Cork County Culture Night has been a big part of my life

Award-winning writer, Katie Holly, who is this year’s Cork County Culture Night Ambassador, talks to COLETTE SHERIDAN about the upcoming event, which has taken an innovative turn this year, due to Covid-19
Cork County Culture Night has been a big part of my life

Katie Holly, who is the Cultural Ambassador for Cork County Culture Night, on September 18.

CHARLEVILLE native Katie Holly is this year’s ambassador for Cork County’s Culture Night on September 18. It’s a role that she is cherishing.

This award-winning writer, who has four plays under her belt, is hugely enthusiastic about Culture Night. She is involved in three projects for it, making her well qualified for her ambassadorial role.

“I feel very passionate about Culture Night. It’s really important and it has been a big part of my life over the last few years,” she said.

Katie, who works as an administrator with Centre Stage, a performing arts school in Mallow, has the perfect work balance. As well as her day job three or four days a week, she writes plays and stories.

This year, Culture Night is taking place against the backdrop of Covid-19, making it a greater challenge than usual.

“It has to be more innovative than previous years because we’ve never had to engage with restrictions and guideline like these before.”

But these “seeming limitations have driven us to think laterally about how we communicate, how we express ourselves and how we share cultural experiences”.

Katie’s own Culture Night presentations sound exciting. She was commissioned by Cork County Library Service and Arts Office to write Crossword, which was put on in Mallow Library last year. It has been recorded to be broadcast as a podcast on September 18. It features Tadhg Hickey and Danny Buckley, who are both library service users with different reasons for being in the library “and different things to be angry about”.

Another play by Katie to be performed by both herself and actor/playwright, Irene Kelleher, is called Pageant. It will be staged in front of the School Yard Theatre in Charleville.

“It’s about two teachers bringing their first class pupils to the church for rehearsals of their Christmas pageant. We will be treating the audience as if they are seven year olds, bringing them into a space and talking to them about the rehearsal. We will go into our own conversation about what is happening.”

A scene from Day of the Straws.
A scene from Day of the Straws.

The other project that Katie is involved in for Culture Night is Day of the Straws. It started as an online artwork for the Cork Midsummer Festival. Katie describes the latest version of it as a “film, sound, text, image and digital project” that is going to be at the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh. Day of the Straws, on which Katie was a contributing writer, examines the social history surrounding the 1832 cholera epidemic, relating it to modern day Covid-19 with all “the different curative and preventative methods that were being tried out. It’s not a comparison to Covid but it definitely draws parallels.”

Growing up, Katie was always writing, “mostly bad poetry and short stories”, She was “massively influenced” by Shoe String theatre company in Charleville and she started acting there.

“We did a lot of plays on the amateur circuit. Then, I fell out of love with performing and I really wanted to create a role that I would have been interested in playing myself. I felt there was a dearth of female characters that were interesting for actors to perform.”

Katie’s first play, Marion, premiered at the Cork Midsummer Festival in 2016 and went on to be performed at Clonmel Junction Festival, Skibbereen Arts Festival and various other venues around the country. It starred Laura O’Mahony (RTÉ’s Bridget and Eamon and The School.) Her second play, Sharon, won a New York Festival award and was performed around Ireland.

Up until March when lockdown happened, Katie’s play, Crowman, starring Jon Kenny (of d’Unbelievables fame) was touring nationally. This funny but poignant play is very much rural-based.

She said: “It’s the type of thing I write because I’m from a mid-sized town between Cork and Limerick. I’m kind of caught between the urban and rural. I spent a lot of years in Cork city when I was at college and after that. Then I came home to Charleville 12 years ago to settle down. I feel like the two worlds clashed together.”

Katie, who is engaged to be married, is now well settled in the town she grew up in.

At UCC, she studied drama and theatre studies, followed by a year out teaching drama. She then went back to college and completed a Masters in Irish literature.

Asked who her favourite writers are, she says that changes daily. But when it comes to playwrights, she admires the work of Martin McDonogh.

“I think he’s one of the funniest writers whose work I’ve seen on stage. It has been mentioned to me that there’s definitely a Martin McDonogh influence in my writing. It’s the rural language and the references to nature.

“I think it could be equally said that there’s a John B Keane influence on my work. I grew up seeing his plays and I was in some of them. And Martin McDonogh would have been influenced by John B Keane as well.”

Katie has a balanced view of life and work.

“I’m ambitious about being happy with what I write. I feel there’s massive pressure on people to be successful in a monetary way. In the last few years, I’ve really gained an insight into myself. My happiness is much more important to me than making money from writing. The pinnacle of my ambition is to be happy with something I write in the next 12 months.”

And so far, Katie seems to be achieving that ambition.

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