decided to create shows in unusual spaces, even leading audiences around a boat on the Thames for our first production. Together, we founded Dante or Die Theatre, and eight years later, we are still making shows that go backstage instead of onstage, visit underground car parks and even ski-lifts. To this day, there is no thrill quite like watching a project start from the mere nugget of an idea and grow into something special. Currently, I am the Co-Artistic Director of Dante or Die with Daphna, and together with producer Kirsten Burrows, we continually dream-up new shows usually spending a couple of years making them happen.

Theatre is an incredible way of connecting with people emotionally, allowing them to experience new aspects of themselves that they might not otherwise have thought about.

For example, we are currently touring a show for under five year olds, with three musicians, at outdoor festivals all over the UK. It is wonderful to see children engage with the arts. I have, also, just completed a London run of a new show about 1990s music and teenage first love with Toot (another interactive performance company I belong to) called Be Here Now. In August, we will begin preparing for a new show that will première in the autumn of 2015. This will be set in a self-storage building, taking small groups of audiences into different units to reflect on those objects which we hold most sacred in life.

The Lime Tree Theatre and Theatre at the Savoy in Limerick are graciously hosting our production of ‘I Do’ this summer.

Daphna Attias directed it and we both collaborated with writer Chloe Moss to create it. With this show, we are interested in looking at how relationships grow over the years. The story is set in a hotel about 10 minutes before a wedding ceremony. It is like watching a real-life jigsaw puzzle with the audience acting as flies on the wall of six hotel rooms in The Savoy Hotel. Audiences are separated into six groups and, then, spend ten minutes in each room. I, also, play the best man. Audiences might start in my room and see ten minutes from my character’s point of view, before heading off to view the bridesmaids and, then, the mother of the bride. Actors go in and out of rooms so you only figure out the full story by seeing all of the rooms. However, each group sees it in a different order. It’s going to be a lot of fun. The subject matter of marriage and what it means to say ‘I Do’ continues to be massively resonant for many people. Weddings and long-term relationships are things we all go through, and deal with, which is why I think the show has been so successful.

Despite performing steadily in theatres around London for over ten years I have never had the opportunity of performing in my hometown so it’s going to be a really special weekend for me.

Limerick City of Culture (LCC) has created a great buzz in the city with some amazing practitioners creating inspiring work. Our people want to engage with good theatre, film, comedy, and dance but it needs ongoing support and investment if we are to get where we want to be. As part of this process I was delighted to be asked by Marie Boylan to direct a show at The Sailor’s Home. This is part of the Made in Limerick Project funded by LCC so I expect to be spending over a month, here, again, later in the year, which will be brilliant. In the mean time, I continue running two companies, acting in shows, writing funding applications, creating partnerships with venues and anything and everything in between.

The arts, journalism and fashion tend to be fields that are heavily oversubscribed so it is incredibly difficult to establish yourself in them.

Indeed, I often wonder how people end-up directing theatre or films at all. It is such a strange life. Although, massively rewarding, there is never anything definite about them career-wise, so you have to be passionate in order to succeed. For me, it is all about storytelling and being interested in creating new experiences for audiences. Indeed, the main reason that I adore watching theatre is for the emotional and experiential possibilities that accrue before the curtain goes up (or in our case, the door opens). Nothing else will suffice!

‘I Do’ (A Dante or Die Production) runs at The Savoy Theatre on Saturday, July 12 and Sunday, July 13 at 5pm and 8.30pm daily. For more information please see The Lime Tree Theatre website: or Facebook page:!/LimeTreeTheatre