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From butchering to Kissing Sid James

Gerry Howard is a late entry into a volatile profession. He told The Clare Champion how he went from butcher and hotelier to Kissing Sid James.

Theresa Leahy and Gerry Howard in a scene from Kissing Sid James.GERRY Howard always loved acting. Even after he left school and joined the family’s butcher business, he was doing a bit of semi-professional acting in Galway and later became an active member of local amateur drama group the Burren Players.
In 1989, Gerry and his wife Mary bought The Carrigann Hotel in Lisdoonvarna. It was a business they loved but two years ago, they sold up and Gerry leased out the butchers after 30 years of service.
Though selling the business meant great uncertainty, for Gerry, it also meant great liberation.
“When we sold the hotel, Mary and I thought if I ever wanted to do something that was the chance. I had to try it, whether it worked out or not so I applied to the Gaiety School of Acting then,” he recalls.
“I didn’t know if I would get it. It was a step into the unknown and everyone who spoke to me about it and who I asked, one thing they all said is that it was a very difficult business to get on in and that it was a very crowded profession,” Gerry explains but he was undeterred.
He applied in February 2007, in September, he auditioned and in October, he began his full-time year-long course.
With a then 11-year-old daughter and his wife living at home in Clare, how did he manage?
“Logistically, I left on a Tuesday morning and came back on a Friday. It was different but it was doing something I loved doing and it was my choice. I enjoyed the time there but it was an issue leaving Aoife and Mary for the week. But if you want to do it, that is the nature of the game. If you get work, it takes you away as well so you have to accept it,” Gerry says.
Though it was an unusual scenario and far from easy, the 51-year-old never had any doubts about completing the course. 
“It would have been strange definitely but if you really like doing something… the classes and the school were the easy bits, the being away from home was the hard bit,” he recalls.
In June, Gerry completed his studies and auditioned and earned a place on a six-week professional tour of Juno and the Paycock, a joint production of Associated Theatres of Northern Ireland and the Cork Opera House. He has also just finished a short film which will get its debut screening at the Cork Film Fleadh and acted in a TG4 programme which will be on television in January.
He has been busy, he admits, but he has still found time to start a production company with fellow North Clare resident, Theresa Leahy, herself a well-known figure. The title of the company, Stone Mad Productions, is self-explanatory given, the times we live in. The title of the play they have chosen as their debut production is less obvious.
“Theresa had done a lot of theatre in Dublin. She lives in Ballyvaughan now and we had talked about doing something. I looked up the Internet for scripts that would suit us to form a little company. I bought them and Theresa was reading them and we chose this one. To the best of our knowledge, the play hasn’t been done in Ireland before,” Gerry explains.
“Kissing Sid James looked like something that would adapt to an Irish situation. This is an adult comedy so we felt this, out of all the scripts we read, was the one that would work best for an Irish audience. We chose a comedy as well. We thought it would be the way to go because in my experience it is what works best,” he continues.
Theresa (Crystal) and Gerry (Eddie) star in this quirky, two-handed play, which despite its name, is not a homage to Carry On movies, but does revolve around the premise of a  ‘dirty weekend away’. The play title derives from when Crystal asks Eddie about his last relationship and he says that his ex-girlfriend told him that kissing him was “a bit like kissing Sid James”.
Though running his first production will have its challenges, Gerry is philosophical about his choices in life and the future of his career.
“You take whatever comes up, whatever opportunity arises,” he says.
Kissing Sid James, by Robert Farquhar, runs at The Royal Spa Hotel, Lisdoonvarna, from October 22 to 26 before moving to Glór, Ennis on November 19.


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