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Q&A: We chat to Paul Bosco McEneaney of Cahoots NI

By Simon Fallaha

The Armagh-based former drummer and actor (42) is the founder of theatre company Cahoots NI, which is bringing its new play, The Gift, to the Belfast Children's Festival.

Q: Were your parents keen on you pursuing a career in the arts while you were growing up?

A: Throughout my childhood, my mother and father shared my love for the arts, so in that sense, I'm very lucky. They recognised that drumming and performing magic tricks were my biggest passions. They were very supportive and encouraging.

I have a nine-year-old son, Jaimie, and if he tells me in seven years' time that he'd like to go on tour with a band, like I did at 17, I'd hope that I could believe in him like my parents believed in me. My upbringing convinced me that having an artistic career in these parts was possible.

Q: Tell us how Cahoots NI originated

A: After three tours of the United States, I returned home knowing that I wanted to act, not drum. For five or six years, I was a jobbing actor on these shores, before being commissioned to write a play for children, entitled Puppet Magic. International festivals were keen on it, but to get the funding for a show, you had to start your own company. So Cahoots NI was born.

Once we got going, I saw how far behind the times the perception of children's theatre in Northern Ireland was. Funding and programming were not prioritised, and I was determined to make a difference. Since then, I've set out to maintain high standards and develop a consistently growing audience for children's entertainment.

Q: The Gift, which you're bringing to this year's Belfast Children's Festival, has been described as a "unique theatrical experience". How do you think audiences will perceive it?

A: With The Gift, people will find themselves immersed in another world, travelling on a journey through several different spaces and locations, discovering a different reality in each location, and piecing those realities together. It's a "memory play", a story of the audience living out an abstract existence inside the head of the female central character, Mary.

Q: In what way have your family inspired your endeavours?

A: I'm blessed to have my wife Jill by my side. Co-founding the Big Telly theatre company and running Armagh's Marketplace Theatre has given her a true understanding of the requirements of my world: the craft, the journey and the time commitments.

I also feel what I do has shadowed Jaimie's life. Egg was penned when he was four; its conception sprang from reading to him every night.

Q: These are tough times for arts. How is Cahoots NI holding up?

A: Very well. Egg, conceived five and a half years ago, is going off on a world tour, and it's created an income strand for the company that's allowed us to develop more work. Our projects have also encouraged and attracted both sponsorship and investment from the private sector.

Q: Do you retain high hopes for the industry here amid the cuts?

A: It is more difficult now that the budget has been slashed, but Northern Ireland's artistic environment remains very rich, diverse and unique. For example, in our acting industry, very few actors solely act. Being proficient in one form of the arts isn't enough for anybody here. You have to have several strings to your bow, otherwise you won't be able to make a living.

  • The Gift is running at CastleCourt, Belfast, from today until Friday, March 13. For details, visit www.youngatart.co.uk

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