MA students from UCC create Wonderism festival today at Cork Opera House 

As UCC’s MAs in Arts Management and Creative Production come together to create a pop-up festival that celebrates joy and creativity steeped in wonder and awe, Mike McGrath-Bryan catches up with Sinéad Gallagher of the Canaille Collective, ahead of their Wonderism event - happening today. 
MA students from UCC create Wonderism festival today at Cork Opera House 

Canaille Collective, ahead of their Wonderism event at Cork Opera House.

It can be a hard auld business, running events, festivals and the like - and certainly an enterprise that, as any haphazard club-runner, gig-promoter or panel-facilitator that’s run in Cork can attest to, comes with a steep and ever-changing learning curve. It comes as a welcome relief, then, that Cork Opera House and UCC’s agreement on the venue becoming a ‘learning theatre’ for many of its courses in the creative arts is bearing fruit - including opening its doors to the Arts Management and Creative Production course in facilitating their first festival on the premises - as strong a start to a career in events as you could ask for.

This year’s class has converged on the Opera House under the moniker of The Canaille Collective (‘canaille’ being French, your writer is told, for ‘scoundrel’, hinting at the mischief that’s to come), and in working together to envision an event, as well as with the venue on ideas and creative collaborators on their realisation, they’ve achieved something special, says collective member Sinéad Gallagher.

Wonderism Festival launch: The crew has prepared something truly special for young audiences at Cork Opera House.
Wonderism Festival launch: The crew has prepared something truly special for young audiences at Cork Opera House.

“It's definitely a unique experience, in that it's very different to any sort of group project you do in university, because you're putting it out into the world. It's all become very real for us very recently, as it started coming together. From the first semester, we all were given as much freedom as we wanted, we just got to explore all these different ideas together, and got to know each other in that way, everyone's separate interests, and everything. As it came closer and closer, we realised that we were putting something out, our names are going to be seen as emerging producers, y'know, and this is the first time that we've made something for the public, I guess.

“It's also a group of nine women as well, so that was a really, really unique experience, because our mentors are also all women. There's no way of comparing it, but I think we all definitely find that it made a difference for us. We really formed a very tight bond, which has been great, and I think you don't get that with every other Masters’, y'know, the act of creating something together.”

The result of their hard work will be The Wonderism Festival - a one-day festival of childlike wonder that happens today at the Opera House.

An event that peels back the mystery of theatre’s conventions and helps children of all ages delve into curiosity sounds at once like just the tonic for the crew themselves as creatives, and yet also a huge undertaking, grasping the enormity of awe and wonder and making something new.

“Last year's festival [from the MA programme] was called Rebound, and that was about coming back to public events, and being in public in general, meeting other people, et cetera. We knew that we wanted to stray as far away from Covid as possible, we didn't want to think about it, we didn't want anyone to be thinking about it. We turned towards healing, art as healing, and the healing properties of creativity, engaging with the arts.

“When we were brainstorming ideas about the Opera House... it's one of the biggest venues in Cork, and people know the kind of stuff that's on there, and we wanted to separate that, and challenge that, and do something really different with the Opera House to give people a very unique experience. I imagine a lot of the kids that would be going to the Opera House have probably seen a panto or something there, so the idea that they get to go backstage, or they can see their own artwork, that's a completely different way of being in the Opera House.”

Featured events include ‘Art(y) Part(y)’, an exhibition that blends the work of local artists with creations from kids across Cork’s primary schools throughout the day; and ‘Storytelling Behind the Curtain’, an afternoon tour of the Opera House’s backstage areas that play host to stories all their own.

Using every aspect of a theatre and the magic that lies therein, to create events and workshops that give perspective on creativity and the humanity it taps into, the crew have prepared something truly special for young audiences.

“It's definitely been challenging, but our real intention with it, and our hope for it, is that it will bring more people in, who wouldn't usually go to the opera house and expand their audience. Me personally, I'm working mainly on the 'A Wondrous Life' performance, so for us, it actually has probably been a lot easier in terms of producing and putting it together, because all of the facilities for that are already in place. In the Opera House, we have the sound guy, we have the lights guy, and they all know exactly what they're doing, and we just sort of have to tell them what our vision is.

“Whereas for the storytelling event, it's quite a unique space in the dressing rooms, and some of them don't have windows. They've never been used for anything like this before. So we're really, really starting from scratch. But even just being in the space, without it being decorated, you can really see how intimate it is. There's a childlike wonder that you get to go backstage and see things, how things are done, when you have no idea - everyone's perspective of the Opera House is just the stage.”

At the launch: The Wonderism Festival is described as a one-day festival of child-like wonder.
At the launch: The Wonderism Festival is described as a one-day festival of child-like wonder.

The spotlight event, happening tonight at 7pm, is ‘A Wondrous Life’ - creating a fusion of live classical music under the baton of Doireann Kelly, and animation from the pen of animator Ann Upton in a unique cinematic experience.

Gallagher goes into the making of the event, the process of taking a project of its scale from concept, to creativity, to completion - and the help that the Opera House has provided.

“It's been amazing. [The Opera House] has really been incredibly supportive to us, and anything that we've been dreaming up, finding a way to make it work and facilitate it. Working as a collaboration ourselves, I guess over time, we've just learned how to give each other space, and listen to each other's voices. It's been challenging, because everyone has equal say in it, there's no way there's no one person who calls the shots, but I think it allows people to be the most creative that they can.

“I've been surprised at how, when you meet like-minded people, or when you've focused on the one thing, you can make something better than what you had envisioned. Everyone has brought something unique to it.”

The Wonderism Festival happens today (March 30, 2023) at Cork Opera House, Emmet Place, with art in the foyer all day, storytelling for all from 2.30pm, and A Wondrous Life kicking off at 7.30pm. Remaining tickets on sale at and the venue's box office.

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