Eat your heart out – it's 100pc Cork, boy!
Next week Richard T Cooke will get up on the Cork Opera House stage and sing a little song he wrote. He is 65, a widower, a counsellor, a local-historian and a self-described "true-blooded Corkman". He writes songs but he has not figured on the Opera House stage before. So what the devil is he doing on it?
Cooke is among 100 "extraordinary, ordinary people" taking part in '100% Cork', a production by German theatre company Rimini Protokoll with director Una McKevitt, which runs from June 28-30 as part of Cork Midsummer Festival (see www.corkmidsummer.com for tickets).
'100% Cork' is one of the inclusive, exuberant events in the 10-day festival which begins today. Using population data from the Central Statistics Office, the makers have put together a statistically accurate live portrait of Cork city. One hundred people who reflect the genders, age groups, types of employment, areas of the city and nationalities of Cork will perform, one after another, a personal story in words, movement or music.
There will be children, 90-year olds, Poles and Lithuanians, people who run businesses and people who just live in Cork, boy. People who are usually spectators at shows, not players. Is Richard T Cooke nervous about performing? "Nervous?" he laughs, "I'm in my own backyard." That's the spirit.
It's less your local talent show than documentary or "reality" theatre and it's a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity", says festival director Tom Creed. "We're going to get to know each one of these people, we're going get to know what they think, what the city does at every hour of the day or night. By the end of the evening people will have got to meet these 100 extraordinary people but also people will really have a sense of how Cork lives and breathes."
There'll be fancy food, folk, opera, video and performance art, and theatre; and plenty of subversive merry-making at the festival, which is in its 16th year.
"We want it to be a little bit undercover and a little bit surprising. We're using empty shop units, parks and street corners, with a sense that you could just turn over a stone and you'll find something," says Creed.
The thrust this year is getting people who aren't otherwise engaged in the arts to participate. Like children. In restaurants. Children are usually told to keep quiet and eat their chips in restaurants.
Cork is probably Ireland's food capital, where food is elevated to art, but what more tired and rigid art form can you think of than the restaurant review? What activity could be more in need of an injection of youth and mischief? Who better to do it than kids, who can be brutally honest?
Toronto art collective Mammalian Diving Reflex made 'Eat the Street', a project in which children review restaurants. Creed describes it as "really participatory, but it also asks some quite serious questions about how we as a society treat our children, the trust that we're prepared to give our children and the responsibility".
Children from North Presentation Primary School will first do a series of workshops to learn about food and conceptual art. During the festival they'll storm some of the best-loved eateries of Cork city and try new dishes. They'll come up with categories by which to judge the restaurants, from "most delicious food" to "scariest waitress" and "least graffiti in the toilets".
Customers in the restaurants will take part. And at the end, the children will sing a little song they wrote.