20 Jun 2012

Sitting Up for Michael a runaway success! All Ireland Arts Conference 2012

The run of Sitting Up for Michael ended with aplomb in The Alley Arts Centre, Strabane, with over 130 people coming down to see us. It was another fantastic turnout and the tour ended with over 500 people attended five performances!

I'm taking some time to regroup now, and see where I'll take King's Fool Productions next - there are a few avenues open at the minute, so it's just time to take stock of the options open to me.

I also was able to attend the All Ireland Arts Conference in the fantastic Lyric Theatre this past weekend. It was co-organised by Theatre Forum, Northern Ireland Theatre Association and Audiences NI. The first of the keynote speakers was Ben Cameron of the world famous Ted Talks, whose rousing opening speech had the the entire congregation in thrall - I swear he could have started a revolution in that room if he wanted. Next up was dance guru Farooq Chaudhry who has mastered turning art into business without sacrificing integrity. Finally Helen Marriage spoke of her experiences shutting down London to bring renowned French artists Royal de Luxe to the capital's streets with their gargantuan production The Sultan's Elephant. She spoke of years of negotiating rerouting traffic and street fixtures with sceptical city officials who were eventually won over by the scale and positivity of the final piece. It was heart-swelling seeing the public's reaction to the event, and I only wish I had been in London to see the event in person. All the keynote speakers were hugely inspiring and have spurned me on to emulate the sheer size and scope of their visions with my own work and King's Fool. Of course there were other events as well, most notably the drinks reception in the City Hall (transported via open top tour bus), followed by a barbeque buffet in the Ramada Encore (only dampened by Ireland's dismal performance against Spain in the Euros) and an intimate musical performance with the inimitable Duke Special and Julie Feeney. Overall it was an amazing performance, and reminded me why it was I chose to follow this life as an artist.

8 Jun 2012

The Odd Couple, Sitting Up for Michael tour and Pick N Mix

Well, I've had such a hectic month - three plays in 30 days - that I haven't been able to find space to write here about it.

First, I was in the brilliant Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival as part of Skewiff Theatre's production of Neil Simon's classic, The Odd Couple. Alongside the not inconsiderable talent of Joe Lindsay, Morgan Hearst, Christian Winterman (nee Jackson), Griffin Madill, Moninne Dargan and Emma McErlean we packed out the Dark Horse bar - a testament to the talent of director Mary Lindsay.



Then, within three days of finishing that my own company King's Fool Productions finally brought Sitting Up for Michael to the stage. I've been writing ...Michael for the guts of two years now, and to see it finally on it's feet in front of a paying audience is a hugely gratifying experience. Helen Donnelly resumed directorship after skippering the rehearsed reading that Accidental organised in November 2011. The cast, including Marianne March, Naomi Rocke, Cathy Brennan-Bradley, Benjamin Gould, Brian Patrick Kennedy and Michael O'Sullivan were sourced from across Ireland and worked exceptionally hard to bring my vision to fruition, and I can't thank them enough. With a backstage crew of Glenn Hamill (stage manager), Kerrie Milford (props/costumes), Shireen Azarmi (sound/tech) and Sharon Curran (production manager) we couldn't fail to put on a top class production. The play debuted in The Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast, before travelling down to The Strule Arts Centre, Omagh last week and tonight will conclude its tour in The Alley Theatre, Strabane. So far over 300 people have seen the show, so an extended tour in the near future may be on the cards!



Also, tomorrow (one day after ...Michael concludes - see not a moment to breathe!) I am in Accidental's production of Intervention, by Dave Kinghan. This thriller, set entirely within a tiny cell tells the story of two guerrilla performance artists who must try to figure out why they have been put there. This is the first full Accidental production I have been involved in, after working with them over the last few years on their rehearsed readings programme. It's great to be working with director Richard Lavery again, and with a three person cast made up of myself, Miche Doherty and Matt Faris, Accidental live up to their reputation as one of the leading emerging theatre companies in Belfast, and they are going to light up The Mac's Pick N Mix festival.

So as we go hurtling in to summer, I might have a chance to take a breather and watch some football - although not much by the looks of things!

23 Apr 2012

PRESS RELEASE: New Play by Northern Ireland Writer Set to Premiere Next Month

Omagh-born playwright James McAnespy’s first play Sitting Up for Michael will premiere at Derry Playhouse on Saturday May 19th.

The new play, the first production by his company King’s Fool, is set at a wake house in rural county Tyrone.

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Poster for Sitting Up for Michael
McAnespy has expressed concern that the increased pressures of modern lifestyles and increased youth emigration threaten the viability of sitting up for the deceased in a wake house.

