An interview with Jim Keane by Emer O'Shea
The first time I met Jim, within moments we had bonded over our love of amateur drama. A writer, director, radio host, and true gentleman, Jim speaks on the value of live theatre, notably in smaller or rural communities in Ireland. When brainstorming content for Toastee, we wanted to give Theatre and the Arts space in 2020. Space where they have had none. Theatre can range from large, award-winning Broadway productions, to local school productions on hand-painted backgrounds, or Nobel calls from a Dublin Stage calling out about prejudice and homophobia being amplified to a global audience. Whatever the stage, Jim’s passion and enthusiasm only heighten my excitement for his next production!
Jim, firstly, thank you for doing this. Reflecting on 2020 to date….How has your year been? What a difference COVID-19 has made to all our lives and in particular to the entertainment and live performance sector, to say that I miss the buzz of the amateur dramatic world is an understatement. My perception of the value of live theatre, in particular in small rural communities has changed, only in the fact that it has reinforced my belief of the value of live theatre and all that belongs to it. The closing of Theatre an all performing Art centres due to COVID-19 in 2020 has served to highlight the important role that Drama both Amateur and professional play in the mental and physical health and general happiness of people who are involved in the amateur drama world, both on and off the stage, and also the audience that attend and support it. The old saying you never miss the water until the Well runs dry" rings so very true. Amateur drama is as important to those involved in it as a sport is to those in the sporting world. There’s a variety of people and talents required to put any performance on stage whether that is a play, a pantomime, or a musical, we need actors, producers, directors, stage crew, wardrobe and makeup crews, lighting and sound technicians, people for the front of the house, ticket sellers, tea and refreshment, set designers and construction, promotions and advertising and of course an audience. In fact, amateur drama could in fact be considered a small business because of the revenue and spend it generates in the local economy. What plans to return to the stage on pause, have you used 2020 to write more? If so, where have you found inspiration? Well, certainly 2020 has been a challenging year for anyone involved in the arts in any form, most amateur drama groups wrote off the year and decided that would reconvene when it becomes safe to do so. We picked the play, Big Maggie, by John B Keane in August of 2020, have the cast, but unfortunately, we had to postpone rehearsals, thus pushing the performance date until next year. During the first lockdown from March to June, I used the time to write my second play entitled “Big Splash Small Fish “which I had hoped to stage in March of 2021 but so far Covid 19 has prevented me from proceeding with auditions. It will be some months before I might get this production in front of an audience, but as my Father would say if you were panicking about getting something done “there’s no hour gone out of tomorrow yet”.
Can you remember the first live theatre performance you saw? I must acknowledge my Father as the person who introduced me to amateur drama in the first place. Back in 1970s, he was involved in the production of “Sive” by John B. Keane, a raw, blunt storyline of the abuse of a young woman by her family in rural Kerry. They were short someone to play the part of The matchmaker, my Father coaxed me to take on the role, the bug bit, and as they say, the rest is history. Your favourite live performance? I have always had a love for live performance be it a play a musical, a pantomime, or a concert, indeed any kind of a live show. One of my earliest memories of a live performance was a night in Brú Boru a beautiful theatre in Cashel, Co.Tipperary, where the great Seanachaí Eamon Kelly (a traditional Irish Storyteller, Kelly described Seanachaí as the oldest one-man show on earth!) was on stage telling stories as only he could, for two hours he held the audience spellbound with stories from Ireland of old, with no microphone, no props just himself his hat and one Súgán chair (a straw chair), it was a most memorable and enjoyable night and will rank as one of my favourites. Of course, another memorable night was the opening night of my first play “A Living Will” in the Community hall in Knockavilla in Co Tipperary, a small intimate venue with a seating capacity of 140 people. After many months of rewriting, rehearsal, blood, sweat, and tears, the night arrived. The hall was packed to capacity, the cast ready to go, soundcheck, stage crew in place, ten minutes to curtain when the power went. We plunged into darkness. Panic would be a mild word for what I felt. An old fuse had blown, replaced and the show went on and only five minutes late. After that near disaster, the play ran smoothly for the three nights to packed houses and standing ovations, continued on for eleven performances to packed houses over four venues. Dare I hope for a similar success with Big Splash Small Fish!! I had the pleasure of seeing your Play “A Living Will” at the start of 2020, my last opportunity to see live theatre! Do you have any suggestions to our readers who may have never ventured into a theatre before? It is hard to convey the enthusiasm I have for amateur drama in the written word, but I can say that if you have any inclination of dipping your toe in the dramatic world you will not be disappointed or sorry that you took the Plunge. There’s a place for everyone in our world from acting, small roles big roles, silent roles whatever to backstage, prompting, set design and construction, costume and makeup, sound effects, lighting, tea making or just general support. Find a drama society near you and call in and visit them, you will find that they are really nice people, a little whacky perhaps, but always fun to be with.
Interested in more?
Playwright, theatre, and amateur drama lover Jim Keane is a contributor and presenter on Tipperary Mid West Community Radio. Check out an interview with him on Tipp FM Podcasts.
If you want to learn more about Eamon Kelly, check out RTÉ Radio's Doc on One 'Man Behind the Stories'.
More than entertainment, Theatres provide a stage to voice change. Panti's Bliss Noble Call at the Abbey Theatre in 2014 on YouTube.