COMING from a creative family from Rushbrooke in Cobh means that actress Emma Creaner has always had the support of her parents and was exposed to the arts from an early age.
Emma, 26, plays Marianne in Tartuffe which is at the Cork Opera House, this week, having opened at the Abbey Theatre.
The character of Marianne in Moliere’s 17th century comedy, modernised by playwright Frank McGuinness, is in love with and betrothed to Valere. But her father, Orgon, is taken in by the villainous Tartuffe who is a conman. He wants Marianne to marry Tartuffe.
What ensues is “a melodramatic journey for Marianne. I love the role, it’s the most fun I think I ever had,” says Emma.
Working between Dublin, London and Cork, Emma says that her parents introduced her and her siblings to music when they were very young.
“We went to a lot of music classes in the Cork School of Music. I learned to play the recorder, the flute and the piano.
“I happened to see a play that some girls I knew from the choir (at the Cork School of Music) were in. I was about nine or ten. I thought it was fantastic and I knew I really wanted to act.”
Emma joined the Montforts at 11 and stayed there until she was 18.
“I got to do loads of shows. At the time, I was really interested in musical theatre and did some musicals.”
A graduate of the Lir Academy’s BA in acting, Emma says it was a difficult course to get onto, with three rounds of auditions whittling down about 1,600 applicants to just 16.
“It was mainly classical training in theatre with tutors from the top of their fields.”
Emma says that she has been lucky so far, with regular work including Shakespeare plays, although the pandemic meant she had to do a certain amount of online work, including making a couple of short films and a feature film.
As to the precariousness of an acting career, Emma says she had conversations with her parents about that when she was aged 17.
“But, at the end of the day, my parents never tried to discourage me. They’ve always been the most supportive.”
The Creaner family home was once owned by Agatha Christie’s cousins. Emma says that when the British crime writer “famously disappeared for a few days, the rumour was that she came to our house to stay with her relatives. I think she reappeared in a mental institution. I love that story. It’s a bit of a mystery.”
MAKING A LIVING IN LONDON
The eldest of the Creaner family, London-based Sophie, aged 29, is a talented clarinet player and is currently performing eight times a week in the Great British Bake Off musical in London’s West End until the middle of this month. After that, she’ll be playing music at the Globe in A Midsummer’s Night Dream until mid-August.
For Sophie, her musical training started when she was a child at the Cork School of Music and at Cobh VEC. (She later got into the National Youth Orchestra.)
“I have asthma and mom said playing a wind instrument would be good for it. So I started doing recorder lessons. I also started learning the violin but I wasn’t very good at that. I took up another wind instrument, the clarinet.”
But Sophie initially wanted to study medicine.
“I didn’t choose to do music until quite late in my Leaving Cert year. I have no regrets.
"Seeing the way junior doctors have to run themselves into the ground, I’m glad I chose music. I feel lucky. It’s still not steady but I’ve been working solidly since the start of last year which is great.
“I was in Dublin and Belfast last year with a tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Other than that, I’m mainly in London. I came over straight after school and went to the Guildhall College where I studied for five years. I love living in London. I wish I could come home but there isn’t enough work in Cork. I get homesick for Cork but it’s easy to get back there.
“The really nice thing about being a musician is that you get to meet loads of new people. Because you’re working so closely with them, you become really good friends with them.”
Has playing wind instruments improved Sophie’s asthma?
“I think so because it makes you control your breathing. I still have asthma but it’s definitely better than when I was a kid.”
A CREATIVE MUM
Meanwhile, Emma and Sophie’s mum is textile artist Carmel Creaner, who designed a scarf for the late Queen of England. She is also mum to Bruce and Ellie. (Her husband, an engineer, works in yelecoms as a consultant). Carmel works from home. She didn’t study art. Her degree from Dublin City University is in engineering.
“While I was working in the UK as an engineer, I did a City & Guilds course in creative embroidery. It was very much a mixed course looking at lots of different disciplines in textiles. That’s where it all started.
“The commercial work I do is tableware that is textile-based.
“I also teach art to adults who need support. I’m very much involved with the libraries in Cork with the Growing Imaginations programme. The participants attend COPE and other groups.”
They develop stories relevant to their lives with writer, Kevin Doyle. Carmel and another artist, Anne Kiely, develop art work based on the stories, producing ‘a book in a bag’. Carmel was commissioned by UCC to design a scarf for the late Queen Elizabeth II as a gift to mark her visit to Cork in 2011.
“It was based on George Boole, UCC’s most illustrious mathematician. They wanted it to be about him.”
While Carmel doesn’t know if the Queen wore the scarf, she says it went into her personal collection. Carmel also made a scarf with the same design for Mary McAleese when she was leaving office as the President of Ireland.
Carmel does a lot of socially engaged work. She and Anne Kiely are hoping to launch a collaborative project as part of the Percent for Art scheme in a Clonakilty public housing estate called Beech Grove.
“We made a stepping stone game for the children of the estate based on the ecology of the locality, influenced by the children’s design... It’s something that can gel a community so you witness the birth of a community which is a wonderful thing. It gets people talking to each other and becoming friendly. It recently won a LAMA Award (an All Ireland Community and Council Award.)”
Both Emma and Sophie “got great results in their Leaving Cert. They had a lot of options. Emma wanted to be an actor. She never had a plan B even though she got maths and physics at UCC. But she was never going to do that.”
Carmel never tried to push her children in any one direction.
“I gave them their own choice,” she says.
While acting is an insecure profession with a lot of ‘resting’, Carmel is full of admiration for actor Geraldine Plunkett who, at the age of 80, is still working with a role in Tartuffe.
“She is a stunningly brilliant role model. I would love to see Emma doing the same thing at that age.”
Not to leave her two younger children out, Carmel says that Ellie, who is studying business at DCU, “is a great singer and French horn player. Bruce is quieter. He works in genetics.” Clearly, the Creaners are following their passions.
Tartuffe is at the Cork Opera House until May 13. Tickets from €20. Book online at https://www.corkoperahouse.ie/