ACES Artists: James McAleavey

The ACES participant talks about being broke, Turning the Page and how Tinderbox is like his kindly uncle

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland launched the Artists Career Enhancement Programme (ACES) in early 2011. The programme was developed in response to a reducing arts budget and the need to support professional artists to develop successful careers.

Each of the 15 artists have been partnered with a professional arts organisation to receive mentoring and development support to help them deliver new creative work. CultureNorthernIreland catches up with these artistic ACES as they embark on their partnerships.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Jimmy McAleavey. Playwright for stage and radio. I had my first radio production, for BBC Radio 4, in 1995.

How did you feel when you were accepted onto the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s ACES scheme?

I was very relieved. I was broke at the time.

What was the application process like?

The application form was detailed but not too arduous. Luckily, the programme that Tinderbox (my partner organisation) had in mind for me segued neatly with the Arts Council's ambitions for the scheme.

Are you happy to have been paired with Tinderbox?

Tinderbox is like a kindly uncle or aunt who maybe drinks too much but always brings you back a present. 

What are you going to be working on?

I am working with Ciaran McQuillan, of Tinderbox's outreach department. The project involves helping groups to write plays. I am learning loads from Ciaran and from the experience of helping to run writing workshops. 

The project is called Turning the Page. Each group (there will be six) writes a series of short plays. They are then partnered with another group with which there has been a history of conflict. They then perform each other's work. We have worked with one group already. The participants have produced wonderful work - it's frightening.

Do you think projects such as ACES are valuable for arts professionals?

They are a vital source of income. It's great if there's a good fit between the organisation and the artist. Mostly artists just need the rent paid and some form of heating, but there is a case to be made for artists being managed or helped in other ways. The question is how do you tailor a scheme to the individual.

 If you could have been paired with any organization in the world - no matter where, no matter when - who would be your dream partnership?

I really don't think I could be working with a more talented or hard-working theatre company. But, since you insist, I would like to be working on a full-length play with the Abbey. Or maybe writer-in-residence at the Merchant Hotel.

Read the rest of the ACES Artists series here. Read an extract from James McAleavey's play Sign of the Whale here.