It's an honour to be supporting up and coming talent at Cork theatre company

In our  'Person to Person' interview, Julie O’Leary, Creative Learning Director with Graffiti Theatre Company, tells us how they have adapted during Covid and their involvement in Reimagined GLOW
It's an honour to be supporting up and coming talent at Cork theatre company

Julie O'Leary. Picture: Marcin Lewandowski

TELL us about yourself;

I’m Julie O’Leary, I’m from Cork and I work as Creative Learning Director for Graffiti Theatre Company in Blackpool. Graffiti specialises in making work for and with children and young people, so it’s a lovely place to work!

I design and deliver creative projects for schools and community groups, coordinate Fighting Words (a creative writing programme for schools) and I’m the Director of Activate, Graffiti’s youth theatre, who meet weekly in our theatre space, or online — depending on restrictions.

I have also just started a role as Creative Associate for Arts Council Ireland’s Creative Schools Programme. It’s a busy role, but there’s great support from the team at Graffiti, and all of the amazing freelance artists and volunteers who give so much to the projects.

I was a member of Activate YT myself, so I know first-hand the impact that youth theatre can have on the life of a young person.

When I left the youth theatre, I studied Drama and Theatre Studies in UCC, then worked with Activate and Graffiti for a few years before going to Glasgow to do some more training. I was meant to go for a year, but ended up staying for six! I learned so much while I was there, and had so many brilliant experiences. It’s such an honour and a privilege to be running the youth theatre now, and to be supporting the next batch of leaders!

Where were you born?

In Cork, in the Erinville Hospital.

Where do you live?

I rent a house on Sunday’s Well, a few doors down from my first family home.


I have four sisters, one brother, two nieces and a load of cousins!

Best friend?

I’m lucky to have lots of great friends in my life. A lot of them are scattered all over the world so we might not see each other that often, but when we do it’s like no time has passed at all. My partner, Cárthach, is definitely my best friend, though. He’s great company, he’s really funny and he’s really good at cheering me up whenever life gets a bit too much!

The lockdown has been hard for a lot of couples, so I’m happy that me and Cárthach really enjoyed the time together.

Earliest childhood memory?

My early childhood memories are all a bit blurry, but they all involve me being harassed by my older siblings! I’m the second youngest of six children and we lived in quite a small house, so it was mayhem for my parents!

I remember us spending a lot of time together though, and lots of time outdoors playing on the street.

Person you most admire?

My dad, who sadly passed away eight years ago, was a big hero of mine. He was really hardworking, really funny, and was always ready to listen. He gave great advice, too — on any topic!

I also really admire Emelie Fitzgibbon who founded Graffiti, and Geraldine O’Neill who was Director of Activate when I was there. Two absolute powerhouses, and big shoes to fill!

Where was your most memorable holiday?

Last Christmas, myself and Cárthach went to India. A friend was getting married, so we jumped at the chance to attend and take a few weeks exploring. 

We went to Delhi, Goa, Jaipur and Agra. It was definitely a culture shock, but we enjoyed every minute of it. The sights, the smells, the colours, the crowds — all amazing! 

We had curry on a beach in Goa for Christmas dinner, next to some lovely cows.

Favourite TV programme?

I’m very late to the party, but I watched The Sopranos for the first time during lockdown. I was blown away. So many great characters. I can’t wait to watch it again!

Favourite radio show?

Me and Cárthach like to throw on RTÉ Gold and listen to classic hits, especially on a Sunday afternoon.

Your signature dish if cooking?

I make a tasty Shepherd’s Pie.

Favourite restaurant?

I love Quinlan’s Seafood Restaurant on Prince’s Street. It’s great that we can get such good quality seafood in Cork, and Quinlan’s never disappoints.

Last book you read?

I just finished Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier, and l loved it. I’m re-reading Cethan Leahy’s Tuesdays Are Just As Bad, too. Activate are making a stage adaptation of the novel this year, with Cethan’s guidance and mentoring. I actually love reading YA fiction, and I get to read a good bit of it when I’m working with young people. A good perk of the job!

Best book you read?

Pride and Prejudice — always!

Favourite song?

I don’t have one favourite song, there are too many!

Your proudest moment?

I’m really proud of how myself and the whole team at Graffiti have managed through the last nine months of uncertainty, especially for the arts industry.

 We’ve managed to adapt really well, while still offering meaningful engagement projects for children and young people. We successfully moved our youth theatres to an online format and now we’re offering our workshop programmes for schools in an online format too.

We’re creating and developing new projects all the time, and working with lots of brilliant artists. It can be really hard to keep going with all of the challenges, so I think Graffiti is really excelling.

Of course, it’s been a really tough time for children and young people too, so finding a way to connect with them and stay creative makes me feel very proud.

What else are you up to at the moment?

We’re really busy at Graffiti! We’ve just launched a brilliant project with our friends at Fighting Words called the 12 Stories of Christmas (all available on Graffiti’s website!) and I’m working on a new project in connection with Re-imagine Glow which is going to be gorgeous!

We’re working with theatre artist Deirdre Dwyer and 10 schools in Cork city. The children are making responses to this year’s Re-Imagine Glow project, so they’re making show box theatre designs based on different pantomimes. The classes are getting boxes of materials and guidance from Deirdre (via Zoom) as they make their designs, which will be on display in City Hall at Christmas. Exciting times!

Experience the magic of Christmas at Reimagine GLOW, organised by Cork City Council, running until January. It features a magical Windows Pantomime Trail and the iconic 32m Ferris Wheel.

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