Cormac Mohally: ‘That’s what the streets are for!’
Cormac Mohally is in the middle of a social media meltdown when I get him on the phone but spinning numerous plates all at once is what this guy is all about.
Not only does he make up exactly one-half of the lovable comedy duo Lords of Strut, but Cormac is also Artistic Director at Circus Factory, a role he officially took on earlier this year. He’s a busy man to say the least.
This week sees the launch of Circus Factory’s fourth Pitch’d Circus & Street Arts Festival, an event that brings all the fun, spontaneity and magic of circus arts straight to the streets of Cork.
“A few hiccups have hit me this morning so my head is kind of all over the place,” says Cormac who has another interview in 30 minutes.
“Our social media has decided to stop posting itself. This is how we promote the thing! So we are trying to figure out what's gone wrong. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.”
Hiccups aside, Cormac has taken to his new role well and says the team effort that goes into something like Circus Factory is something he really enjoys.
“I'm settling into it yeah, and the fact that I'm not doing it on my own. Louisa Sloan, who's the General Manager, is outstanding in keeping the ship on course and by helping form my ideas from crazy ideas into reality.”
Cormac says he didn’t want there to be any tickets involved in the pop-up shows he has planned around the city for this year’s festival, and once again, his saviour Louisa came up with the perfect solution.
“Louisa came up with this great concept of doing a circus and street arts treasure trail. If you register with the event, you'll get an email of the location the day before so you can be at the right place during a window of maybe two hours.
“That means you'll have to go and hang out at this place, maybe get a coffee; that's what the streets are for, for us to meet and congregate.”
This year’s theme is ‘Art RefracTed’ which sets out to look at what festivals and gatherings look like today and how they might look in the future.
“It's always nice to have a theme. When I was trying to come up with this year's festival, I was struggling with what it was going to look like.
“Refraction is where, you know, you put a stick in the water and it changes shape – it looks like it's twisted but it's not. Our public spaces are getting transformed a lot now. Next year, will it go back to the way it was or will it be a bit different? The only people that can affect that are not just the artists, but the people who engage with the art,” explains Cormac.
Having quit school to join circus college when he was still in his teens, Cormac now believes there is not enough open space in Cork city for the kinds of performances the public would love to see.
“When I started doing shows, I used to perform on Patrick Street. I would just rock up and do a show. It's where I cut my teeth. You know those silly robot trees that were installed? I'm a bit sad because they put them right where I started doing shows. I look at it now and there's not enough space to do a show and gather an audience.
“I remember in 2005 I saw an amazing show on Grand Parade. It was a giant show from Europe and produced by Corcadorca, called ‘Frankenstein’. Amazing show! There's nowhere in the city centre where that could happen now.”
Now in its fourth year, having been forced to skip 2020 due to Covid, the festival has become a big deal on Leeside. When Cormac originally got funding for the first Pitch'd festival in 2017, Circus Factory had just moved into its new building on Centre Park Road, a bit further out than its previous address on Albert's Quay.
“I had a strong desire to organise something that would reconnect us with the city. I got a little bit of money. It wasn't huge – it was enough to pay artists but it wouldn't be enough to do a marketing campaign or to pay the licenses needed to close the streets.
“In the first year we said look, there's a festival happening on the 26th and we'd like you to move your car. Sure there were loads of cars left on the street the first year and a load of people grumbling,” says Cormac.
However, when Cormac and his team came back to Douglas Street for the second year, it was practically empty, something he attributes to the openness of the people of Cork.
“The third year, I brought down the Galway Community Circus to do their tightwire walking thing which required a lot of space, so we asked if we could get the car park at the end of Douglas Street to close and they completely emptied the car park.
“The public started to understand through experience and telling other people how great it was. You don't need to tell people what's happening – show them and they'll see it and tell other people and get on board.”
Pitch’d Circus & Street Arts Festival 2021 kicks off today (Thursday) with ‘Pure Daycent Chats’, where the public are invited to join the Circus Factory team at the Douglas Street Parklet by the Cork Flower Studio for a cuppa and a chat.
As part of Cork Culture Night, a series of short circus and street performance shows have been programmed by Circus Factory for Upstaged – Culture Night in the Park. This is a celebration of street arts planned for Fitzgerald’s Park. See culturenightcork.ie for more.
The festival will run until 26 September with event registration and a full programme of events now available at circusfactorycork.com.