Young Offenders star calls on Universal Studios or Warner Brothers to set up large studio in Ireland

Two Corkmen who are success stories in the world of TV and theatre reveal to The Echo their thoughts on how the industry can survive and thrive during these difficult times with all the Covid-19 restrictions
Young Offenders star calls on Universal Studios or Warner Brothers to set up large studio in Ireland

THE SHOW MUST GO ON: Shane Casey as Billy Murphy in The Young Offenders. The actor and playwright is brimming with ideas on how theatre and TV can adapt to pandemic life. 

SHANE Casey has become one of the country’s most recognisable actors thanks to his portrayal of Billy Murphy in the hit homegrown television show The Young Offenders.

It seems like the whole nation has fallen in love with Billy and his quirky criminal ways.

Season four of the Cork-set comedy has yet to be confirmed, but Casey has plenty of projects in the works to keep him occupied while he waits for word to come through.

A successful playwright as well as an actor, he has been working on a new play and a script for a new television show.

With filming all but at a standstill and theatres shut across the country due to Covid restrictions, Casey has some well-thought ideas on how to ensure the industry can remerge and thrive once more.

“Everyone is suffering from this,” says Shane. “It’s not just the actors and writers, it’s the production crews, it’s the stunt team, it’s the designers, and then you have catering companies who don’t have a set load of people to feed and hotels and B&B’s who accommodate everyone.

“Our theatre and film industry brings in so much money and employs a huge amount of people, we have to get it back up and running.”

Casey points out that any potential sets or theatre shows need to be secure and safe, otherwise costs will mount up quickly.

“At the moment, the big concerns are insurance companies. If you start filming and there is a lockdown and the set is closed down, it will cost a lot of money very quickly.

“A few weeks ago, when the government said the pubs would open and then announced that they wouldn’t, it was very hard for their industry. I don’t want to take away from what they are going through right now, but you just couldn’t let that happen with the film industry. If that happened to a major film it would cost millions. We need to come up with a plan now and one that works.”

Casey believes it is the creatives who should be the ones to draw up the plans.

“A creative industry like the arts can find a way around this. We are the people who will figure out the problems, we have the skills and ideas to resolve it. It won’t be pencil pushers and it won’t be the government. It needs to be us.

“We need to start presenting our ideas to people in power. We are used to thinking outside of the box, of coming up with ways to build sets and tour shows. We have the imagination. It needs to be put into our hands”.

The actor says private virus testing would speed up the ability to film, and that cast and crews need to isolate together for the duration of the shoot.

“We need to isolate people and keep them together for filming, then I think we will be fine.

“Lead actors and actresses will often work in close quarters so they need to be tested regularly to keep them safe. Private testing would have to come in to keep things moving fast and allow us to regulate our industry.”

On a larger scale, Casey believes there is scope to grow our film industry, thanks in part to Brexit.

“I’d be surprised if anything happens big before Christmas, but I’m also optimistic,” he says. 

“I think Ireland already has a very strong advantage in being the only English-speaking country in the European Union at the moment, We have an advantage over the UK and someone needs to capitalise on that.

“One of the big studios like Universal Studios or Warner Brothers or somebody who has the guts to do it needs to open a large film studio here.

“There are lots of studios in England, which show there is a benefit to working in the European Union. It is time the shift was made here. We have the talent — the production crews, everyone from costume to set building, so it needs to be capitalised on.”

When it comes to theatre, Casey believes that the key to safety is letting the creatives come up with the work-arounds.

“I understand that our main concern as people is safety, but let us try to make it safe. Let us make the venues safe. Better still, we’ll bring the venues to you”.

Much of Casey’s work involves theatre for young people and he has ideas for making theatre accessible for children.

“Get them back into school, keeping the schools open should be our priority. If the kids are in their pods then why can’t we bring a couple of actors into the schools to do a show for them? It is easy to do a show where there is no contact with anybody.

“Or use somewhere like the Everyman, strip out all the seats and bring the kids in so that they have a safe distance from each other and they can sit on the ground or their bags.

“We can use projected screens, or we can give them a smaller version of a pantomime because they say the show must go on, it is a saying for a reason.”

Casey is confident that the industry will rally if it is given the chance to do so.

“We’ll be creative and we’ll figure it out, but we need to be trusted to do it. Let us take care of our industry and it will work out.”

Interview: CARA O’DOHERTY

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Brian Fenton, who has been appointed Producer of Druid theatre company.
Brian Fenton, who has been appointed Producer of Druid theatre company.

FOR Corkman Brian Fenton, who has just been appointed a Producer of the legendary Druid company in Galway, the show must go on, despite the situation with Covid.

