‘Acting is like a summer romance’

Jo Kinsella dancing in “Dancing at Lughnasa.”


By Peter McDermott

Jo Kinsella was once being hailed as the next Maureen O’Hara – by her grandmother in Muckross, Killarney, Co. Kerry. The woman took particular delight in the child’s irreverent take-off of the older choir ladies’ hymn singing. It was back home in Mooncoin, Co. Kilkenny, however, with the Moondharraig Players, that Kinsella’s theatrical career began in earnest.

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In more recent times, she became acquainted with another part of the island, her husband Anthony Deeney’s County Donegal. She spent two weeks there preparing for the role of Maggie in the Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of the Donegal, 1936-set “Dancing at Lughnasa,” which begun on Oct. 19, 2011. In sister-in-law Cath-Ann, she had her own personal driver through the Glenties, while her mother-in-law Kathleen was her dialect coach.

It ran for six months, and the late Brian Friel’s signed letters of thanks to the actors for that 20th anniversary production of his play is for Kinsella a career highlight.

Another playwright from Ulster has figured prominently in her story. She’d just sung “Happy Birthday,” Marilyn Monroe-style, as part of a stand-up routine in a Brooklyn bar, when Jimmy Kerr approached to ask if she wrote her own material. The connection led to “Ardnaglass on the Air,” with the role of Margaret Mary Rose written by Kerr with Kinsella in mind. The play, about a community radio station in rural Northern Ireland, was first performed in New York in 2005, and again at the 1st Irish Festival in 2010.

She had a particularly busy 1st Irish Festival in 2012, appearing both in Kerr’s “House Strictly Private” and “For Love” by Laoisa Sexton. Kinsella was given an award for “remarkable contributions to 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2012."

jo kinsella

jo kinsella

What are you working on now?

I’m writing short stories for National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), which are read out at HBO Studios. As a result of these short stories I’ve been approached by an old friend with whom I shared the stage many moons ago and asked to collaborate on something together. That’s all I can say for now.

When are we likely to see the results of that collaboration?

Hopefully by the end of this year.

What advice have you for people starting out?

Be prepared, give it your heart and soul. If you're asked for something for tomorrow, have it ready today. Go into a room being yourself. It takes a lot of practice to accomplish this, so: audition, audition, audition.

How is acting different from the other jobs you’ve worked?

There’s a feeling of family, a connection no one can take from you till the day you die. Acting is like a summer romance, a teenage broken heart. You’ll never forget them. I saw a school friend on Twitter with whom I did “West Side Story.” She is now performing in a show back home. The pride I felt in my heart! I immediately gave her a shout out. Twenty odd years later, we have a connection from being in a wonderful show during an amazing part of our lives.

The feeling you get from the ups and downs, the nerves going on stage. The adrenaline pumping to a standing ovation. No matter how good you are told you were last night, you never really believe it. You still go on the next night with the nerves as if it was your first performance all over again.

Have you changed as an actor?

I have a hell of a lot more confidence now not to sweat the small stuff. I used to stay up all night, which I still advise starting out – study, study, study.

I’d work myself into a frenzy before a show or audition and shake like a leaf in a room, be it a read or an audition on camera. I guess that only experience can make you calm. I’m blessed to be a mother now so, to me, that comes first, and family.

For example I got an audition while on vacation last week for an audio book. It was seven pages to record and all I had was my iPhone. I asked to be alone. It was hard not to make mistakes and record seven pages in one shot. I was stressed out in the beginning doing retakes, as I’d promised to meet my family for an event. I was beginning to revert back to my old ways seeking perfection and was willing to skip our family event.

But I quickly did a U-turn, put priorities into perspective and hit the record button. I had fun playing with the piece, acknowledging a few hiccups, but happy with the end result. And I was only 15 minutes late. I had a beautiful evening with my family and later the adults got to hear my recording over a glass of wine.

When you overthink a piece, you can ruin it. That’s why cold reads are sometimes the best.