Tuesday 24 April 2018

Life with a theatrical Creed

Work for Tom Creed is a journey of self discovery
Work for Tom Creed is a journey of self discovery

Ciara Dwyer

For years theatre has been Tom Creed's sole focus. Now the young director is making space for the Cork Midsummer Arts Festival and hsi partner whom he met on line

ON a bright Saturday morning, I spot Cork-born theatre director Tom Creed bounding up the stairs in the Westbury Hotel in Dublin.

We had arranged to meet at nine. Usually, morning interviews are scheduled for an hour later, where one or both of us insist on strong coffee to jolt us fully awake. But this is not the case with Creed. There is something in his purposeful stride and energetic demeanour, with his phone constantly flashing with messages, which suggests that he wouldn't know how to loaf if he tried. You get the feeling that he is always a lark, that hours before our meeting he had been up organising work, including the production of Mark O'Halloran's new play, Trade, which he is directing as part of the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival.

"To be honest, in my life there's a lot of work and not a lot of downtime. But work is why I get up in the morning," he says. "The work I do is how I get to know myself and the world. It's all about questions and what I don't know. I'm learning and I never stop learning and I hope that I never do. It also broadens my experience and broadens my knowledge of myself and the world."

Clearly, directing is more than just a job to him.

Tom Creed is only 31 and yet the dynamic director has packed a lot in. Ever since he graduated from UCC with a degree in English and philosophy, he has worked hard, making his way in theatre. Among his works, he has done Beckett's Watt with Barry McGovern and an intriguing play entitled The Art of Swimming. Some of his productions have travelled to Edinburgh and New York and he has just finished an opera workshop in Aldeburgh. When you listen to him talk about theatre, he is as familiar with the scene in Germany and Budapest as he is with Ireland and England.

For him, the world quite literally is a stage, one which he enjoys hugely. When he speaks of his new role, as the director of Cork Midsummer Arts Festival, which is a full-time job, even though the festival doesn't start until June 21, he speaks of possibilities, aspirations, dynamism, imagination and the importance of dreams. But that's not to say that he will be giving up directing. There is room for both.

"I'm interested in being an artist leading an organisation like that. I'm really excited about working with opera, music, the visual arts as well as theatre, of course. Midsummer is a time for regeneration and transformation. It's a time when we take stock -- we look to the past and to the future. One of the things we need more than ever in this country is to learn to imagine. So we can imagine what the future will be like. I don't think the arts provide answers, but it's an opportunity to ask questions and to learn about ourselves. That's been common to all the work I've done. This is a real opportunity for joy and for learning that we're not alone."

Tom is the first Cork person to take on this role, and this is something which delights him. It was in Cork that his love for the theatre blossomed. He is the eldest of six. His father is a lecturer in engineering and his mother is a secondary school teacher. He tells me that he was educated through Irish for no other reason than that there was an all-Irish school there. His parents weren't gaelgoiri but learned more Irish to keep up with their children.

As a young boy, he was already treading the boards. He played the part of a troll, complete with a blue rope as a tail. This tale is often dragged up by the family. He played several musical instruments but gradually music began to take a back seat. There was a fresh passion. In secondary school, a dynamic teacher, Bernie O'Donoghue, inspired him with her drama club. Tom and his brother would perform in plays there. One of their most popular ones was when they would dress up as Darina Allen, complete with red glasses and skirts.

It was great fun, but drama was seriously drawing Tom in too. In the year of his Leaving Cert, two events in the theatre made a huge impression on him. His school brought them to see Corcadorca's original production of Enda Walsh's Disco Pigs. It was Cork at its creative best. Also, his father, who had come across Druid in their early days when they were starting in UCG, brought Tom to see Martin McDonagh's Leenane trilogy with the original cast.

"It blew my head off," says Tom.

Suddenly he realised that theatre was vibrant and thrilling and he was certain that he wanted to pursue his working life in it.

