AFTER dedicating 34 years of her life to Graffiti Theatre Company, the founder and CEO, Emelie FitzGibbon has been honoured.
The theatre in the Blackpool building has been renamed the Emelie FitzGibbon Theatre, to mark her three decades service to the company.
Emelie retired from Graffiti last year but remains on the board as CEO until the end of this year. She is also an artistic advisor to the innovative company which creates performances in English and Irish for audiences aged from six months to 18 years.
Emelie, who keeps her hand in theatre as a freelancer, recently directedfor Graffiti for the Cork Midsummer Festival. It was the company’s first opera for babies and the first baby opera commissioned and performed in the republic.
Graffiti, a professional company founded in 1984, has weathered storms which have seen its funding cut. But while TEAM, the former Dublin-based educational Theatre Company, had to close down because of funding cuts, Graffiti has managed to keep going, helping launch the careers of writers, Enda Walsh and Ray Scannell as well as countless others, including actors, who cut their acting teeth in the company’s numerous productions.
Emelie was always going to have a job in some aspect of the arts. She has a BA degree (honours) in English and a bachelor’s degree in music from UCC. From an early age, she was encouraged in her artistic and educational development by her parents. She studied music under Aloys Fleischmann and Sean Ó Riada.
Emelie, born in Cork in 1947, is the daughter of a Scotsman, a wool designer who trained in Edinburgh. While on holiday in Galway, he met and married Emelie’s Cork-born mother and gradually moved into management.
“For the most part of my growing up, my father was manager of Midleton Worsted Mills, which was part of the Sunbeam Wollsey Group. My mother looked after the house and garden in Midleton. She was a wonderful gardener.”
One of two children, Emelie’s brother, Stuart, who was younger than her, “was profoundly mentally disabled. He died when he was 30. It was difficult (for the disabled) at that time. I know both my parents were great advocates for developing services for children with disability.”
When she was only nine years of age, Emelie was sent to boarding school at the Loreto Convent in Youghal.
“I had an enormous row with my parents because I didn’t want to go there. Strangely enough, they won. I quite liked school. There was a lot of music and English, particularly music.”
Emelie, who would come home at weekends, was taken to Cork city every Saturday to attend Joan Denise Moriarty’s ballet classes.
“I loved ballet but I wasn’t the greatest ballerina.”
During her time at the Loreto Convent, Emelie became head girl. She was able to indulge her love of theatre through an uncle who was a Franciscan priest and chaplain to the Stage Guild.
“Between my mother and my uncle Cormac, I went to a lot of theatre. We would occasionally go off to London in the autumn and go to the theatre there. So there was a lot of encouragement.”
After gaining her higher diploma in education, Emelie taught English and music at Scoil Mhuire, looking after all the choirs in the Cork city school.
“That was a really good experience. I like teaching a lot.”
After having her three children, Emelie — married to playwright and retired UCC theatre and drama studies academic, Ger FitzGibbon — returned to the university where she completed an MA.
She worked in UCC’s English department, becoming head tutor there and doing substitute lecturing. Having become involved in theatre, including UCC Dramat and the former Cork Theatre Company (CTC), Emelie was encouraged by Gerry Barnes and Maurice O’Donoghue of CTC to try her hand at theatre in education.
“I was always interested in educational elements of the arts and have taught for New York University and I taught in Hong Kong (and other places abroad).”