Cork Arts Theatre gets a new lease of life...

Exciting times lie ahead at the CAT Club - Cork’s 100 seat theatre. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to the artistic director about plans for the venue, how she survived lockdown, and a very personal play she’s written
Cork Arts Theatre gets a new lease of life...

Fin Flynn, new Manager and Geoff Gould, new Chair of the Board at Cork Arts Theatre. Picture: Darragh Kane

ARTISTIC director of the CAT Club, Dolores Mannion, is feeling liberated now that the mortgage on the venue has been fully paid off. It means she can concentrate on programming without worrying about the bailiffs threatening to close down Cork’s intimate 100-seat theatre.

With the mortgage costing €3,500 per month, it was a sizeable bill for a theatre that has never been about making a profit. Thanks to a GoFund- Me campaign, €25,000 was raised.

“We also got a government loan at a very low interest rate. So that was great as well. We only had a short time left on the mortgage, one and a half years, but it was a huge amount to pay every month.

“We added the money to a small amount of funding that we had. It has made all the difference.”

And the CAT Club has been fortunate to receive funding of €65,000 from the Community Foundation of Ireland, which came from an anonymous Cork benefactor who donated €300,000 for the arts. It is funding the CAT Club’s Creative Empowerment programme. The brainchild of Dolores, the programme has acted as a lifeline for a number of Cork’s writers whose work has resulted in a programme that continues until November. It is offering original drama and gives playwrights proper payment for their labour.

Dolores Mannion, Cork Arts Theatre speaking in Cork Arts Theatre for the launch of the Creative Empowerment Programme 2022. Picture:  Darragh Kane
Dolores Mannion, Cork Arts Theatre speaking in Cork Arts Theatre for the launch of the Creative Empowerment Programme 2022. Picture:  Darragh Kane

The CAT Club has also put some money into this programme. It receives a small grant for project funding from Cork City Council.

“We were in danger of closing last year. We fell through the cracks in terms of pandemic funding, When I saw the Community Foundation for Ireland, we put in an application and we were blessed to get the funding,”

During lockdown, when almost all live theatre ceased globally, the Creative Empowerment programme acted as a lifeline for some of Cork’s playwrights, giving them the motivation to write with a view to production later on. (The theatre also ran an online programme of plays.)

The submitted plays for the Creative Empowerment programme were read ‘blind’ by a number of judges and ten were chosen, including a play by Dolores. She wrote it during lockdown.

“Between the Creative Empowerment award and the Community Foundation for Ireland, I was very focused, working away at home. For me, it was a productive time, allowing me to write.”

Her play, entitled Abandoned, is based on “the abandonment of ourselves in a sense of who we are.”

“As a gay woman, I abandoned myself for many years. The play deals with that. It’s not autobiographical but part of the play is about a gay woman who hasn’t told her mother she’s gay. The mother hasn’t seen her daughter in two years and feels abandoned. The father has died. So there are all levels abandonment in the play. But it isn’t a dark play. Love wins out in the end.”

Dolores didn’t come out until she was in her forties.

“I found it hard. I had children. I had been married before. It’s hard to come out to your children. But myself and my partner, Elena, have been very lucky in that our children are very accepting and loving of us as a family.”

Family is important to Dolores. For 13 years, she and Elena looked after her mother, who had Alzheimer’s Disease.

Fin Flynn, new Manager and Geoff Gould, new Chair of the Board at Cork Arts Theatre outside the Cork Arts Theatre. Picture: Darragh Kane
Fin Flynn, new Manager and Geoff Gould, new Chair of the Board at Cork Arts Theatre outside the Cork Arts Theatre. Picture: Darragh Kane

“My mother had the most beautiful death two years ago. We weren’t expecting it. The day before, we had her on video singing happy birthday. She was 99. The next day, she wasn’t well so we decided to call an ambulance. My mother said ‘You know I love you and I love God.’ And she closed her eyes and died.”

When Dolores (who is adopted) and Elena decided to look after Dolores’s mother, they reckoned they could do it for three years.

“She was 87 at the time. We didn’t think she would live for so long. But she gave us a beautiful time. We have wonderful memories of her.

“My mother wasn’t a wealthy woman. She had been a tea lady. For the first time in her life, she was able to travel with us, to Miami. She went on a cruise and we took her to Dubai for my son’s wedding. She had a great time.”

Dolores is currently writing a play called Apple Tart which is about her mother and will be staged as part of the CAT Club’s lunchtime series of dramas kicking off in June. Dolores will perform this one-woman show.

“There are so many stories about my mother, funny stories. I was so much a part of her. When I was ten, she told me I was adopted and she never mentioned it again. I could never talk to her about it. But she and daddy were very much my parents.”

Dolores contacted an uncle to see if there was any medical history in the family that she should know about.

“There was nothing in the medical history so that was that. I had no further need to track down (my biological family).”

Dolores has three children and five grandsons. Would she like to see them embarking on careers in the theatre?

“I trained with the Lyric Theatre in Belfast but my parents wouldn’t let me go into theatre unless I had another profession to fall back on. About 75% of actors only earn €5,000 a year. It’s precarious but it’s something you can do with something else. I went into social work.

“Later, I took the job with the CAT Club because I wanted to be involved in the arts. I ended up doing administration.”

Dolores was a community employment supervisor at the CAT Club.

Now that she has retired from that role, she can concentrate on being artistic director of the venue.

Dolores says there are going to be big changes in the CAT Club.

“This year, we’re booked out programme-wise. Next year, we will programme in an entirely different way because we haven’t got the mortgage on our backs. We will be looking to bring plays in and really push fantastic productions.”

Fin Flynn, former company manager of Corcadorca, has recently been appointed as theatre manager at the CAT Club. Dolores is excited about the appointment. It augurs well for the CAT Club which is enjoying a whole new lease of life.

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