On leaving school, he could have gone to Trinity to study drama but instead he decided to go to UCC and follow in the footsteps of former graduates who went on to become theatre luminaries, such as actress Fiona Shaw and theatre and film director John Crowley. In UCC Tom did a little acting but he found that he wasn't getting cast for many roles. So instead he decided to try his hand at directing and found that it was very satisfying. He directed Equus which won awards at ISDA, the student drama festival -- there, his world of theatre opened up as he met new names and faces in the professional theatre world.

After that, Tom and some fellow students carried on creating plays. As he talks about the shows, it is

clear that they were unusual but great fun. He did a play called Soap, which was a live soap opera, with 10 episodes, one new one daily, with repeats included. Four actors played 50 characters and it was a parody of Home and Away and Fair City, except it was set in Cork. Then there was The Train Show, which took place on the train from Cork to Cobh, where 30 actors would perform in this 25-minute musical, which even included a band dressed as monkeys getting on at Fota Wildlife Park. Yet again, his latest production has an unusual setting, this time as part of the Behind Closed Doors strand of the festival. Trade will be performed in the bedroom in a B&B on Denmark Street, with 30 seats for the audience.

"Trade is a very short and I think very beautiful new play," says Tom. "It's a conversation between a middle-aged married man and an 18-year-old male prostitute. It's very clear why they are there. They have met a couple of times before but today is definitely different. The older man is in a bit of a state and there is blood on his shirt. The play is a long conversation about family, sex, morality, duty and work. The word 'trade' is obviously a specific word for male prostitution but also the play is about work and having a trade. We learn that the older man has just lost his job due to the recession. The two men recognise elements of themselves in each other. They both have daughters and they both have difficult relationships with their parents and partners."

Tom tells me that the past 10 years have been incredibly busy for him. And yet in the past two years, he has also discovered that it is important to have a life outside work. Now he is enjoying his first significant relationship, with Peter O'Grady, an oncology nurse who happens to share his love of the arts. They met online, on a dating website, where they bonded as they talked about opera.

"I spend so much time on my computer that I joke, where else was I going to meet him?" he says.

Tom knew that loads of people were putting up profiles of themselves on dating websites, so he thought, why not do the same?

Their first date was on George's Street with wine and tapas. They realised that they were kindred spirits and that they had people in common too.

"We've been orbiting around each other in Dublin for years. It's been fantastic. It's been a change in my life. I certainly haven't eased off on the amount of work that I've been doing but I'm also conscious of the value of making space for that part of my life.

"Peter runs the oncology ward in Vincent's Private, so he works with life and death on a daily basis. We'd been together a year when the opportunity of moving to Cork to run the Midsummer Festival came up. We talked about it a lot but we've agreed that we'll make it work. It's very exciting."

Tom is in the process of buying a house in Cork, having given up his flat. He stays with Peter when he is in Dublin.

"He's really clear about how important the work I do is to me, but the arts are a big part of his life too. He often comes to festivals with me. The last two years of my life have been some of the most fulfilling I've ever had, personally and professionally."

And with that, Tom's phone flashes with a new message. It may be a tweet or a text from Peter but either way, we both check the time. There is a curtain about to rise. Tom is off to see a ton of plays for the Fringe festival that day. His work is his passion but now that he has a private passion in his life, he is all the better for it. No wonder he has a spring in his step.

THISISPOPBABY presents the world premiere of 'Trade' as part of the 2011 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. Previews: 1pm and 6pm, Wednesday, September 28. Opens: 6pm, Thursday, September 29. Runs: 1pm and 6pm daily, until Saturday, October 15, 2011, with no show on Mondays and Sunday matinees at 2.30pm. Running time: 50 minutes. Ticket prices: €13-€18. The venue meeting point is outside the O'Reilly Theatre, 6 Great Denmark St, Dublin 1

General booking for the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival is now open. Tel (01) 677 8899, visit www.dublintheatrefestival.com or go to 44 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2

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