Glow with happiness on the Grand Parade

Bishop Lucey Park has been turned into Santa’s Cork Workshop, as part of GLOW, writes Ellie O’Byrne
Glow with happiness on the Grand Parade
Elisa Gallo Rosso, Cliff Dolliver, Director, Dowcha Puppets and Cassandra Davis at GLOW.Pic; Larry Cummins

IT’S a very Cork Christmas at GLOW’s Bishop Lucey Park festive experience this year.

The theme, chosen by Cork puppetry and street theatre company Dowtcha Puppets, is ‘Santa’s Cork Workshop’ and amongst the attractions is a loading area for Santa’s sleigh where children can spot sacks being loaded up for areas throughout Cork city and county.

“We thought that was a really nice touch, and very exciting for small kids,” Dowtcha director Cliff Dolliver says.

“The sacks say place-names like Bishopstown and Togher on them, so parents can point out the sacks for delivery in their family’s area.”

It’s the second time that Dowtcha Puppets has won the tender for Cork City Council’s GLOW Christmas celebrations in the park; they produced the 2014 offering, Tír na Nollag, but in subsequent years the tender was awarded to other companies, including Waterford’s Spraoi, so Cliff says it’s good to be given the chance to work a decidedly Cork flavour into the annual festive production.

“We’re picking up from where we left off the last time in 2014,” Cliff says. “We really liked that presentation but we’re making it more Christmassy and traditional.

“The aesthetic is what I’m calling Cork and Western: the signs are broken palings and it’s a kind of cartoony, Hanna-Barbera look. It’s also a longer and more interesting route.”

A total of 230 metres of cartoon fencing, 10 live actors, six elf puppets, one sleigh, two live-animated puppet reindeer, a special letterbox for Santa letters, and a special jingling ‘Bell Tree’ bedecked with 1,500 bells form part of the attraction: it’s a huge production, and as usual, numbers in excess of 80,000 are expected to visit the Bishop Lucey Park walk-through this year.

Santa’s Cork Workshop will let kids take a peak behind the scenes at the well-oiled machine that is Santa’s workshop in the lead-up to the big day. Presents are being wrapped, elves are conducting quality control tests on toys, and the reindeer are being given some last-minute training to make sure they’re up to the task of delivering presents.

Serge Vandenberghe, Rebecca Holbrook and Aoibhinn O'Dea are busy with the quality control elves at Santa's Cork Workshop at Glow.Pic; Larry Cummins
Serge Vandenberghe, Rebecca Holbrook and Aoibhinn O'Dea are busy with the quality control elves at Santa's Cork Workshop at Glow.Pic; Larry Cummins

It’s a theme to inspire excitement in children as Christmas draws nearer.

Cliff said: “I know they’re going to love it. People will walk away with life-long memories, and pictures of their kids with silly reindeer and Giant Santa. This year is going to be very special.”

Dowtcha has worked with 10 live performers for Santa’s Cork Workshop, including Italian clown Elisa Gallo Rosso, Cork stage actress Rosie O’Regan and Belgian puppeteer and performer Serge Vandenberg.

“Our director, Julie O’Leary, cast the elves and did an amazing job with some really high-calibre performers,” Cliff says. “I really think that’s something that makes a huge difference in what a child will experience, so we’re incredibly lucky to have this bunch on board.”

Puppetry has always been as the heart of what Dowtcha do, and this year, puppet elves, reindeer and a giant puppet Santa Claus will help to spark children’s imaginations. A winding route through the park, which will also be lit by Cork City Council, will slowly reveal each new area to families as they stroll the route.

Children can also bring their letters to Santa, to post in the custom-built letterbox before they leave the park.

Learning from their experience with their 2014 production, Cliff says improvements include a set-up where photo opportunities are always visible from several angles at once: in their last production, the popularity of photo-points meant there were queues for many of the attractions inside the park, but the new lay-out should help free families up to explore.

A unique sensory addition to Santa’s Cork Workshop is the ‘Bell Tree’, a huge construction bedecked with 1,500 bells, to add a magical jingle to the atmosphere in the park, which will also be heightened by the musical arrangement by composer Edel O’Sullivan and sound designer Cormac O’Connor.

“There are lots of little challenges to figure out,” Cliff says.

Glow, Bishop Lucey Park.Pic; Larry Cummins
Glow, Bishop Lucey Park.Pic; Larry Cummins

“The big puppets are quite heavy, and difficult to operate for four hours at a stretch. But we’re busy devising a clever, theatrical way to work in a shift change so puppeteers can swap roles while staying in character.”

For Cliff, his performers and the entire team behind Santa’s Cork Workshop, it can be easy to lose sight of the magic of Christmas during the hard work of designing and building the set. But Cliff says that when the first members of the public set foot in the park, that’s when the whole project comes together.

“The reward is that first time you see a really small child walk in and look around and grab their parent’s hand tighter,” he says. “You can see their imagination light up and start working in front of you. No matter what Christmas means to you, that’s a gift.”

Visit Santa’s Cork Workshop in Bishop Lucey Park from 4.30pm to 8:30pm on:

Friday. December 8 to Sunday. December 10; Friday. December 15 to Sunday. December 17; Wednesday. December 20 to Friday. December 22.

Natasha Bourke and Josephine Dennehy with husband and wife duo, 85 year old puppets, Don and his wife Kitty, at Bishop Lucey Park.Pic; Larry Cummins
Natasha Bourke and Josephine Dennehy with husband and wife duo, 85 year old puppets, Don and his wife Kitty, at Bishop Lucey Park.Pic; Larry Cummins

MORE ABOUT GLOW

The much-loved festival GLOW, A Cork Christmas Celebration opened on the Grand Parade last weekend and continues at weekends, right up until December 22. The event was attended by more than 160,000 last year.

As well as the winter wonderland at Bishop Lucey Park, the much loved 30-metre Ferris Wheel is back, along with a food market.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Tony Fitzgerald has urged people to come out and support it. He said: “Cork is really a special place, and this Christmas we encourage everyone to come into the city to experience the wonder of GLOW, and to shop locally.

“With fantastic Christmas food markets, choral performances, a 30-metre Ferris Wheel and Santa’s Cork Workshop in Bishop Lucey Park, there is so much to see and do this year at GLOW, Cork’s Christmas Festival.”

The markets will open from noon to 8.30pm, while the ferris wheel runs from noon to 8.30pm on the dates above. See www.glowcork.ie for full details.

Cork’s 96FM, C103 and the Evening Echo are the media sponsors of GLOW 2017.

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