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The director of Phantasm talks about why you should see this play.

This is usually the point in a production where I write one of those articles where I give an overview of everything that has happened so far on a production and generally try and sum up how the experience has been. This one is not very different in some ways. Yup, it’s that final push to get people to buy tickets and yup, it sums up how the production is going and yup, I’ll go on about how proud I am of the team here.

But there’s a different context with this one. We were in Cleeres Theatre today doing the get in for Phantasm. And it’s exactly six years to the day that we opened our very first ever show Heart Shaped Vinyl. And it got us to thinking of how far we’ve travelled as individuals and as a company. While all the while, returning six years later to perform a play in the same spot. Overall, we’re a much better company. There’s less money around, granted, but we are better. We’ve better hair anyway. Here’s how I looked for Heart Shaped Vinyl this week 6 years ago. My hair is (slightly) better now. Slightly…

This is actually what John Kennedy’s hair looks like now… so it’s all relative!

What was really strange was looking at the contrast in what we were producing now and yet, how similar it was at the same time. We were looking at the three guys now, specifically John Kennedy (the writer) and Colin O’Brien and Hazel Doyle (our cast). They’re all from Kilkenny, all brought through the same youth theatre mill as us and like us six years ago, here they are in Cleeres Theatre at a young age doing their first original play for an audience in there. Six years ago, Hazel had just done her first play with Dreamstuff Youth Theatre (the first play I ever directed incidentally) and John and Colin were probably out kicking ball like most 12 year old pups during a World Cup summer. In our youthful wisdom, we were shocked when people packed out Heart Shaped Vinyl in 2006. People wanted to see us make our own theatre? Hell, we didn’t even put our own real names on it, such was the fear of landing on our arses (props to Billy Shears and Tony M. Everard by the way). The lads now still have that slight wariness that people won’t be bothered seeing what they’re doing. But they will. Six years on we’ve worked hard to make sure that there is an audience for them. And that audience has been there to see them throughout this summer in Cork, Callan and now, Kilkenny. We’ve toured it, we’ve played to different crowds in unique places, to theatre people and non theatre people, people who just want to see a good teen stoner comedy and people who have no idea what to expect, and it has always gone down well. And now we bring it home.

Since Shifting, we’ve had so many people who have followed our work for so long (and even in some cases worked with the company) express a worry that we were becoming a ‘teenage’ company. Especially after building up such a strong twenties, thirties and beyond fanbase in Kilkenny… and beyond here too. The past year has seen us develop three teen centric pieces (Shifting, Night Of The Living Dead, Phantasm) which should really tell you nothing other than we have been doing our best to uphold our ambition from day one: to build new theatre audiences in Kilkenny and to create work for people who weren’t having work being made for them.

Some of our audience from six years ago may have a valid worry that we’ve gone very teen centric with our work. But we can’t grow old with them, like many a theatre company does until they become irrelevant. We need to help build a new audience from the ground up and we need to blood in new talent. We need to consistently hit the refresh button. We’re going to go stale otherwise. And so will our audience.

This doesn’t mean that teen centric work (like the aforementioned three plays) is par for the course now. In fact, the programme we’re developing for next year moves way away from anything remotely teenager-ish. And like us six years ago, the younger actors, writers and crew that we brought in during In The Future When All’s Well will become better. They have more confidence now. They’ll start working on their own stuff and they in turn will become better makers of theatre. It’s a process. And a necessary one at that. And if you saw Shifting and Night Of The Living Dead, you’ll know the 18-21 crew we’ve assembled (Pass Devious as Colin likes to call them) are a massively talented bunch. I’m very proud of the work they’ve done on Phantasm since we started production in May. And not only the central trio but I also look at members of the team working on Phantasm and see how far they’ve come in the past year and how far they will be going: Adrian Kavanagh, Aidan Doheny, Connie Walsh, Stephanie Cassin, to mention the four of them working on this. An amazingly talented and hard working bunch.

Phantasm was a play that we commissioned to develop an audience that needs to be developed in Kilkenny. It was made to develop a young writer and some young actors that we think should be developed. With Night Of The Living Dead being as close to a surefire hit as we’ve ever produced, we could afford to take a risk this year. Except they’re not really a risk. They are seriously talented and will only become more so. Come down to Cleeres Theatre this weekend to support them.

This day six years ago we were working hard as a bunch of college graduates, youth theatre members and yes, teenagers, to fight off the attitude that we were making ‘student’ theatre or were a barely grown up youth theatre. These guys shouldn’t have to be fighting that attitude, we fought it for them so we could build a theatre company who makes good work, full stop.

This is a fucking good play, written by a fucking good playwright, performed by two fucking good actors.

We’ve hit the refresh button. All we need now is for you to view it.

John Morton

Phantasm by John Kennedy opens in Cleeres Theatre, Kilkenny tomorrow night 23rd August at 8pm as part of OUT For The Weekend. It plays on Friday August 24th and Saturday August 25th at 7pm and 10pm. Tickets can be booked on 056 – 7762573. Online bookings can be made here.

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