Carlow's new TY vision


Carlow’s new Visual centre has given young people a fresh perspective on performing arts, writes PETER McGUIRE

CARLOW NEVER lacked talent. The town boasts the Aspiro Youth Choir, the County Carlow Youth Theatre, the Carlow Emerging Playwrights Group and the well-established Éigse Arts Festival.

Still, says Transition Year student Naomi Reddy-Camps (15), something was missing. “I grew up in the theatre and around acting,” she explains. “My dad has taken youth theatre groups around Europe and made a few short films, but there was nowhere to put on a play. You had to rent a place and the stages were quite makeshift.”

Last September, Naomi – who is also the lead singer of local band Subject 107 – was one of thousands who attended the opening events of the Visual Centre for Contemporary Art and The George Bernard Shaw Theatre, a stunning new building hosting four gallery spaces and a 290-seater arts theatre. It opened in the middle of a crippling recession, but it has already breathed new life into the town.

Within just a few short months, the theatre has welcomed 15,000 patrons through its doors for events, and its inaugural production from Barabbas Theatre Company was nominated for three Irish Times Theatre Awards. It has attracted local, national, and international perfomers including the award-winning theatre production Little Gem and The Edward Simon Jazz Trio from Venezuela.

“This is an amazing facility, and there’s been nothing like it in Carlow before,” says Naomi. “I was just starting Transition Year and I thought this would be a great place to do my work experience.”

Naomi, along with her St Leo’s College classmate Ally Nolan and five more local students, recently completed a one-week work experience stint at Visual and the GB Shaw Theatre. Naomi and Ally were so enchanted that they came back for a second week, and they have now signed up as volunteers.

Ally hopes to pursue a career in art after school, and is currently considering fashion design. “This work experience was like a dream,” she says. “When I started, there was an exhibition by the painter Sean Scully, and the comedian Ardal O’Hanlon had a show in the theatre. We got to go backstage and see how the place was run: working at reception, helping to set up shows, meeting people at the front of house, meeting various artists, and learning about the technical side.”

As well as attracting well-known artists, Visual and the GB Shaw Theatre have been keen to tap into local talent. Naomi’s band were booked to play a gig in the venue, while another young local band, The Sugar Factory, launched their six-song EP there two weeks ago.

Local youth choir Aspiro, established by Mary Amond O’Brien in 1997, is one of the organisations that have been using the theatre. Appointed as artists-in-residence, Aspiro were centre-stage on the opening night, performed a four-night Christmas show, and have been involved in several events at the centre. Later this year, they will undertake their most ambitious production yet, a commission from award-winning writer Sean Hardie and musical composer Elaine Agnew, created especially for the spaces of the new centre.

‘IT’S BEEN GREAT to have the theatre here,” says third-year student and choir member Emmet Jones (14). “We’re also hoping to play a part in the GB Shaw’s upcoming original opera production, which will be a first for the town.”

Amond O’Brien says that the presence of the theatre in the town has opened up new possibilities for Aspiro. “As part of our residency, we got to do some movement workshops with John Scott of the Irish Modern Dance Theatre, which was a great chance to explore the relationship between gesture, movement and voice,” she says. “When we held our Christmas show, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, it was the first time we’d ever played more than one night, and we took a step forward by choreographing the show. Working with the GB Shaw makes you want to up your game and be as professional as possible.”

Naomi says that the theatre has caused excitement around the town. “Before it opened, you’d have to go to Kilkenny for any big show. One day, we were giving out flyers in the town. Normally, people run past you and don’t take flyers. But the moment they heard it was a flyer for the theatre, they took it. There’s a real buzz about the theatre and everybody wants to know what’s going on.”

Ally is excited about the possibilities the GB Shaw Theatre offers Carlow: “They’re really good at attracting people of all ages. It’s such a beautiful space, and it’s so big that it can be transformed for all types of events. It’s a blank canvas full of opportunity.”