Picture it: the year is 1991, I’m on the wings, stage left in Portlaw’s Premier Hall, and I’m attempting to trumpet like an elephant.
Even to my 12-year-old ears, the sound I’m making is not one synonymous with those mighty beasts frequenting the Serengeti. But hey, I was 12, and I was, at least, giving it my best shot!
My on-stage role was that of a Garda in Portlaw’s entry into the Waterford Scór na nÓg Novelty Act competition, under the direction of the late Sister Philomena Fitzgibbon.
Being a ‘boy in blue’ was hardly too great a stretch for me given that my Grandfather had been Portlaw’s Sergeant for 20 years, but I avoided mimicking his West Cork drawl and sadly had
no dialogue which included use of the word ‘vehicle’.
A couple of years later, again in Scór, I portrayed an irritating mother-in-law gunned down by Freddie Kelly Jnr’s character – and if a family killing can be family friendly, well then mine was.
This was no Tarantino-esque execution with claret gushing consequences; after all we were being directed by a Sister of Mercy; it was far more towards the Ealing Comedy end of the mortal coil-shedding scale.
Donning a cardigan and headscarf donated to me by my Grandmother, I bit the dust in spectacular fashion on three different stages – Kill, Millstreet and the Gleneangle in Killarney in that year’s Munster Final.
It was the first time I’d ever ‘performed’ so to speak in front of a big audience; there were at least 1000 in the audience.
That I did so dressed like my Granny, complete in a pair of tights, and all without a modicum of embarrassment, suggested that I quite enjoyed this acting lark.
But, to be honest, I never gave acting too much thought when compared to how soccer, athletics, Gaelic football, table quizzes and school more than occupying my teenage time.
So when my Scór days drew to a close, I never really gave too much thought to treading the boards again, until one of my oldest friends stuck my name on a list for a show which I should never really have featured in.
The Transition Year classes of Carrick-on-Suir CBS and Scoil Mhuire were combining theatrical forces to stage the town’s first combined secondary school musical – ‘Godspell’, based on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew.
Three days after including my name on the list of potential actors, perhaps recalling my elephant trumpeting and spectacular stage death from my Scór days, my classmate Fintan Hanrahan told me he’d scratched my name onto the show’s long list.
Given that I was in Fifth Year, and really should have had more of an eye on the following year’s Leaving Cert, but the prospect of being in a hall full of girls for a few nights a week didn’t sound half bad.
So at the end of that week, Fintan and I and a few more lads from ‘across the road’, made the trip into Scoil Mhuire territory, where many of us would meet our first long term sweethearts.
And if one’s years in Secondary School are indeed the “best days of your life,” then March to May 1996 were the very best days of the best days of my life.
Putting my inability to coherently move firmly to one side – we even had to line dance in the show! – I threw myself into ‘Godspell’ and much to my surprise, I was cast in the leading role.
This would entail me singing quite a bit, something I’d never, ever done in public, and I have to admit I was quite self-conscious about that part of the role. But when I had to sing, I did so, and I was able to hold a note. And that pleased me no end.
Come that winter, I was wearing shoulder pads and gold boxer shorts as an Elvis-sounding Pharaoh in ‘Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’, and after a brief flirtation with the DIT Choir, I largely went into stage hibernation.
But thanks to the pleasant persuasion of the late Dick Meaney, and my big brother Gavin, I got into the acting lark again once my tax-dodging days in college drew to a close.
Between pantomimes and musicals in Portlaw and Carrick-on-Suir, I really began to enjoy acting, singing and, much to my shock, the odd bit of dancing. The craic has always been mighty, even if the hours have at times been very long.
In the past nine months, I’ve played Bernardo in Carrick Musical Society’s ‘West Side Story’, a murderous Welshman in Brewery Lane’s ‘Night Must Fall’ and I’m currently on stage, again in the Brewery, with ‘The Glass Menagerie’, directed by Peg Power.
Over the past decade, I’ve been directed by stage luminaries such as Dick Meaney, Liam Butler, Andrew Holden, Tom Nealon, Tony Finnegan and, now by Peg Power, a first lady of Irish theatre alongside the late, great Anna Mahanan.
Much to my surprise, when casting my mind back over all the different productions and concerts I’ve been party to these past 20 years, ‘The Glass Menagerie’ represents my 29th stage appearance.
For someone who has never considered himself an actor, that’s not too bad a record at all. And it’s been an absolute blast!