Weekend Q&A: Rachel Kennedy, director EastSide Arts Festival

Rachel Kennedy (46) is the director of the EastSide Arts Festival. It features more than 100 performers and 80-plus events - including music, comedy, drama and art - in a range of venues across east Belfast from August 5 to 15.

EastSide Arts Festival director Rachel Kennedy
Jane Hardy

How do you unwind at the weekend?

I get a nice lie-in, both days, until mid-morning. Then, in nice weather, I might read a book in the garden. Currently it's the 2019 Booker prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo which features 12 female characters, all women of colour with African background, who are all British but from different parts of England. She looks at their different experience across different ages, some grandmothers, some daughters. It's really good, rather stream of consciousness.

What do you recall about weekends growing up?

I grew up in Belfast, starting out in the Rosetta area and then moved a mile down the road to Forestside. I was very well behaved and didn't go to bars until well into my teens. I come from a musical family and my mother was a piano teacher. I went to the Belfast School of Music and was in the second violins in the Ulster Youth Orchestra - I recall we played the William Tell overture, which was exciting.

Friday night or Saturday night?

Probably Saturday night as I am wrecked on Friday night.

Have you a must-listen weekend radio show or podcast?

I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music all the time because I love the fact it doesn't get caught up in talking. I like the Saturday night Craig Charles show. And Lauren Laverne's breakfast show.

Have you a must-see weekend TV show/box set?

I have been watching The Handmaid's Tale, which is depressing but compelling. Margaret Atwood is amazing. I also like cookery programmes, from Mary Berry to Nigella.

Do you have a favourite eatery or is it a takeaway?

In CS Lewis Square, where we put on the EastSide Festival, Freight is part of the family. They do brilliant locally-sourced cuisine. I also really like the Asian fusion food by Karcher. I love their sushi, mainly the fish.

Is Sunday still special?

I was brought up a Methodist and went to church but stopped going as a teenager. Yes, it is, as it's the most relaxing day of the week.

How do you feel on Sunday night about Monday morning?

I do get that 'haven't done my maths homework' feeling especially in the run-up to the festival when you're galloping along. But it's so important we have the arts and for people to enjoy themselves, especially now.

The EastSide Arts Festival programme includes more than 80 events across music, theatre, film, books and spoken word, walks and tours, circus and cabaret, comedy and events for children and families.

In addition to the in-person events, this year the festival has introduced a 'digital festival pass' which provides online access, to watch live or on demand for the duration of the festival.

Highlights include the West Ocean String Quartet at St Patrick's Church on Newtownards Road, a new Anthony Toner album written especially for the festival, Mary Coughlan Sings Billie Holiday, Rosemary Jenkinson's play Billy Boy - inspired by the stories of young bonfire builders - and literary events featuring authors including Susan McKay, Colin Hassard, Jan Carson and Abby Oliveira.

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