Events are kicking off this autumn to mark Barnstorm Theatre Company’s 20th anniversary celebrations, and the Kilkenny-based professional company is inviting all who have been involved over the past two decades to get back in touch.
The programme of events will start with the world premiere of A Murder of Crows, written by Mike Kenny in collaboration with Barnstorm, in early October. Later that month ‘Gathering 2011’, a conference and showcase for producers of theatre for young audiences, will take place in Kilkenny with several shows at The Barn theatre.
In November, Barnstorm’s The Song from the Sea will go on a national tour, followed by A Murder of Crows next spring, and Barnstorm will host a Youth Theatre Production Festival.
“It all started with the notion from a ‘pup’ that theatre should be for everyone and not just theatre-goers,” recalled artistic director Philip Hardy. “All my colleagues at the time thought it was pie-in-the-sky and that I was young and therefore a dreamer! I remember Margaret Cosgrave (then County Arts Officer) wondering why she should help and what would happen after six months when it all fell through! I said then that time would tell – 20 years later, we’re still here.”
Barnstorm is asking anyone who has been associated with the company since 1991 to get in touch with them, said general manager Vincent Dempsey. “It could be through Barnstorm’s youth theatres down through the years; community projects; the adult theatre clubs; and actors, cast and crew of the professional productions.”
In 1992, Agnes of God was Barnstorm’s first professional production. It played in Cleere’s and went down a storm, with the cast of Ber O’Hara (Dr Martha Livingstone), Helen Walsh (Agnes) and Ann Widger (Mother Miriam Ruth), and directed by Philip Hardy.
At the time the city had two professional companies, Barnstorm and Bickerstaffe, and three lively amateur groups. In the following year, 1993, the Watergate Theatre opened its doors for the first time. Barnstorm was the first professional company into the Watergate with Beth Henley’s play Crimes of the Heart.
Subsequent Barnstorm productions spanned genres in a bid to learn as much about making theatre as possible: Restoration comedy (She Stoops to Conquer), farce (Alan Ackybourn’s plays) and classic Irish drama (Translations), before the company focused on creating theatre for wider sections of community, with an aim to sections of the community who were not traditionally theatre-going: children, young people and communities.
The Castlecomer Community Play Project in 1997 was a year-long collaboration between Barnstorm, Ken Bourke and the people of Castlecomer which culminated in The ’Comer Story, a play that reflected the town’s rich history and its people.
Under the Community and Outreach programme in 1998 Ballyragget, Freshford, Gowran and Inistioge were some of the villages that received a visit from Barnstorm’s Strollers, a travelling show brought to village greens for a performance of The Selfish Giant, and a day of local festivities.
‘River Through Time’, the Barnstorm Millennium project that re-created a medieval village in Kells with traditional crafts and pageantry, then had youth theatre members roaming the streets begging for pennies.
There’ve been 74 productions in total since 1991, and now the creative team behind A Murder of Crows includes author Mike Kenny and composer Pól Brennan.
In a hope to bring together all those who have enjoyed the productions over the years, Barnstorm is also hoping to achieve 2,000 ‘Likes’ on its Facebook page. It’s an average of 100 per year for 20 years, the number of people who have passed through its doors since its foundation.