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Aine Kearney

Aine Kearney Curriculum Manager For Essential Skills

Be Inspired Series

Jeremy Lewis

Manager
Riverside Theatre, University Of Ulster, Coleraine

 

What does your job entail?

Heading a team of five full-time staff and 130 volunteers who, together, provide and present the annual programme of events for the Riverside, Northern Ireland's oldest-operating regional theatre. 

My job can be anything from marketing and public relations to programming, to fundraising, to making sure a wedding goes off without a hitch. I am also a speech tutor with the Riverside Youth Theatre.

At the moment, I am working on our Christmas schedule which will see the Riverside hosting a new adaptation of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windemere's Fan, by Bruiser Theatre Company; musical performances from the Causeway Chorale; a tribute to the gospel music of Elvis Presley; an Irish dance spectacular and this year's pantomime, Aladdin.

In 2013, we kick off with Ballywillan Drama Group's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's, Whistle Down the Wind.

Is it 9-5?

Heavens no! Quite the opposite. Theatre people work all sorts of odd hours and during weekends and on public holidays, when most of the rest of the population is usually enjoying a bit of time out.

Also, now that the Riverside is growing in popularity as a wedding venue, we can all be called upon any day (or night) of the week.

Engaging with the local community is an important part of the job and we get tremendous support from all three towns (Coleraine, Portrush and Portstewart) in the area. 

It's important that I get out and about and encourage as many people, from as many different backgrounds as possible to frequent the theatre get involved.

Many of our volunteers are people from the local community who give up their time because they want to be involved in the day-to-day running of their local theatre. 

We are incredibly lucky in that if we hadn't of had such support from the community, I don't think we would have survived 35 years.

How did you get into this line of work?

Good fortune. I was a postgraduate student of the University of Ulster at the time and applied for the front-of-house supervisor's job in Riverside in 1978, never really expecting to get it. 

Another simultaneous applicant for the same post was a man who's now a hugely successful, international playwright.

Outline your career to date?

1978 to 1984 - front-of-house supervisor, Riverside Theatre; 

1985 and 1986 - head of public relations and marketing, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness; 

1987 to 1995 - arts administrator, University of Ulster;

1996 to 2006 - administrative officer, governance and legal services, University of Ulster;

2007 to the present - general manager, Riverside Theatre.

Tell us about your qualifications/training.

I have a performer's diploma from the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama; a BA English landuage and literature from University of Ulster;  one year postgraduate research in classical drama, University of Ulster.

What qualities are required for your job - personal and professional?

Working in a theatre you do need a really good sense of humour. There can be egos and there can be off-stage dramas and crisis. The ability to keep calm and carry on is invaluable.

You also need to be passionate about what you are doing and enjoy working with people - young and old. I'm lucky because I love every minute of every day I spend doing this job.

One of the things I enjoy most is working with Riverside Youth Theatre. We have 62 young people aged between seven and 20 from all walks of life, and they arrive every Saturday morning and work with acting tutors, a speech tutor (me!), a choreographer, dance tutor and singing tutor, towards a big production every year, usually around Easter.

Another quality needed is the ability to work an electronic calculator - with the recession, you have to watch every penny and spend wisely.

What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?

Currently, as I'm sure is the case with everyone involved in the arts, the biggest challenge is surviving the current economic climate. We are extremely grateful to our two funding bodies, the University of Ulster and Coleraine Borough Council for maintaining their confidence in what we do and the importance of the theatre to the local community.

Another challenge is persuading audiences to part with their hard-earned cash in a lingering, double-dip recession.

It's vital to present a varied and top-quality programme that reflects all tastes. So as well as classic plays and drama, the Riverside programme also contains concerts (most notably Van Morrison), comedy shows (Patrick Kielty and Jimeoin were recent visitors), tribute acts and performances from mystics and mediums.

The rewards are embodied in full houses, a balanced programme of events and when customers say nice things to you.

Also, we were delighted to discover that attendances have been up this year, which has been a tremendous boost.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Annoy the immediate neighbours by practising on my trombone. They're very sympathetic.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

As a student, I appeared on BBC NI Television, playing the William Tell Overture on my teeth. I also trained as a driving instructor which, in the days before student loans, was a useful way of keeping the rent paid.

Who has inspired you most in your life?

I think it's a toss-up between Robert the Bruce (for his particular persistence) and Peter Sellers (a real actor).

 

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