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Jimmy Kerr. Photo by: Jimmy Kerr

In Focus: Jimmy Kerr, County Antrim playwright living in Brooklyn

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Jimmy Kerr. Photo by: Jimmy Kerr

A Northern Irish playwright and actor originally from Co. Antrim, Kerr lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Where are you from in Ireland?

“Born in Ballymena bred in Moneyglass, Co. Antrim. Liam Neeson’s mammy was the cook in my school. We were both well fed.”

When and why did you move to the U.S.?

“I first came here in 2000. It was the first stop on my round-the-world trip. I didn’t collect many air miles it has to be said.”

You graduated with an honors degree in applied computing from University of Ulster at Magee. How did you end up in the arts world?

“I come from a very short line of storytellers. My aunt was an actress and my father and his brother are great yarn spinners. So I was brought up surrounded with storytellers.

“Growing up in the North in the 1980s, we were encouraged to go to university and study something practical and lucrative, which I did. I worked in the computing industry for a number of years until the lure of telling stories was just too great, and I realized what I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life.”

Tell us about your newest work, "Maybe," a romantic comedy set in New York City’s only fish and chip shop.

“In 2005 I did a masters in creative writing at the University of Edinburgh. "Maybe" was my thesis play and I hated it. Then I wanted to see how bad it really was.

“I went back to it in March of this year, got some wonderful talent to read it at Glucksman Ireland House as part of "1st Irish 2013," and I then realized this play has a lot to say and I needed to say it. I see it as a contemporary, reversed, version of Friel’s "Philadelphia Here I Come," except in this case my Gar, Johnny, is in America, but circumstances and family are dragging him home and the possibility of love makes him want to stay.”

Who is your favorite Irish playwright and why?

“Brian Friel, because of the way he creates such real characters, puts them on the stage and simply says, this is our human condition, it never changes, and we are all the same.”

What’s your advice for aspiring playwrights and actors in NYC?

“Go and see all sorts of shows and lots of them, and talk to people, tell them what you’re doing here. I met Geraldine Hughes after watching her perform her show "Belfast Blues" at the Culture Project. Through Geraldine I met George Heslin and that’s how I got my first play into the "1st Irish 2010." Three plays later I won the Origin Award for Special Achievement. I certainly wasn’t expecting it, and it was a wonderful surprise.”

Tell us about your first play "Ardnaglass on the Air" and its successful run in New York.

“'Ardnaglass' was a fortunate mistake. I was asked to write a radio-play for Hamm & Clov Stage Company. I didn’t know what a radio play was since I’d never heard one, so I wrote a play about a radio show. I wrote the part of Margaret Mary Rose for the fabulous Jo Kinsella and I got Jonathan Judge-Russo to play the part of Flabby-arm. Geraldine Hughes directed.

“It’s as much fun for the cast as it is for the audience and we love doing the play. We did it as a fundraiser for the New York Irish Center and we had a sold out run in the "1st Irish" in 2010. Since then it has gone on to Chicago and is currently under consideration for a touring company in Australia.”

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