Denis Daly the tea taster from Barry's Tea

Denis Daly the tea taster from Barry's Tea who featured in the Ciudades Paralelas Factory performance

As part of a major, site-specific documentary theatre project, a unique theatre performance took place three times a day in Barry’s Tea factory during the 2012 Cork Midsummer Festival. With a cast including Chief Executive, Tony Barry and other staff members, audiences were brought on a guided tour of the Barry’s Tea factory and in the process were told about the lives and work of employees and how Barry’s legendary ‘Golden Moments’ are put together. This was another unanimous decision by the judges who noted the brave decision by the Barry family business, evidence of buy-in at all levels of management and absorption of the creative process.

The willingness of Barry’s Tea to allow the Cork Midsummer Festival into its factory to create a theatre piece took a lot of courage on behalf of the business, but it reaped many benefits in return, most of all creative staff engagement

As part of Cork Midsummer Festival, Barry’s Tea allowed director Gerardo Naumann create a theatre piece with its factory as the performance space and featuring its staff as the cast. The project was part of Cuidades Paralela: Parallel Cities, a major site-specific documentary that has been taking place around the world.

Cork Midsummer Festival bravely brought the project to Ireland and approached one of Cork’s best brands Barry’s Tea for their help. Barry’s, who had previous involvement with the arts, hosting the Barry’s Tea With series at the RHA a couple of years ago, agreed.

The project culminated in the festival’s audience being taken on a guided tour of the factory by chief executive Tony Barry, and getting an insight not just into the factory itself but the lives of the workers.

A number of staff members – Barry’s Tea master blender Dennis Daly included – were given scripts based on conversations with Naumann, and they performed them. Naumann spent five weeks interviewing and observing staff.

Tom Creed, Cork Midsummer Festival director, says the project was like nothing the festival had ever done before and required the establishment of an extremely close partnership.

“Barry’s Tea is such an iconic Cork brand with a strong spirit, and we were really delighted they agreed to come on board and work with us. It was a very close project where for five weeks, the director was based in the factory, got to know the staff and worked with his assistants to figure what the route through the factory might be. He worked with the staff and put together a one-hour performance where three times a day an audience would be brought through the factory.

“It was the first time most of the Barry’s staff had been involved in a cultural project like this. For us it was really bringing the festival into the heart of the workplace.”

The audience’s interest in the project was peaked and the show was the first in the festival’s programme to sell out.

“It’s a challenging project and a new kind of theatre that hadn’t been seen in Cork before. What we were really inspired by was how Barry’s tea committed to it. Once Gerardo visited them, went into the factory and explained what he was doing and why he was doing it, they came on board very quickly.”

Camille O’Flanagan, marketing director, Barry’s Tea, says the project presented Barry’s with the ideal opportunity for the firm to interact with its customers. Around 400 went on the tour over the week.

“It showed that the company is Irish and family-owned and allowed people to see the care and attention we put into our products. It was a huge success because we embraced it and in return saw a number of business and HR benefits.”

At the beginning Barry’s looked upon it as merely a factory tour but O’Flanagan says it developed into human life and a story about how Barry’s did things.

Creed says the project presented a unique opportunity to see how business and the arts can co-exist.

“It’s the idea of work being art, and thinking about ways in which the arts can be embedded into daily life. It was a real gift from Barry’s both to us and the audience to let them to have this experience.

“We can’t do what we do without partnerships, whether that’s the partnerships with businesses or communities in Cork. The festival is the sum of those partnerships; we’re always looking for new ways and even more creative ways of developing those partnerships,” adds Creed.

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