AFTER six months lying eerily quiet, the nation’s beleaguered theatres are hoping to throw back the curtains and fling open their doors once more.
Finola Doyle-O’Neill, founding member in 2014 of the UCC Players comprising college staff, retired staff, and alumni, is directing a production of The Importance Of Being Earnest at Cork Arts Theatre next month and says: “I want to kick-start Cork theatre!”
The show is set to run from September 9-13, under strict conditions owing to Covid-19, with a maximum of 28 people allowed in each night.
“At the theatre, everybody will have their temperature taken on entry, wear masks, and are able to pre-order drinks online,” Finola says.
“Theatre lovers and actors alike are very excited about staging Oscar Wilde’s wry and witty comedy of manners, which will give the people of Cork a well-deserved lift.
“Obviously, we won’t be playing to a full house due to Covid-19. Social distancing has to be observed for the safety of the audience the cast.
“At present just 28 patrons are permitted in the audience each evening instead of 100. But I’m sure we’ll have an enthusiastic audience! It is hoped that theatre lovers will come out to support the efforts of this fledgling group and help kick-start live theatre again in Cork.”
Finola, a broadcast historian, has always loved theatre, and holds a Masters degree in Modern European Drama.
“During lockdown, I spent a lot of time auditioning via zoom for my upcoming production of the timeless classic, The Importance of being Ernest” says Finola, who is a mother of five.
What was that like?
“Lockdown was an anxious time for everybody,” says Finola.
“In between walks I was auditioning for this first play to be staged in the CAT Club since Covid-19 broke out, which is amazing. The response was incredible.
“Thirty-one people auditioned and they were all brilliant. I discovered a lot of new talent.
“The artistic director at the CAT Club, Delores Mannion has put enormous efforts into kick-starting the Cork drama scene.”
The actors appearing in Dermody’s production, directed by Finola, got into character when they auditioned for the Oscar Wilde favourite.
“Some of them even dressed up in period costume!” says Finola.
“The best thing was that each candidate wasn’t aware of any other candidate auditioning. Zoom was a great filtering process where each actor could do their own thing without knowing any of the others.”
The actors waited in the wings.
“I created a ‘lobby’ room on zoom,” says Finola.
“If somebody didn’t make the cut, I could gently let them down. Right now, play rehearsals are taking place in my garage and thrice weekly in the various homes of cast members!”
The cast and production team are ready to go on stage and ‘break a leg’.
Finola and her cast are delighted that the curtain will go up on September 9, assuming there are no new restrictions before then.
She is enthusiastic about her craft.
“I’ve always admired British historian Lucy Worsley,” says Finola, the first UCC graduate to receive a Doctorate in Ireland’s radio and television history.
“I always wanted to be her and I’d like to present historical programmes like her!”
Behind the scenes during Covid-19, Finola honed her passion.
“I have always dreamed of setting up my own theatre company in order to pursue my own personal passion for the classics and comedic drama,” says Finola.
“Stageit Productions has two core impulses; to be the home of classics and comedies and to stage original historical dramas that chart key moments in Ireland’s history.”
Finola looks forward to keen audiences.
“These are primarily aimed at second level students throughout the country,” she says.
“Having my own theatre company allows me to write and stage historical dramas. My objective is to perform on Fridays only from January, 2021, in schools around Munster and to explore key scenes in Irish History with a Q and A session with students after each 40 minute performance.
“I have already received very positive feedback from second-level history teachers and booking will start from September for our first production written by me,” says Finola.
The first performance by Stageit Productions will bring history to life.
“When Harry Met Kitty, an exploration of the lives and love between Kitty Kiernan, Harry Boland and Michael Collins, tells how the course of Irish history was affected by the love triangle.”
Finola adds: “I got this mad notion one Friday afternoon. Wouldn’t it be great to act out history?”
However, she isn’t keen on treading the boards herself.
“I am not an actress! I make a far better director,” says Finola, who directed UCC Players in Wilful Murder, the Tomás Mac Curtain Inquest, before lockdown.
“You could say I am an honorary member of the UCC Players!” says Finola. “I have directed five productions with them.”
She was honoured when Sabina Higgins accepted an invitation to Cork to mark a memorable event in Irish history.
“I invited Sabine to UCC in December, 2018, to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage,” say Finola.
“We celebrated a unique parade of women throughout the ages. Sabina led the parade, which was followed by a symposium on the role of women today.
“Sabine loved it so much she wanted to return to UCC for similar historical events. She was thrilled to receive an invitation to A Wilful Murder, the Tomás Mac Curtain Inquest.”
The President accepted the invitation too.
“He was looking forward to a cultural experience, he said. Hopefully President Higgins will have another opportunity to visit Cork on another occasion,” says Finola.
Finola is delighted to be the bearer of good news.
“This is a really positive good news story!” she says. “The entertaining comedy production of The Importance of Being Ernest is a fabulous play to open the CAT Club with after lockdown and after the depressing months we’ve all been through.”
Finola’s mother, Kay Doyle, was cast as Mrs Walsh in A Wilful Murder, the Inquest of Tomás Mac Curtain. Is she making a return to the limelight?
“Not this time,” says Finola. “But she’s really looking forward to the opening night. She is a huge fan of stage and screen.”
Finola has many enthusiastic fans.
“My son Ross was roped in to help me get my new website for Stagit Productions up and running,” she says. “He’s an IT expert.”
The Importance of Being Ernest, directed by Finola Doyle O’Neill, is due to run at Cork Arts Theatre from September 9-13.