"We need to allow children back doing what they love purely for their mental health.”
A Musical theatre producer who this year is celebrating 25 years of his Navan based stage school has opened up about the challenges the entertainment industry has faced over the last 18 months.
Stuart O’ Connor one of Ireland’s most established and successful producers in Irish Musical Theatre and Cabaret started Spotlight Stage school in Navan 25 years ago alongside his wife Ciara.
O’Connor started as a dancer, starring alongside Jack Cruise in the Panto when he was only six years old in 1977 and is the man behind the Toy Show's magical musical numbers with his role as performance producer for the past fifteen years, as well as Olympia Panto Producer for the past sixteen years.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel for the show biz industry with the launch of his and Pat Egan’s new interactive production he Live Drive-In PARK N PARTY that promises to be “a version of Saturday Night Take Away but in a car park!”
However, Stuart believes there is still a long way to go to get the creative field back to being he centre of Irish culture. He said:
“Our whole life is built around what we do, it’s what we do for a living, our friends are all in the industry, it’s our passion, our whole world. If we weren’t doing it as a job, we would be doing it as a hobby. When that is taken away from you and there really isn’t any light at the end of the tunnel.
“I know they are saying theatres are opened and we are all getting back but the reality is that we are not. Our industry is about bringing people together and bringing numbers together and the numbers have to stack up in order to do it.
“It has been really tough mentally and for the family and for everyone.
“It is frustrating seeing things opening back up but when you don’t have somebody lobbying for dance classes and stage schools it’s really hard for us we are kind of being lumped in with other things but we shouldn’t be because we are able to open safely. Hopefully somebody will see sense and let that happen at some point.
“Not every kid plays sport, there’s a whole group of children that are dance orientated, in stage school and acting and they are kind of being forgotten about. We need to allow children back doing what they love purely for their mental health.”
Stuart started his performing career as a young child on the Late Late Toy show, now the stage school boss is at the helm of the iconic show working as performance producer for the past fifteen years.
“I was a Billy Barry kid myself; I did seven or eight toy shows with Gay Byrne as a Billy Barry kid that changed full circle because I am performance producing the show and have been for the past fifteen years. Then to see your own kids from Spotlight on the toy show every year and my own kids are in it it is amazing.
“Last year was a really tough year for the team to put a show together but people loved it and we got a huge reaction and hopefully this year we might be back to some sense of having some kind of studio audience in.”
Despite the Late Late Toy Show being an iconic part of Irish culture and renowned worldwide, Stuart and the team deal with the job at hand instead of overthinking the process.
“When you are in the thick of it, we are basically producing a TV show and that’s what we need to get stuck into and in one sense you don’t really take in the enormous project that it is because I think if you were to sit back and look at that from day one you might get a little bit overwhelmed.
“When we get nearer the show the hype starts to build and then you realise that it is something special. It is a great buzz the energy in the studio is eclectic.”
The talented producer remembers clearly when he got the bug for showbiz as he explains:
“I was only about six my mam was going into town, so my sister was minding me, and she took me a long to the dance class.
“I sat and watched the dance class and then the following week when my sister was going again I asked my mam if I could go with her and I went and and still sat at the side and about after two or three weeks of that the teacher noticed that I was kind of egging to get up and she got me up and that was the very first time that I thought I liked dancing, that’s what started me and I never really stopped.
“The funny thing is she only went for another two or three weeks after that.”
The Live Drive-In PARK N PARTY brings energy, excitement and spark to covid-safe outdoor entertainment experiences with the most family friendly, interactive, live show of the summer. Hosts Ryan Andrews and James Patrice (Olympia Panto & Television stars) are in the driving seat for this wild ride with big screens, live band, drive-in dancers and bigger laughs!
For further info see www.thelivedrivein.ie