The Monthly interviews Paula McFetridge from Kabosh Theatre Company about responding to the pandemic – Part 1

Could you tell The Monthly a little about the history of Kabosh?

Kabosh is a Belfast based Theatre Company and we do performances in theatre and non-theatre spaces. The company has performed in some pretty unusual spaces over the years.

Our work is informed by the sites, spaces and people of the north of Ireland and the majority of our work examines the legacy of conflict.

Our work is commissioned from professional playwrights and the work is performed by professional actors. Many of the projects will have a community engagement project running alongside the performance and that would include workshops and post show audience discussions because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter that we deal with.

Do you always use professional actors?

In very specific projects, for example some of our commemoration work or work specifically relating to how we deal with the past, we might have an interplay between professional and non-professional actors, particularly when the subject matter is about how we deal with legacy for example.

We produced and directed a project looking at the commemoration of the anniversary of the 1916 rising in Short Strand and that was an amalgamation of a massive community cast with a core of professional actors.

We  facilitated and directed a project for ArtsEkta which involved a community engagement project over a period of three to four months and the final performance, staged in Seamus Heaney Homeplace in Bellaghy, was performed by the participants accompanied by professional musicians. We have also carried out similar orientations with Arts for Older people projects or youth engagement projects.

On the whole though, we do tend to work with professional actors because we have developed a methodology which deals with the legacy of the past and that requires a particular type of overview. Often you really do need to be perceived to be independent of the subject matter at hand. This is especially important if you aim to address, sometimes even ask, the difficult questions which emerge from the subject matter and that is necessary even if you are working with anecdotes or shared stories and the people sharing that information are close at hand.

And what kind of material are you working with?

We are often examining archive material or historical works or even anecdotal stories from periods of the past, as well as gathering project-specific first-person narratives.  When we engage with members of the community we  take all of that information, hand it over to a professional playwright who will interrogate the information, use it as a creative catalyst and produce new material.  This is then handed over to professional actors who in a rehearsal room with a director, find a way of humanising it for presentation, offering a further interrogation.

I think using this method we can be a little more provocative, we can examine the more sensitive issues and  stimulate more informed conversations.

Is your work fully funded or is there a mix in your financial arrangements?

We are not fully funded although we are a core client of the Arts Council and Belfast City Council.

We only have 2 full time members of staff myself as Artistic Director, and Zoe Fox is the General Manager.I direct and curate the majority of our projects.

We currently get funded for approx. 66% of our streamlined core costs but we still need to generate more financing either from trusts and foundations or through commissions and  box office ticket sales for investment in core and projects

It is important to state it is a stipulation of some funding bodies that if you are working in community settings, particularly in areas of deprevation, that work is performed free and that you cannot charge for workshops or performances.

Even though we can on occasion generate a little bit of a reserve which can be used to apply for funding where you need to match the grant allocation nevertheless companies like ours are always looking to generate funding from a range of sources.

This is quite a fragile model of financing the work that we do and we work with multiple funding bodies and organisations. We started way back in 1994 so we have been able to keep the company functioning for more than 25 years.

Paula McFetridge (Image – Féile an Phobail)

Part two of this interview is here

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.