“Irish wakes are a unique form of mourning,” McAnespy said. “It allows the mourners to celebrate the life of the deceased as well as providing a platform for people to offer their condolences if the death was a tragic one.

“It is unfortunate that we are already seeing the tradition is being practiced less and less in city environments.”

The comedy, which McAnespy will be acting in, is a bittersweet comedy about the tensions that arise when the truth comes to the surface, especially when emotions are already high and liberated by drink. Through this prism, Sitting Up for Michael explores themes of family,
bereavement, youth unemployment, bullying and many other aspects of 21st century life in Ireland.

“Everyone has been to a wake,” McAnespy said, “and people will recognise the characters in the play that are in every small town in Ireland, so audiences will be able to relate to the action on stage.”

The cast of seven is a blend of youth and experience and is made up of actors from across the province, including some who are making their professional debuts. Brian Kennedy from Strabane plays the grumpy Brian, Marianne March plays his ambitious sister, Benjamin Gould plays the
charismatic Joe, Naomi Rocke plays the spiteful Carla, Michael O’Sullivan of Dublin plays the troubled Billy, and Cathy Brennan-Bradley plays the charitable Doris. The director, Helen Donnelly from Newry, has been training in London and is now establishing herself as one of the leading
young directors in Belfast.

Following the Playhouse premiere Sitting Up for Michael will play Belfast, Omagh and Strabane.

Tickets for the premiere priced £11, £8 concessions are available form Derry Playhouse Box Office via http://www.derryplayhouse.co.uk , in person or by phone on 71268027

11 Apr 2012

Sitting Up for Michael and The Odd Couple - A busy May!

This month I am going into the busiest month of 2012 so far as I'll be embarking on two stage productions, my own Sitting Up for Michael and Skewiff Theatre Productions' version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. 
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The Odd Couple, which is being directed by Mary Lindsey, who was in the rehearsed reading of ...Michael, is part of this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, and is one of the Belfast Telegraph's picks of the festival. It's incredible I get to be part of the festival, as it has been a huge success over the years, and this year proves to be no different, with talent such as Rachel Austin, The Rubberbandits, and Dylan Moran just a tiny fraction of the entertainment on offer. The cast for the quick fire comedy is appropriately enough comprised largely of stand up comedians, led by Joe Lindsey and Morgan Hearst as the eponymous Couple, with support from Christian Jackson (who was in Incident at Vichy with me), Griffin Madill, Ruaidhrí Ward, Monnine Dargan and Emma McErlean. The play will be on in the Dark Horse Cafe from May 9 -12 and tickets can be purchased here.
While that is going on, I will also be in rehearsals with ...Michael, which is set to tour across the province in May and into June, but I will discuss that in a future post.

6 Feb 2012

Éalú and Bóithre Iarainn to air on TG4 in the coming weeks.

You wait months for your TV appearances to air then two come along at once!

The two TG4 series I filmed in 2011 are going on air in the first couple of weeks of February.

The first is a documentary series, Bóithre Iarainn, which details some of the incredible stories of major events that took place on Ireland's railway network in the early part of the twentieth century. The episode I featured in involved a bloody shootout at the border station of Clones, as the IRA tried to get their hands on the military weapons that were on board. The series starts on Thursday February 9th at 8pm.

The second series is Éalú, a series about daring prison escapes by Irish convicts. My character, Sean Bourke, was an anarchic communist sympathiser who masterminded the breakout of another prisoner from Wormwood Scrubs. This airs on Thursday 16th February at 7pm.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g55o_kEGKc]


Both shows were fantastic shoots, so I can't wait to see the final product.

12 Jan 2012

Sitting Up for Michael at the audition stage

Over the last while I have been preparing King's Fool Productions for our first major production, my play Sitting Up for Michael. We will be holding out audition on Sunday having received over 400 applicants from all over the UK and Ireland.
The standard was so high, it was excrutiatingly difficult to have to choose who to invite.
I'll be sitting alongside the director Helen Donnelly, who directed the rehearsed reading in November, but my role will mostly be to read in.
We are still sorting out then locations of the tour, but we'll be touring across the province in May and June, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Sitting Up for Michael at the Audition Stage (archive post)

This post first appeared on James' personal blog in 2012.

Over the last while I have been preparing King's Fool Productions for our first major production, my play Sitting Up for Michael. We will be holding auditions on Sunday having received over 400 applicants from all over the UK and Ireland.

The standard was so high, it was excrutiatingly difficult to have to choose who to invite.
I'll be sitting alongside the director Helen Donnelly, who directed the rehearsed reading in November, but my role will mostly be to read in.

We are still sorting out then locations of the tour, but we'll be touring across the province in May and June, and I'm really looking forward to it.