NewsFour caught up with local Ringsend playwright and drama teacher Paul Kennedy to talk about his life and work in the field of drama and his passionate work with the local community.
Readers may remember the success of his last play ‘The Tenements’ with the Watersedge Drama Group on the period of 1916 set in the Ringsend area, dealing with such diverse issues as poverty, Republicanism and tradition, with humour thrown in as well.
Kennedy trained as an actor at the Gaiety School of Acting under the tutelage of Andy Pines from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He was also a member of FOCUS theatre in Dublin working with the late Deirdre O’Connell, where he studied Theatre Production and later began to direct short sketches.
Kennedy got a job with the Smashing Time Theatre Company, working with a woman called Ann Carroll, who also later set up the Watersedge Theatre Company. “I initially came for ten weeks to teach a course on drama and found myself directing a few plays for an adult education class,” he told NewsFour. “My first play was an adaptation of Frank McGuinness’s ‘The Factory Girls’, except we had it set in Ballymun with local working-class girls performing. It was terrible to be directing for the first time. I worked it out, however, and overcame my own fear and I believe the audience said, ‘I really like this!’”
To his name and to his credit, Kennedy has covered such controversial political matters in plays such as ‘The Syndicate’, which he wrote about the water charge tax and directed a play titled, ‘Where Have All The Spoons Gone?’, which was written by one of the actors in the theatre group about the local incinerator and performed in Ringsend Technical College. “They weren’t just political plays, they were works of art – funny and entertaining.”
Kennedy also spoke about his commitment and relationship with the local community. “We have a very good relationship with the local Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre (RICC) and with Lorraine Barry, who have helped us to build the stage. We would rather be located in the heart of Ringsend because that is the heart of the community. We have been asked to perform at the Trinity College Theatre in the Samuel Beckett Centre, where three actors will perform six minutes of a funny scene for the audience, as it is going to be part of a comedy festival.”
Speaking on the Tenements play and the use of humour in it, Kennedy stated that the play was “about being faithful to the memories of our own family. There was a huge infant mortality rate at the time, with cholera, typhoid, squalor and poverty being rife. Humour was used as a survival mechanism back then, as it is still being used today.
“In this play, we had some very fine, experienced actors and I have to state that ‘The Tenements’ was my favourite play on record yet. Pat Larkin from the local community wrote a fine song entitled ‘You can’t go over the bridge me boy,’ about his late mother passing away.”
The drama group is funded by the City of Dublin Education and Training Board, who pay for the tuition course. Up to 18 actors from Ringsend and Irishtown perform on average, with people from all over the community coming to see each play performed once a year “including those from the The Ladies Club of Ringsend!”
The Watersedge Drama Group meets every Wednesday from 6.45 to 8.45 from the months of September to June. Kennedy emphasises: “Anybody can join. It’s open to people with disabilities, even to those who cannot speak English. The aim of the group is to educate, build up confidence and develop communications skills.”
By Robert Fullarton