Fintin Kelly, Belinda Henzey, Sighile Hennessy (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Friary, March 08)
The Equinox Theatre Company was set up in September 2008. It is a theatre company with a difference, established, I suppose for people with a difference. A celebration of difference even. It is an ensemble based, actor led company primarily involving people with special needs in the theatre arts. Meeting two days per week and spending nine months working together to create, devise and rehearse a production – enough time to conceive and give birth. In June 2009 Equinox will be giving birth to its first piece of professional theatre. The company was born from the Equinox Theatre Performance Course that was set up in 2005 in order to cater for a growing need in the area.
This profile of the Equinox Theatre in Kilkenny is written by one of our Mutantspace skills exchange members who has worked with this company for a number of years
These days, with financial restraints a theatre company’s emphasis must be on production – the proverbial “bums on seats” a prerequisite for a production to succeed. This has become, in short our measure of success. But how can we find the space to play – if the financial restraints are upon us – crushing us as if the very atmosphere became not a help, but a hindrance. The answer, I have found is quite simple – daring to step outside the boundaries of the known, and the familiar.
Just three years ago I began to work with the Equinox Theatre Performance Course which had just been newly established as part of KCAT Art & Study Centre. There I encountered people who had been so lacking in the opportunities that we take for granted that their dreams seemed completely and absolutely unreachable. One such person, a founder member of the Equinox Theatre Company a woman who dreamed for so long of becoming an actor on the stage that she volunteered to answer phones in the box office of the local theatre just to be close to the stage.
The theatre course is almost five years old now and last June the first graduates emerged as actors. And so the Equinox Theatre Company came into being as part of the larger umbrella organisation of KCAT.
KCAT Art and Study Centre rests on the bank of the gently meandering King’s River behind an old stone hump-backed bridge in the quiet town of Callan ten miles south of Kilkenny city.
KCAT stands for Kilkenny Collective for Arts Talent. It was founded initially by the Camphill Communities of Ireland as an EU Horizon project to facilitate the artistic development of seven individuals with a range of disabilities in 1999. Now, almost ten years on and with the establishment of a permanent centre, KCAT has now broadened its scope to include people of all ages and abilities. Rather than integrating one group into another, the aim of the centre is to create a new situation; an environment where artists and students from different backgrounds can work together and create as equals and in which life-long learning is a possibility for everyone.
At KCAT the only qualification needed is the real need and desire to create art. It is the common denominator of everyone in the organisation.
At the heart of KCAT lies the Arts Council funded Studio in which artists with special needs are supported in their professional development by professional mentor artists. They regularly hold solo and group exhibitions of their work in Ireland and abroad and take on individual and group exhibitions.
KCAT does not stand still. It is always creating, always planning and playing. In 2002, during the Kilkenny Arts Festival; KCAT organised Bridge Street Gallery: an exhibition of work by local children, KCAT students, artists and teachers in pubs, houses, shop windows and the streetscape. Lower Bridge Street in Callan was transformed into a living art gallery with KCATers at work, workshops for children and Siopa Obscura a walk-in pinhole camera. Part of this was Undercurrent; a midnight event on the Kings River. From the bridge people could see video work projected onto the surface of the water celebrating Bridge Street. Participants, dressed as fish moved in the water and shared out fish shaped buns donated by the local bakery.
In 2006 two artists from the KCAT studio – Andrew Pike and Sinead Fahy in collaboration with the Galway based MACNAS designed The Big River parade (based on the story of the Kings River that flows through Callan) which not only opened the Galway and Kilkenny Arts Festivals but also marched down the very tiny main streets of Callan.
In October 2007 KCAT hosted the first TRASNA International Festival of Inclusive Theatre; bringing in companies from Australia, Japan, Belgium and Scotland not to mention three Irish companies to perform in as many venues around Callan as could be pulled together.
In March 2008 the students of Equinox performed their own adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In August 2008 three graduates from the performance course performed in their first professional show: the Cork based Asylum’s production of Six by Sundown by Ciaran Ruby and directed by Donal Gallagher – a site specific piece about the Callan Workhouse.
In September 2008 the Equinox Theatre Company was set up. To date, all that Equinox has are the members that are working hard to create it. Eight actors, one facilitator and a space – a recently deconsecrated church on the opposite side of the river to its mother ship Art & Study Centre. There are no lights, no stage, no stage managers just some rudimentary sound equipment and the fire of the imagination, the will, the desire, the need to create, to make art.
June approaches, and the Equinox foetus grows. Nests are being built – and with the onslaught of summer a hatchling will emerge, yellow, fluffy, fragile and delicate – balancing, holding on for dear life in this cruel world. We know already what it will look like – film, clowning and puppetry telling a tale set in a moment: the fraction of time between life and death.
KCAT approaches its tenth birthday in August 2009. To celebrate, we will have a three-day festival – KTen: from 6-9 August 2009, to which national and international organisations like KCAT will be invited to participate.
The festival will be an outdoor event using four disciplines each marking one of the four elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The four main workshops will be performance, drumming, fire sculpture and theatre based installation using as their starting point the birth of KCAT. The participants will spend just three days working on these four elemental disciplines of their choosing – each responding to the work of the other all leading towards a spectacle on the last night of the festival.
As part of this there will be a KTen Exhibition: the artists from the studio will curate a retrospective exhibition with work by students, artists & mentors.
We are also planning a KTen Publication: a visual book documenting all KCAT activities and events with short texts by those involved. Including a DVD using footage from it’s ten-year existence.
There’s two parts to this story; one I suppose a centre of innovation in the arts, and the other the birth of something new growing out of it. Last year we held a think tank to figure out how we could support the graduating acting students – inviting theatre artists from all over to participate. It was clear that we couldn’t simply say;
“There you go, you’re an actor now, get an agent – good luck.” It was also clear that there was a spark of genius amongst those that wished to continue to create. One of the graduates said during the think tank:
“Keep the fire burning.”
That’s it really isn’t it?
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