September in Westport is synonymous with the much-anticipated kaleidoscope of creativity that is the Westport Arts Festival. This year marks the 42nd time the town will be treated to another bountiful buffet of musical, theatrical, visually stimulating fare – and whether you plan to gorge on the whole menu or sample a few of its delicacies, you will doubtless come away feeling more than sated.
For those who eat with their eyes, the visual-arts cartes du jour will include street art by Maser, and exhibitions of work by Veronica Bolay and Tommie Lehane. Music fans will be licking their lips at the thoughts of The Strypes, Jerry Fish and The Stunning, while theatre buffs will be keeping a seat at the table for the inimitable Pat Kinevane of Fishamble Theatre.
Maser started out life as a cheeky graffiti artist spraying his tag on the walls of Dublin’s backstreets. Now, he’s a famous artist living in the US, and his abstract forms adorn walls in America, Africa and all across Europe. Maser will be at work in Wesptort throughout the festival – keep an eye out for his colourful, geometric art.
Hamburg-born, Westport-based artist Veronica Bolay has been living in Ireland since 1971. Much of her work is inspired by the Irish landscape, and she is perhaps best known for her atmospheric work in pastels and oils, though she also produces etchings and pen-and-ink works, as well as some figurative art. A multiple award-winning artist, Bolay is a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Poet Paul Durcan has written two poems about her work – ‘The Hay Carrier’ and ‘Island Musician Going Home’.
Westport-born Tommie Lehane’s arresting photographic exhibition ‘An Imperfect Normality’ brings the viewer back to Syria before the outbreak of war in 2011. The apolitical exhibition, which has toured multiple venues over the past number of years, stands as a moving juxtaposition to the sadly now more-familiar images of ravaged towns and villages, and a desperate, disconsolate people. How strange, and how sad, that an image of a group of happy boys, eating chips while celebrating Eid al-Fitr the end of Ramadan in Damascus, should be somehow more affecting than the daily images of blood-soaked, dust-covered bomb victims.
The festival’s other visual arts elements include a probing multi-media exhibition by Westport artist Breda Burns, a group exhibition by the Wright Artists collective, a 20-year retrospective of art produced by Westport College of Further Education art students, an exhibition of work by the Octagon Quilters, the annual open exhibition in McGing’s, and ‘Changeling’, a diverse exhibition of crafts created by the children of Westport over the summer months.
Currently touring the world festival circuit, which has seen them play everywhere from Japan to Hungary, The Strypes will stop off in Westport (with a few special guests) for what is sure to be a roof-raising gig in the Castle Late Night Venue. On a different night, DJ Kormac will rock the same venue with an audio visual show with a big sound, mesmerising bespoke visuals and a live drummer.
The Stunning will play an acoustic gig in the beautiful Holy Trinity Church. During the 30 years since they first formed, the Galway lads have toured with a host of stars, from Bob Dylan to the B52s, and they have recently been working on new material for release in the new year. Gig goers can expect a sneak preview.
Moustachioed musical maestro Mr Jerry Fish is sure to reel in a crowd when he takes to the altar at the same hallowed venue. The former frontman of An Emotional Fish has built a solid reputation for carnivalesque, gender-bending performances, and no doubt the Westport show will be no different. The singer, whose Electric Sideshow has become an integral part of the Electric Picnic, has also just released a new version of Emotional Fish song ‘Blue’, featuring May Kay (Fight Like Apes), as an homage to his late friend, former bandmate Martin Murphy.
Other big gigs to watch out for include an intimate concert with top trad musicians Matt Molloy, John Carty and Arty McGlynn, who will together explore the fiddle and flute tradition of north Connacht in Matt Molloy’s Yard Bar.
Pat Kinevane makes a welcome return to the Westport Arts Festival line-up with ‘Underneath’. Written and performed by the spellbinding Cork actor, ‘Underneath’ is his third one-man play with Fishamble and director Jim Culleton.
Like ‘Forgotten’ (2006) and ‘Silent’ (2011), which were populated by elderly, homeless and mentally struggling characters, this latest is a ‘blackly comic, rich and vivid tale of a life lived in secret, a testament to the people who live on the fringes’. Here, we meet an unnamed woman, who speaks to us from beyond the grave about her life as someone disfigured from an early age. Hopefully Kinevane’s extraordinary physicality, his acerbic wit-with-a-wink and his willingness to push the boundaries will all combine to create another unforgettable character, freed from the margins to take centre stage at last.
The festival is also hosting ‘Broken Promise Land’, by actor and writer Mirjana Rendulic and Stones Throw Theatre Company. The play, also a solo performance, tells the tale of Stefica, who flees war-torn Croatia in search of ‘an American education’, only to land in a Dublin lap-dancing club. Based on Rendulic’s own experiences, ‘Broken Promise Land’ aims to challenge preconceived notions through frank storytelling and humour.
Closer to home, Westport’s own ever-popular St Patrick’s Drama Group will present their play ‘Stolen Child’, the story of a young woman’s journey to find her biological mother. The play touches on several themes, from modern human relationships to the harsh realities of the industrial schools of the past.
The family way
A key aspect of Westport Arts Festival, family events this year include the annual Lego building competition, digital art seminars, art workshops, writing workshops, storytelling and more.
Headlining the family fun will be the magical acrobatics troupe Fidget Feet Aerial Spectacle, which made a huge impression when they performed in the grounds of Westport House during the 2011 Westport Arts Festival. This year, they will be giving two free performances of their jaw-dropping gravity-defying antics at the Octagon in the centre of town.
Get stuck in
There are lots of ways to get involved in this year’s festival. This Thursday, September 7, marks the 250th day of Westport’s 250th year, and the festival is inviting everyone to get out and take photographs of the people, places and the spirit of the town and upload them through its website. All entries will be in with a chance to be selected for inclusion in a special limited edition Westport 250 commemorative book, which can be pre-ordered during and after the festival. A selection of the pictures will also be featured in The Mayo News.
Other participatory events will include a poetry competition, the McGing’s Open Exhibition, an open mic, the aforementioned Lego competition and display, a spoken-word performance competition, a choral masterclass and performance, and workshops for young and old in dance, writing and craft making.
Visit www.westportartsfestival.com for more details on these and the festival’s other events, as well as tickets, and competition rules and closing dates. As some venues have limited capacity, booking early to avoid disappointment is advised.