16 Aug 2022

‘There is a huge appetite to get back into theatres again’ - Director of the Watergate Theatre in Kilkenny

‘There is a huge appetite to get back into theatres again’ - Director of the Watergate Theatre in Kilkenny

Joanna Cunningham, director of the Watergate Theatre

During the pandemic The Watergate had a wide and varied online offering. Do you think this will continue into the future or will the focus going forward be more on live performances?
The adjustments we had to make because of the pandemic were an amazing learning opportunity and showed us all the innovative ways we could provide work opportunities for artists and then connect them with an audience.
Streaming has been a fantastic alternative to attending live events but I don’t think many people would disagree that it’s not a long term alternative to the magic of going to a live performance.
Our experience is that there is a huge appetite to get back into theatres again so while we will hold onto our learning and bring elements of those digital avenues with us in order to maximise access to the work we show, our focus will be on delivering a diverse, busy programme of live events with our usual goal of trying to provide something for everyone!
We were also delighted to have the opportunity to run a number of artist residences over the past months.
You can read more about the work they are making with our support on our website.

How have things been at The Watergate since you reopened to live audiences?
We were due to reopen in early July with a fortnight of Panto Camps and a Musical Theatre Intensive course for older children and young adults but it was all cancelled as we were included in the decision not to allow indoor dining to go ahead at the time. As you can imagine there was huge disappointment about this.
At this stage we are still only permitted to admit an audience of 50 and we reopened in partnership with Kilkenny Arts Festival 2021 this month. This partnership is going from strength to strength and our weeks of working alongside them have been exciting and very positive again this year.
From the point of view of those of us working in the Watergate there’s the excitement of meeting the artists programmed at the theatre and seeing their work, the delight we witness from audiences getting back into the space again and of course we love working with the KAF team led by Olga Barry who are some of the best in the industry.
We tentatively look ahead now to autumn/winter 2021. We have a programme of events ready to launch but without more guidance from the Government we are looking ahead into a fog of double standards across different sectors.
As many of the vocal leaders in our sector have said, we need a roadmap to make a plan which will help to guide us back to stability. At the time of writing, this roadmap has not been given to our sector.

There was some beautiful programming at the Watergate for The Kilkenny Arts Festival. What were the highlights of KAF at the Watergate?
I loved all the events at the Watergate. The headline act ‘I walked into my Head’ by Karen Casey was brave, experimental and important and we were proud to show it.
The standard of work shown over the entire KAF programme this year was breathtaking. If I was to pick out an additional highlight, I’d struggle to choose between the Richard Mosse installation Incoming presented by and at the Butler Gallery in partnership with KAF and The City Is Never Finished by Peter Power and Michael Gallen.

The Watergate recently received substantial funding from government under The Cultural Capital Scheme. How will this funding will be spent?
We applied for Stream B of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts Gaeltacht Sport and Media Cultural Capital Scheme back in January 2020 and then the pandemic hit so then we weren’t sure what was going to happen with this funding opportunity.
However just as, hopefully, we start to move towards the end of this nightmare in our sector we have learned that our application was successful.
We have been awarded €255,000 for capital upgrades on the Watergate building. The primary goal of this funding is to address and improve the building’s carbon footprint so when these upgrades take place we will make the kinds of changes to the building which preserve its historic integrity but ensure that it can operate in a way which has minimal impact on the environment but maximum service provision to artists and audiences.
It’s a very exciting time for the Watergate. This funding is an investment in its future and shows commitment to the Watergate as an evolving centre for the arts in Ireland.

Can you tell us a bit about your programme for the autumn and what Kilkenny audiences can look forward to?
We’re taking it month by month. All our residences continue into the winter months and we look forward to show casing some of the work arising from these later in the year. Keep an eye on our socials and on for updates!

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