Ger Cody, the much loved manager of the Watergate Theatre always accentuates the positive and when asked why the Watergate, which opened 21 years ago next week, is thriving he said it was because of the emphasis has always been on the youth, community, the local theatre groups, schools and other diverse troupes using the space.
“They breath life into it and sustain it,” he said. Ger also lives and breaths the Watergate. Since it opened 21 years ago, he has been the driving force, the man at the helm of motley crew of thespians, musicians, comedians and others who have brought us such joy, opened our eyes to new theatrical experiences, enthralled us and most of all given us a sense of self-worth and has provided a forum for people to express themselves and fulfil their dreams.
The Watergate’s own in-house theatrical production company have raised over E450,000 for the Watergate’s ongoing and substantial overheads and continue to help fund the theatre,
It seems the last 21 years have for Ger Cody, gone in the blink of an eye and now, as always, he focuses on the future, in maintaining the high standards, maintaining the ethos of a community theatre and providing people with a break from the mundane - the box sets, Netflix, Sky movies, Twitter, Facebook and giving them “live” entertainment in their own theatre.
The Watergate Theatre is the pulse of this part of the city and Ger Cody remembers many years ago, in his youth, when there was very little if anything in the Watergate area of the city and that once you passed Dores it was dark and dreary with only a few lights.
Now there is a palpable buzz on the street.
There are a number of flourishing businesses, pubs and restaurants.
The presence of the theatre has a lot to do with it.
It also provides this part of the city with a focal point, a natural Mecca where people, come during the day to visit the Upstairs Gallery, excellently run by Niamh Moroney and where, downstairs, Breda Gerthberg in the front office, will look after their booking requirements. At night it becomes a magical place where our imaginations can run wild and where for the last 21 years we have been royally entertained.
Some might say we don’t appreciate the Watergate and if the first 21 years has proved anything it is this - that a thriving, living theatre grounded in the community and with people at its heart will survive any storm, recession or whatever else is thrown at it. Central to all this is Ger Cody.
While he is naturally proud that world renowned groups like Druid, The Abbey, The Gate and Waterford’s Red Kettle having entertained at the Watergate, it is the groups like Philip Hardy’s Barnstorm which have brought thousands of children to the theatre over the years.
And he pointed out that one of those who appeared on stage at the Watergate as a child, Rory Fleck-Byrne is presently performing in The Vortex at the prestigious Gate Theatre in Dublin while his new film premieres in Leicester Square next week. Rory started with Dreamstuff and Young Irish Fillm Makers.
“It shows you what is possible and demonstrates the importance of bringing young people into the theatre and providing them with the experience of going on stage which is great for them in so many ways and in bringing on their confidence,” the former Kilkenny People employee said.
The schools play a major, ongoing role in keeping the theatre in business and St Canice’s Co Ed along with St Patrick’s de La Salle and others recently appeared on it.
Last week, the Kilkenny Music Festival gala performance was held to a sell-out crowd.
And he was heartened when two schoolteachers brought their students in for rehearsals a few weeks ago, and told him that they had performed for president Mary Robinson at the Watergate as part of St Canice’s Co Ed orchestra when she officially opened the theatre in April 1993.
Ger remembered the great people associated with the Watergate who have passed away in the last 21 years, especially cherished employees, Maria Murray and Ann Marie Minogue.
They are not forgotten and framed photos of them hang in the foyer.
The future of the Watergate is inextricably linked to the development of the Brewery quarter and Ger and his board have their own wish list which they desperately want to implement to move the theatre forward. The vision includes a dedicated exhibition space, a proper coffee dock and reception area where people can have a tea or a glass of wine in comfort without having to go upstairs..
A rehearsal space would be of huge benefit and a smaller performance area for plays that would not fill the 328 seat main auditorium yet might attract 100 people is also needed.
There is an ongoing problem with space for costumes and set building and this is another thorny problem that has to be tackled.
Whether this happens in the Watergate’s present home or as part of the brewery project remains to be seen but Ger Cody is looking forward to it.
As always there are people without whom things would not happen and Ger is quick to point to the part played by the retired Town Clerk of the city, Donal O’Brien in making the Watergate a reality.
“He was the driving force and our first chairman, he had the insight and simply put, without him there would be no Watergate and of course he had the complete backing of the city and county manager of the time, Paddy Donnelly,” Ger said.
He dislikes picking one show over another as a favourite but said if you were going by the “Clapometer”alone then acts like Maura O’Connell and Paul Brady were best in the musical stakes while comedians Brendan Grace, Niall Toibin and Dermot Morgan (RIP) were the best of the comedians.
There have been stand out moments when you are part of the changing face of theatre. Ger’s came when Big Telly Theatre Company performed “Galloping Buck Jones” in the theatre. A small cast played many parts and it was start of a trend which has continued and made it possible for theatre companies to survive.
Ger is looking forward to the future, booking new shows and keeping the theatre going. He finishes the interview with a caution. “There were other great theatres in the city like Stallard’s on Patrick Street and on the Parade and they all closed down and we can’t let this happen to the Watergate. “Because you never know, with declining grants and costs soaring we are finding it hard so when people say there is no fear of the Watergate they should think again with their feet and come down to see a show here.”