Friday 27 April 2018

Encore to tour The Tempest

Creative Ireland grant helps innovative theatre group to tour Ireland with latest play

Some of the cast members from Encore Theatre Company who are featured in the upcoming production of The Tempest
Some of the cast members from Encore Theatre Company who are featured in the upcoming production of The Tempest

Margaret Roddy

Dundalk's Encore Productions theatre company is a company with a difference. Drawing its cast from those who attend the Rehabcare Resource Centre it allows adults with intellectual disabilities to explore and develop their personalities on and off stage.

Founded sixteen years ago, the company, which is now managed by the genial Sandy Sneddon, has produced a variety of shows and have even ventured into film making with an award-winning documentary.

Now thanks to funding from Creative Ireland they are preparing to embark on their most ambitious project to date - taking William Shakespeare's The Tempest around Ireland.

As with all their productions, this adaptation of The Tempest has been devised with input from all the group.

There's no room for egos in the group, and with one voice, the cast members nominate Sandy for 'Best Director', as everything is done democratically, taking on board the views of the actors.

'Our aim is to help people live the life of their choice as independently as possible,' explains Sandy. 'To do so we carry out a wide range of programmes both in our centre and throughout the community. Arts form a large part of our practice with Drama being a particularly popular medium.'

'Our drama group has grown in success and numbers over the years, from an initial group of seven to the point now where our shows regularly feature 55 actors from the centre alongside many more participants from the wider community.'

Taking their cue from the 400th anniversary of the birth of Shakepeare's last year, they joined the many companies around the world tackling work by The Bard.

'We always try to do something different so we have chosen the Tempest not just for it's themes character and setting but also for its smaller cast requirements,' he explains. 'Our large scale shows have been logistically challenging and impossible to tour. This more compact production should enable us to bring our play to a much wider audience throughout Ireland and beyond.'

The cast was selected from the most experienced members of the group while others in the centre who expressed an interest in the production will have their voices featured in this multi-media presentation.

Some, like Anita Guest, Mary Frances McAteer and Oliver Hanratty have been with the group since the start and are well versed in stage craft, with Oliver also appearing in a number of productions with Dundalk Musical Society.

There's good natured bantering among the group as they discuss their roles in this, Shakespeare's last play.

'I'm playing Miranda, a young lady, and I get to wear a nice costume,' says Anita. 'I have a young fella who falls in love with me.'

Oliver, who plays Ferdinand, says he doesn't mind being the object of her affection on stage. He says he loves performing on stage and enjoys being part of the drama group as give him independence.

'He's a bit of a poser', jokes Melissa Fox, adding that she too loves being in the group as it helps them make a difference.

David Coyle has been in a lot of shows and says he enjoys it. 'I'm never nervous going on stage,'

Kyle Norton and Jamie Linden were both deemed excellent as Caliban in the auditions so this version of The Temptest will have two Calibans.

Paddy Durnin, who plays Prospero, says his character has got magic powers.

Martin Hanley turns out to be an old hand at Shakespeare, having previously appeared in The Merchant of Venice in Birmingham.

OThe cast also includes Rodger Zyro, Olivia McGinnity, Jamie Linden, Moninna McCarthy and Sandra Shields. Jason Kelly, who broadcasts on Dundalk FM, has opted not to perform this time, working on sound and lighting instead.

Others who attend the Rehabcare Centre will be working behind the scenes, helping with set and prop construction and in the creation of stop motion animation that will be projected during the performance.

This latest production, which will tour to Dublin, Belfast, Newry and Galway as well as playing to audiences at An Táin Arts Centre and DkIT, comes on top of a very busy 2016 season for the group.

They created 'Our Story so Far' - a reflection on Irish history from the glaciation to the proclamation as our way of marking the Easter Rising centenary.

The group have developed a close working relationship with DKIT over the past three years which allows participants to attend the college and team up with social care students and work on a variety of projects from a fashion show to creating books.

'This year's Tempest project is the first time that we have worked with the part-time students at the weekends and our first collaboration with Sharon McArdle,' says Sandy.

'In November we shall be sharpening our Shakespeare skills even further with a workshop with Quintessence theatre company after having watched their production of Romeo and Juliet.'

Creative Ireland is a new Government initiative which supports creativity in all its forms, and is delivered in County Louth by the Creative Ireland Team, lead by County Arts Officer, Brian Harten. Encore's production of The Tempest is one of nine initiatives funded by Creative Ireland in Louth in 2017.

The Argus