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Relatively speaking: Dad and daughter, Sean and Caitlin

When this year's Belfast Children's Festival kicks off next week, one eager young audience member will be teenager Caitlin Kearns. The aspiring actress from Belfast was given a taste for a career in the performing arts after her dad Sean, also an actor, took her as a child to the first ever festival in the late Nineties.

Name: Sean Kearns

Age: 49

Occupation: Actor

Relationship to Caitlin: Father

I've been a professional actor for more than 30 years, it sort of runs in the family. Caitlin was literally in her pram in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast when I played Captain Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music in 1997. Our family used to live in Sunnyside Street, and Caitlin would be taken along to rehearsals. Being immersed in theatre from such a young age, I think she couldn't not turn to acting. And she does stand-up comedy, too, which is something I could never do.

Working in the arts has never been easy. It's a very over-populated profession without a great deal of output. But it's important to do something you're passionate about, and while Caitlin's fire burns, why shouldn't she have a go? I've had a very varied and exciting working life, and I wouldn't want to deny her that experience.

I've recently been playing Jimmy's Da in The Commitments at London's Palace Theatre. It's as if I've come full circle from where I once was; three decades ago, Les Miserables had moved from the Barbican Theatre to the Palace, where I was selling programmes at the time.

Keeping tabs on family has been quite difficult because I've also been working away for a considerable length of time with year-long contracts for Billy Elliot: The Musical and The 39 Steps, both in London. When you strive to work continuously as an actor, you just won't find the same kind of opportunity here, and when chances like these arise, you've got to take them.

I think the reason that me and my wife Gillian have remained married for 21 years is that we never see each other - absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that! But Caitlin and Gillian do travel to London and stay a week at a time, and I do get back to Belfast for the odd day or two.

Regarding the Belfast Children's Festival, I think an early introduction to live performance is so important. Children will value or remember the first time they see any kind of theatre, stage or street; they'll be transported to another world.

Caitlin has grown up in an atmosphere of nice, supportive performers and it's given her a fearless "give it a go" edge - the confidence to do what she believes in.

Name: Caitlin Kearns

Age: 17

Occupation: Student/ performer

Relationship to Sean: Daughter

Thanks to dad, I was born into theatre. Most get into the arts from the outside looking in, but with me, it was from the inside looking out.

I used to watch in awe while he played the panto dame at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. He has such a lively presence when performing.

He's also been incredibly supportive. Anywhere or any time he can, he's helped me out by giving advice that only he as an actor himself could have given me.

It would have been so easy for him to say "No, I don't want you going into this", but he's been right behind me all the way.

Dad worked away a lot, so my mum would take me to many events at the Belfast Children's Festival. It was refreshing to see things that felt like they were for me; watching such diverse shows from such a young age spurred on my passion for the arts and drove me to perform.

Because dad was so often elsewhere, I spent a lot of time on my own growing up, but I believe that made me imaginative, opinionated and headstrong.

I've a mature and a childish side, and I think you need those when you perform, both to know about the darkness in life and to enjoy yourself. I've worked with the MAC and in stand-up comedy, and it's devastating to see communities who've been so positively affected by the arts not receiving the right kind of government support.

The saying "arts transform lives" is cliched but true, and the people in power not feeling that same connection doesn't help.

Many think theatre is not very accessible, yet their opinion changes once they see it.

If dad and I could act in Northern Ireland, we'd go nowhere else for work, but the money just isn't here. We must reach out to young actors who want to stay and contribute to the arts, but there's a hard balance between making new work and getting bums on seats.

I love films and TV but only to critique and analyse them. Anywhere I can retreat into my extremely analytical world, like the cinema during the recent Oscars season, is everything to me. Though to this day, dad doesn't know where or who I get my encyclopaedic film knowledge from - no one in the family is quite as interested in it as I am!

A feast of family fun ...

Highlights from this year's Belfast Children's Festival, which runs from March 6-13, include:

  • Constellations, The MAC, March 12-13 - stunning dance piece choreographed by the award-winning Enrique Cabrera, performed by the world-renowned Spanish dance troupe Arcaladanza
  • Fragile, Lyric Theatre, March 11-12 - from Spain's Onirica Mecanica, this distinct work will spellbind audiences, bringing robots alive in the most human of ways
  • Happy Glimmer, Grand Opera House, March 7-13 - presented by French Company Flop in association with Belfast's Golden Thread Art Gallery, this is a unique production of optical illusions and magical mechanics that transform mundane machines into moving pictures
  • The Three Little Pigs, Waterfront Hall, March 8 - part of the Festival in a Day event, Paul Patterson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's famous Revolting Rhyme is performed by the Quercus Ensemble
  • For further details on shows and tickets, visit www.young- atart.co.uk or tel: 028 9024 3042

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