In 1991, Philip Hardy founded Barnstorm Theatre Company in Kilkenny to develop and provide theatre to a wide audience of both children and adults.
Originally from Dublin, Philip has been living in Inistioge for the past 30 years. He attended the Brendan Smith Academy and the Oscar School of Acting and was a professional actor for the first few years of his professional career.
I first came across Philip when Barnstorm Theatre Company asked me to sit on their Board - it was an experience I will never forget.
It opened my eyes to what goes on behind the scenes of every single production – the funding, grant applications, script writers, directors and producers, cast and crew, set designers, promoters and the office staff. They are one of the hardest working bunch of people I have ever met, who mostly do it for the love of it.
Philip was an accomplished actor before he became a director. His early directing experience was as Assistant Director on the world premiere of Dancing with Lughnasa at the Abbey Theatre, which coincidentally celebrated its 30th anniversary this month.
The 1990 premiere of Brian Friel’s play was the beginning of modern theatre and we are blessed that it led Philip Hardy to Kilkenny.
Here is a glimpse into Philip’s world…
Philip you moved from an actor’s life London to live in beautiful stillness of Inistioge. What brought you here?
I’m afraid it was tragedy that brought me back to my mother’s hometown. My eldest sister was widowed at the age of 35 with four young children and I came home to help out for a while.
The theatre was still in me and that was when I started Barnstorm. I always thought that I would return to London, but life and career had other plans!
Why set up Barnstorm Theatre Company for children?
Theatre is for everyone and my dream was to make theatre with and for different audiences. We produce for adults and children as well as communities; and we have three youth theatre groups where the members explore and create their own theatre.
We also provide a similar opportunity to adults with the Adult Theatre Club which has led to the formation of the Barn Owl Players in Kilkenny.
Barnstorm productions are quirky, thought-provoking modern fairy tales, dealing with real life subjects, such as dementia in Monday’s Child, growing up different in The Ice Child, and online addiction in Alice and the Wolf. Yet the young audience receive them so openly and adore the daring story lines.
Storytelling! We all love stories and in the theatre we suspend disbelief and enter into the world of the story and the characters.
Great writers, actors, design team and production crew make the magic with the specific audience in mind. And we can all engage in challenging subjects and storylines. It is sometimes a dark world, but an exciting world that we live in and children can deal with a lot as they navigate it.
Barnstorm’s latest production Alice and the Wolf dives into the online world. Again with a powerful message.
Alice and the Wolf is about a teenage girl who spends virtually all her time online playing Wolf Wood. This game is the world’s deepest, darkest online game.
She is consumed by the gaming world, after her dad leaves, and her mother’s is busy with her new her best friend who she met on line!
On top of that her best friend dumps her for a You Tube star. But what happens when the people you meet online come looking for you in real life? Who can you trust, and who is the Big Bad Wolf?
My favourite line was delivered by Alice’s granny, “this isn’t the internet young lady, you can’t go around pretending you are someone you are not”. It resonates with me every time I post something online now.
It’s written by Tom Swift and it is a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story in a digital fairy tale, that’s deliciously funny and full of dangerously dark twists.
The moral of the play is it’s not about who you are, but who you pretend to be, so be careful.
Do you miss acting?
Some would say that I never stopped acting! I don’t so much miss it – it is a long time since I was on stage.
I think the actor I was is gone now and I sometimes wonder what he would be like now. And I don’t envy the director that would work with me – I have strong ideas and because I teach too I would need to remember my role as an actor.
You have also established an exciting outreach programme.
The programme provides access to theatre as a resource to groups, communities and individuals in Kilkenny such as women’s groups, marginalised youth, after-school Children’s projects, primary and post-primary teachers and students.
Kilkenny Youth Theatre (Senior, Middle and Junior) runs weekly workshops for young people 11 to 18 years and is renowned for its annual productions in The Barn Theatre and Watergate Theatre.
So what are they all doing to keep up their acting skills during Covid-19?
Well there are only three staff and six members of our Board of Directors and we are all still working from home, planning and developing projects for the future.
Our Youth Theatre meets weekly through Zoom with Anna Galligan and Orla McGovern their facilitators – they were in the middle of rehearsals for their annual productions which would have happened April, May and June.
Barnstorm is still searching for a new home in Kilkenny with the support of Kilkenny County Council so that occupies us all. We have been based in our present home since 1996. And we have ambitious plans for the future.
You are also involved in producing and directing plays that are on the school syllabus.
In 2016, I directed a production of Translations by Brian Friel for the inaugural programme of Curriculum Play Live! in association with the Watergate Theatre and consulted with teachers in choosing future plays to be produced for local schools and general public.
Since then CPL has produced The Plough and the Stars by Sean O’Casey (2017), All My Sons by Arthur Miller (2018), and The Playboy of the Western World by JM Synge (2019).
What’s the next production for Barnstorm?
Philadelphia Here I Come by Brian Friel is this year’s Curriculum Play Live production which will hopefully start rehearsals in early September. The play is on the Leaving Cert and, fingers crossed, we hope to stage it in November.
This is a project close to my heart and brings together a number of elements – the professional company, the venue, the schools in the region, local actors and the general public in an annual production of a classic in international theatre.
You have a super team in Barnstorm Theatre Company. I have to mention your right hand man Vincent Dempsey. How long have you worked together?
Vincent and I have worked together for so many years even before Barnstorm. I met Vincent when we both worked for Team Educational Theatre Company in the eighties – me as actor/teacher and he as Tour/Stage Manager.
When I started Barnstorm it was just me and few local youth theatre members but as we began to grow I went out to ‘poach’ Vincent and I succeeded. That was 25 years ago. Anna Galligan joined us 11 years ago and has built a wonderful Outreach programme including Kilkenny Youth Theatre.
You have come through a lot over the years. How does a theatre company survive the downturn?
With a lot of help from our friends!
Friends of Barnstorm are essential in ensuring the ongoing success and world-class quality of this theatre company. If you would like to become a Friend, contact 056-775 1266 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.