Ken Bourke is a playwright who will be well-known to theatre-goers as writer of the powerful Wild Harvest. Originally from Dublin, Ken now lives in Kilkenny with his family. He was bitten by the theatre bug early in his teenage years, and started writing one-act plays for the amateur festival circuit in his twenties. Wild Harvest was Ken’s first professional play and was produced in 1989 by Druid Galway. It featured the late Mick Lally in the role of Larry Taggart.
The play has Kilkenny connections, and clearly resonated with local people: it was first directed by Vincent Dempsey, now Manager of Barnstorm, for Barnstorm in 1994. Wild Harvest was most recently produced in 2011 by Watergate Productions, and featured actors from the local Devious Theatre.
“Theatre companies have a high infant mortality rate: a lot of them don’t last more than 6 months; to reach the age of 21 is a great reflection on the commitment and energy of a great many individuals, in particular Philip Hardy and Vincent Dempsey, who have steered the company through rough and smooth.”
Ken’s involvement with Barnstorm has spanned many years, and several roles around writing and dramaturgy (a kind of literary advisory role in the writing of plays which demands a technical and in-depth knowledge of theatre). He has also facilitated writing courses in Kilkenny and Carlow county libraries.
In 1996 Barnstorm embarked on a project with Ken and the people of Castlecomer. The aim was to devise and present a community play which would reflect Castlecomer’s rich history and its people. The ‘Comer Story was written by Ken in collaboration with the community of Castlecomer, and was presented in the Castlecomer Community Hall and subsequently in the Watergate Theatre in 1998.
“Working in a community context takes you back to the roots of theatre; people often have a story they want to be told, but there can be many ways to tell it; the first thing and the last thing you have to do, whether it’s in ‘Comer, or Belfast, or Callan, is to listen to the people.”
Following on from The ‘Comer Story Ken wrote a play for young children, and the sparkling Little Rudolf was produced by Barnstorm in 2006. A Christmas show, it followed the story of the reindeer who discovers that difference can be embraced and celebrated, that each has his own unique gift for the world.
“Creating a play for children is one of the most satisfying and terrifying things a writer can do; children are the most demanding and the most appreciative audience I know.”
A new play, The Ballad of Rory Roe, was commissioned from Ken especially for the Kells Millennium Project; a two-day large-scale theatrical spectacle called A River Through Time. The play travelled to villages around the county in the week prior to the open-air spectacle in Kells.
“Barnstorm has earned a prominent place for itself in the landscape of Irish Theatre. A bit like Brandon Hill, Kilkenny wouldn’t be the same without it,” he said.