Times are challenging for the world of drama, but true to its reputation, Druid has announced a return to live theatre with an extensive rural tour throughout Co. Galway in September and October.

A tribute to the life and works of Lady Gregory, the programme will include six of her one-act plays, as well as Tom Murphy’s On The Outside.

Originally planned as part of Galway 2020, the project has, perforce, had to be rethought at speed, and the creative result will see open-air stagings performed by a company of 12 actors and musicians, directed by Garry Hynes.

Corkman Brian has been made a producer for the legendary company, and has more than enough on his plate at the moment, juggling all the different issues and making sure he doesn’t drop any of them.

This Covid-adapted project is being performed entirely outdoors and in many fascinating venues like Coole Park, Kylemore Abbey, Portumna Workhouse, and Ballyglunin Railway Station, famed for its appearance in The Quiet Man. Some hard planning was required?

“Yes. We are fully embracing all restrictions in place due to the virus,” says Brian. “We are very conscious that those restrictions may change over time and we will make changes as necessary.

“We are working with the Government first and foremost to put together plans which are safe for the audience, and conforming with their guidelines.

“We are absolutely committed to producing and presenting work for our audiences and we’ll do this in whatever way is possible within the guidelines.”

Regarding weather, the Druid tradition is that the show will go on if at all possible.

“We’re well-used to adapting to Irish climatic conditions, so part of my job is ensuring that we have a Plan B, for every eventuality on any given day. And a Plan C, D and E too…”

They even have a robust contingency plan for the appearance of unexpected ghosts which, given the historic locations, seems all too likely.

Where does Brian see drama going in a Covid and post-Covid world?

“Throughout history, theatre has always adapted to challenge, and we will continue to adapt as required. It’s a hugely challenging and emotional time for everyone in the country and if we can do our bit by bringing theatre to communities around Ireland, we’ll do our very best to make sure that happens.”

A Fermoy man, he instinctively gravitated to drama from a very early age under Valerie O’Leary and the Montforts.

“I feel like I spent my entire childhood shuttling between Feis Maitiú, Everyman and the Opera House,” says Brian. “Cork is such a vibrant artistic city and I couldn’t get enough of it all.

“I was also very fortunate (like many of us who end up in the Arts) to have a terrific English teacher in St. Colman’s, Fermoy — Fr Martin Heffernan. He introduced me to the writing of writers such as Graham Swift and John Steinbeck, and was the first person I’d met who truly understood how to make Shakespeare accessible. I’ve never forgotten that influence.”

Having studied Drama and English at UCC, Brian then went to the Oxford School of Drama to train as an actor.

“I worked as an actor for a few years in London but gradually got entirely seduced by the idea of becoming a producer.

“Following a few productions on the fringe in London, I ended up in the producing office at The Old Vic for a number of years and quite literally learned everything I know on that job (although I’m still learning!).”

It was a fast-paced environment, he reveals, but extremely exciting, and he is hugely proud of the work he did there, among them the original production of the Bob Dylan musical Girl from the North Country, which has now gone on to multiple West End runs, as well as a sell-out run in New York.

Other highlights included the premiere of Jack Thorne’s version of A Christmas Carol (now repeated every winter at The Old Vic) and a production of The Hairy Ape which transferred to Park Avenue Armory in New York.

He was actually on honeymoon in Italy in 2018 when the opportunity came up to join the Druid team. “I couldn’t pass that up — the chance to move back to Ireland, and to work with my favourite theatre company in the world!”

Associate producer since 2018, he has now just been appointed Producer and is still glowing with delight. “I really am incredibly proud to be part of such a great team, led by an artistic director like Garry Hynes.”

Hynes directs the plays for Druid, interpreting the script, teasing out the motivations, seeking the fullest understanding of the playwright’s mind, and bringing the story to life onstage.

A producer’s job is quite different, but every bit as demanding.

“The best way to explain it is that I am the one who makes the whole project happen — makes it possible, in fact. I have to settle the locations and the problems that each will provide, think about transport, accommodation, sets, etc, and of course how the show will be financed. Everything practical.

“My desk is where the buck stops as regards actually getting the event on the road and working. There is no defining limit to the producer’s job! It’s pulling the whole thing together, and then keeping the plates spinning.

“I often quote Stephen Sondheim, who said ‘The art of making art is putting it together, bit by bit’. It’s equal parts logistic and creative, and the great thrill of working in the arts is that every time we produce a new project it’s an entrepreneurial act: we need to decide what the project is, where we should do it, who will be involved in it, who’ll want to see it, how often will we do it and how much will it cost.”

A stress-free job then, right Brian? He laughs. “Not quite.”

The Druid Gregory Tour starts on September 15. Full details of venues and ticket information at druid.ie

Interview: JO KERRIGAN

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