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The Show Must Go On

2nd November 2020

Maria Connolly, Founder, 1 Eleven Theatre

In one fell swoop, Maria Connolly lost a year’s worth of work.

An award-winning freelance actress and writer living in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland she was due to premiere her new play Conversations with Angels before the complete disruption of coronavirus.

Undeterred, Maria set up 1 Eleven Theatre Company earlier this year, going on to write, produce, direct and act in another play – The Broads.

Centred around the lives of Hollywood greats Judy Garland, Bette Midler and Marilyn Monroe, the show – inspired by a programme on elderly people living in isolation and created specifically as a socially distanced piece of theatre – went on to tour care homes, assisted living accommodations, a rehabilitation unit, mental health unit, the Cancer unit at Belfast City Hospital, as well as the Royal Victoria Hospital for patients and NHS workers. That’s 60 shows, reaching more than 1,600 people in total.

“There’s so many people out there who need theatre at the minute,” notes Maria. “People are starved of entertainment and even before the pandemic I was hearing stories of people stuck inside homes who have nothing, nobody ever comes to see them.

“We were doing three shows a day and it was very hard to leave sometimes because we could see the impact we were having on people’s mental health. In one unit someone had had no visitors for five months, and the care assistants told us afterwards that was the first time they had lifted their heads and actually talked in all that time. Another resident said that we had made her forget that she was in that home. To think that a play could do that is just incredible.”

Maria received support from the Arts Council Northern Ireland’s Artists Emergency Funding to allow her to produce and deliver the play outside or through the windows of people who were isolating in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Dundonald and Bangor amongst a four-person team, with rehearsals taking place over zoom.

1 Eleven Theatre Company is just one of many good causes who have received support from The National Lottery, and for Maria, the funding is just the beginning.

“I now see gaps in communities everywhere and I have so many ideas to help bridge them. Someone finally said yes and believed in me and I know it has inspired others to do similar work. I think that’s amazing, it’s a ripple effect that all begins with The National Lottery. At the start of the pandemic I felt so useless because I thought ‘What can I do to help people?’. Now I know I can make a difference bringing art to people who need it most.”