The Arts Interview: Katie O’Kelly

John Rainsford


John Rainsford

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Although, born in Dublin, I have always loved Limerick.

Although, born in Dublin, I have always loved Limerick.

I had a great time performing my play, Counter Culture, in the Savoy Theatre last year, and I am really looking forward to bringing it to Kilmallock. My father, Donal O’Kelly, is a playwright and actor, and he actually directs the play. I guess when you grow up surrounded by theatre; it is hard to resist being pulled in.

Having got the acting bug at college, I haven’t been able to step off the stage ever since.

I love the excitement and the energy of live theatre. You can create a whole world onstage with a range of characters and relationships without ever leaving the building. There is something magical about that. Playwriting is still very new to me, but I find myself writing more and more. Indeed, I have a house brim-full of little scraps of paper with ideas jotted down. Counter Culture, my very first play, made its debut at the Dublin Fringe 2013 having been selected to be a part of the Show in a Bag mentorship scheme, run by the Dublin Fringe Festival, the Irish Theatre Institute and Fishamble Theatre Company. Show in a Bag mentors and supports performers to write their own tourable show.

The main thing that draws me to the theatre is the immediacy of it.

You can be years trying to get a film produced, but theatre, in its truest form, is a very raw and real response to what is going on in the world around us. It can challenge us in a way that film and television can’t. A trip to the theatre is like going through an experience which will never be repeated, in the exact same way again, with the audience playing a vital role in creating every show.

It is certainly getting much harder to make a sustainable living in the arts.

Cut-backs are happening left, right, and centre, particularly for those just starting out. There are, also, fewer opportunities for project development and touring. The only thing to do is to go out and create your own work, to let your voice be heard and to campaign for the role of the Arts in society. Being an actor isn’t easy, but personally, I do it for that feeling of getting on stage and embarking on a story. I certainly wouldn’t say no to any film work (if there are any film producers reading!), but I think my heart is in the theatre and on the stage. I love when things go wrong on stage and you have to figure it out as you go, it keeps you on your toes as a performer and you just don’t get that with film.

For me, theatre is more than just a career choice.

If you have the acting or writing bug, you have to go for it and see what happens. It’s something that has to be given a voice. I would certainly support anyone taking those first shaky steps into the arts world. The most important thing to remember is simply why you are doing this, and for most actors and writers, it is because they simply wouldn’t be able to do anything else. You just have to believe in yourself and go for it.

Counter Culture takes place during one chaotic day on the shop floor of an Irish department store. It follows the stories of four very different shop employees on the day when zero hour contracts are introduced and all hell breaks loose. The show is a multi-character performance, with 20 different characters and I play them all. It is great fun, though, and really keeps me alert as a performer. As well as the main characters, you meet a whole array of store employees, management officials, and of course, customers. It’s a whirlwind gallivant through one working day on the shop floor. At the time I was writing it, the centenary of the 1913 Lockout was going on, celebrating those workers standing-up for their rights.

Today, the age of zero hour contracts has arrived with workers getting no sick pay, no holiday pay, and no guarantee of ever being offered work.

In fact, they have no guarantee of a wage at all. Yet they must be available to work should they be needed. This seems totally crazy to me, when we are supposed to be progressing. It feels like going back to a time when workers stood on shop corners to be picked for work. So I decided to write a show about workers’ rights. It is the story of a very real struggle for a lot of people in Ireland at the moment. However, it is told using the fun and magic of storytelling to create an entertaining, laugh out loud and heartbreaking show.

I would love to travel.

Ever since I was small I have had a huge curiosity about the world, and I would love to get the chance to explore it further and to experience other cultures. In addition, to my current tour with Counter Culture, I will, also, be on the road with a national tour of the New Theatre’s, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce. We toured with it around the country last year and even went to Paris which was fantastic. It will be great to get started on that show again, but for now, I can’t wait to bring the mad retail world of Counter Culture to Kilmallock!

‘Counter Culture’, written and performed by Katie O’ Kelly, opens at Friars’ Gate Theatre in Kilmallock (for one night only) on Friday, February 6 at 8pm. For bookings please call: 063-98727 or visit the websites: and or