If you live in Cork, you’ve probably walked Half Moon Street hundreds of times. It’s the road joining the Crawford Art Gallery’s square to the city’s quays, running alongside the Opera House and multinational shopping venues. On your right as you walk from the square to the Lee, you’ll see a plethora of Irish writers stencilled in white, blue and black graffiti. It’s a memorable street with an evocative name, linking the everyday to the artistic. That connection is the mission statement for Half Moon Festival, a multi-medium arts festival that’s made the jump from the physical realm to the digital.
It’s a strange and brave time to run an arts festival. What’s organising a festival like when everyone’s watching from home? I sat down with actor-turned-producer Rachel Gleeson of Tús Nua productions to find out.
The project spun out of UCC’s MA in Arts Management and Creative Producing, where the nine students making up the class were tasked with organising a festival. Made up of an eclectic group of artists pulling from experience in worlds of visual arts, music, and theatre, the class became a true theatrical cohort: Tús Nua Productions. Plans for the festival to take place in March with a launch in the Kino were scuppered by the global spread of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown. The cohort suddenly had a number of new challenges to face, but they made the decision to move the festival online. It was done as much for the artists involved as for the postgrad:
“[We] obviously had to take a bit of a U-turn in the past months,” says Rachel. “We’re so grateful and lucky that we still had the opportunity to put forward work, because we’ve been negotiating with artists for a long time and as far as possible we tried to honour contracts with artists who were due to perform in the live festival, and it’s really important to us also to be in a position to give artists a chance to perform and platform their work because it’s such a difficult time to be an artist at the moment.”
That great digital leap forward meant cancelling the previous plans of events in the Kino and Opera House, and moving bricks to a single venue: the Half Moon Festival website. With the help of a tech production team led by UCC film undergrad Ronan O’Shea, the site was decided upon as the hub for the festival’s various livestreams, podcasts and pre-recorded videos. Once Ronan was onboard and the website set up, the cohort could move back to the day-to-day life of producing. Each producer has responsibility for one or two acts.
“Once we had a brilliant tech production team onboard […] I don’t think it’s actually that different. You’re still negotiating with artists the same way, you’re still curating your program, making sure the work is eclectic and fulfills our mission. The mission of Half Moon Festival is to celebrate different perspectives and embrace connection and creativity, and I think that we have still stayed true to that, and I think the connection thing is all the more pertinent at a time like this when we’re all living in a state of disconnection.”
That state of disconnection has brought about some changes in the festival’s lineup. Rachel was originally meant to be working with Dublin-based theatre director Shanna May Breen. Unfortunately, that event fell through. The gap in the schedule led to the creation of the My Life in the Arts podcast, Rachel’s brain-child.
My Life In The Arts is a series of conversations between Rachel and a number of who’s-who names at the top of the Cork arts community. Recorded from a distance and inspired by Cork’s unusual position of having many female-driven arts institutions, the episodes take a Desert Island Discs approach by asking the guests to give three works of art that reflect their journey or trajectory in the industry. Guests range from Eibhlín Gleeson, CEO of the Opera House to Valerie Byrne, director of the National Sculpture Factory. The aim is to show the personal story behind the professional success, connecting you to the trailblazing women of the Cork arts scene. It’s a passion project with guests passionate about art: This writer’s excited to hear the discussions.
Notable among the lineup is a focus on the Irish language. Part of the festival’s aim of representing different perspectives is casting new light upon the much-maligned mother tongue, with the events including some left-of-field ventures: Trá Pháidín are a raucous drone group (music editor hat back on: They are very good), while GaelGÁIRÍ is an 18+ stand-up comedy gig. It’s not your athair’s lineup.
“I think there’s this idea that the Irish language can’t be contemporary or fun, or even crass,” says Rachel. “[GaelGÁIRÍ] is the only event that we have that’s over 18s, and it feels really of the moment and it’s inviting new audiences into Irish language events who might not have otherwise have thought that was for them. I think Irish language cultural events sometimes get ‘boxed’, and I suppose that’s something that we at Tus Nua really want to dissolve and say, ‘this is just part of what we’re doing like anything else.’”
Finally, the conversation turns to beyond the current preparatory work and enjoying the festival itself. It kicks off at 10 a.m. Friday with the first episode of ‘My Life In The Arts’. After that, the producers will be able to sit back and watch their acts’ performances go out into the world. There are no schedule clashes, but the acts are coming at a fair clip across the three days – what acts will Rachel be watching, and if she had to pick one, what would she recommend?
“As many as I can, really. It’s funny, I haven’t really thought about it – it’s all been about prep […] I’m really excited to see ‘Direct Provision: Experiences In Art’. There are three events: A short documentary by Maurice O’Brien about the diverse community in Ballyhaunis, there’s also artworks made by young people in Direct Provision, and then Leaving Limbo, a recorded discussion between [Maurice O’Brien] and two of the participants who both had experiences in Direct Provision, and then became UNICEF ambassadors and are now kind of talking about their life in Ireland.
“I think that’s going to be absolutely fascinating and very of the moment. It was always going to be current, but it’s all the more important now, really.”
All events for Half Moon Festival, along with the schedule, can be found on the website. The festival runs from Friday 26th of June to Sunday 28th.
Further events from Tús Nua have yet to be discussed; in the meantime, Rachel recommends Druid Debuts read-through of Erica Murray’s play ‘An Honest Woman’, coming next month.