WEST SIDE STORY

Daugh­ter of Olympia im­pre­sario Gerry, Tara Sin­nott opens up about her new life in sunny Cal­i­for­nia

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IT WAS a shrewd ob­ser­va­tion which trans­formed the late-night scene in Dublin. Im­pre­sario Gerry Sin­nott, owner of the Olympia Theatre, re­alised there was a le­gal loop­hole which would al­low drink to be served later if per­for­mances were be­ing held. He ran with it – and Mid­night at the Olympia, which was leg­endary dur­ing the late 1980s, was born.

‘Dad de­cided that Dublin needed a late night mu­sic venue and he went to court and fought and was even­tu­ally granted a li­cence,’ says his daugh­ter, Tara Sin­nott, who now lives in LA. ‘He re­alised there was a loop­hole in the law that would grant a liquor li­cence, if there was an act per­form­ing on a stage. He’s re­spon­si­ble for the late night bar li­cence that most places have in Ire­land now. The place was al­ways packed. It didn’t mat­ter who was on the stage. Then other places like The Vil­lage started do­ing the same thing.’

Charm­ing and am­bi­tious, Gerry – known as the Man in the Black Trilby – was some­thing of an in­sti­tu­tion when it came to brain­storm­ing ground-break­ing en­ter­tain­ment. It runs in the blood; Tara fol­lowed him into the busi­ness, work­ing at the Olympia be­fore start­ing her own com­pany and, re­cently, mov­ing to Los Angeles. Now she’s us­ing the know-how she gleaned from her ge­nial dad, who is suf­fer­ing from the de­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease known as Fron­totem­po­ral de­gen­er­a­tion (FTD), to hon­our the man who was such driv­ing force in her life and in Dublin. On May 18, fit­tingly at the Olympia, she has or­gan­ised a huge trib­ute event to hon­our her fa­ther, which will in­clude many big stars who per­formed there in Gerry’s time, such as Dickie Rock, Re­becca Storm and Red Hur­ley.

‘ I was al­ways Daddy’s lit­tle girl, es­pe­cially af­ter my sis­ter went away to study drama and my brother went to be­come a pi­lot,’ says Tara. ‘I was the only one who worked in the Olympia, side by side for six years and we be­came re­ally close. We used to go club­bing to­gether in Dublin and if I walked in some place on my own, people would say “Where’s Gerry?” He was known as a re­ally cool guy and my friend. No man will ever come close to my dad. Maybe that’s why I’m still sin­gle!’

Tara’s pride in her fa­ther’s achieve­ments in chang­ing the en­ter­tain­ment land­scape in Dublin is pal­pa­ble. Gerry and his for­mer wife were con­stantly go­ing to see shows in the West End and on Broad­way and then do­ing what­ever it took to bring these shows to the Olympia. Tara says he never re­ceived a penny in grants or state fund­ing, un­like other the­atres, and that he was also in­stru­men­tal in hav­ing VAT re­moved from the price of theatre tick­ets.

‘Dad al­ways liked tak­ing huge gam­bles. He pro­duced some of the big­gest shows Ire­land had ever seen. Some paid off, some didn’t. In 1989 he put on a pro­duc­tion of West Side Story which cost £1mil­lion then. He went to Lon­don and New York to cast it. He changed the way tra­di­tional pan­tos were done, in­clud­ing bring­ing in things like Dustin the Turkey. He dis­cov­ered Sa­matha Mumba at 15 and cast her as the lead in Bugsy Malone.

‘Trainspot­ting is an ex­am­ple of a show that didn’t do well, be­cause Ire­land wasn’t ready for that kind of show. I was theatre man­ager at the time and I re­mem­ber about 30 people scream­ing at me in the lobby say­ing how ob­scene and dis­gust­ing it was and how dare we put it on. I apol­o­gised and asked them if they had heard of the book or the movie. My fa­ther al­ways wanted people to see great and dif­fer­ent work.’

The theatre was a huge part of her life from an early age, and Tara re­calls some of the more su­per­sti­tious el­e­ments of the Olympia. As a child, she and her friend Aoife would play chase up and down the many stairs in the venue.

‘I re­mem­ber Aoife and my­self were play­ing near the stage and she sud­denly froze. We were near Box 3 and she pointed and

‘I fell in love with LA when I came here’

said “g-g-ghost” and then ran away. I looked and there was a fe­male ghost who waved back at me. Her name was Anne and it turned out that many people have seen her,’ she says.

‘Many years later, when I was work­ing in the Olympia, I re­mem­ber feel­ing a hand that I could not see go­ing up the back of my neck and through my hair. I’ve never run so fast in my life! There is an­other ghost that a lot of people have also seen, who is a sol­dier who went in there dur­ing the Easter Ris­ing and was killed in there. He’s gen­er­ally seen up in the gods (the up­per bal­conies). The Olympia ghosts are mostly very friendly and they’re not go­ing to harm you or cause any prob­lems,’ she says.

Her in­ter­est in the en­ter­tain­ment world only grew as she got older, though she hit a few speed bumps along the way. She en­dured ter­ri­ble bul­ly­ing when she was at school at Our Lady’s Grove in Dublin. She de­vel­oped anorexia and dropped out of school to start work with her Dad.

‘My par­ents moved me from Our Lady’s Grove to Mount Anvil, which was amaz­ing. I got the lead in the opera there and when it fin­ished, I left school. The anorexia went on for four to five years and I had a lot of is­sues to work on. Once an anorexic, al­ways an anorexic and I’m very aware that if I’m go­ing through things in my life that I can’t con­trol, I’ll find my­self skip­ping lunch.’

She left school at 15 to be­gin work­ing with her fa­ther in the print­ing busi­ness. Tara worked her way up from re­cep­tion­ist in Panic Print to be­come the man­ager of the Olympia, be­fore set­ting up her own en­ter­tain­ment com­pany Red Car­pet. Not free of drama, how­ever, she be­came en­gaged but called off the wed­ding more than a decade ago – tak­ing her first trip to Los Angeles in the aftermath.

‘I first came here 11 years ago af­ter I had can­celled my wed­ding six weeks be­fore it

was sched­uled,’ she says. ‘As soon as the in­vi­ta­tions went into people’s let­ter boxes, I knew I had made a mis­take and I called it off. It was the right thing to do, but I was still heart­bro­ken. I came here to see my best friend Aoife O’Dalaigh and I just fell in love with LA. I re­mem­ber walk­ing along the beach in flip flops and a mini skirt and no make-up and I felt more com­fort­able than I’ve ever felt in my life. Man­ag­ing the Olym- pia, I felt like I had to keep up a front and I would never go out­side the door with­out make-up on. I was never as re­laxed as I could or should have been, even so­cially. I’m older and wiser now and I re­alise it’s not that im­por­tant.’

And it was her fa­ther who kept en­cour­ag­ing her to re­lo­cate to Cal­i­for­nia, even when he was di­ag­nosed with a de­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease. ‘Even though he got sick, my dad is the one who prac­ti­cally forced me to come to LA,’ she says.

Given how long it took her to move to Los Angeles, Tara is ea­ger to put down roots there. She’s work­ing for a big pro­duc­tion com­pany Maker Pro­duc­tions and lives in what she de­scribes as Mel­rose Place, in a charm­ing lit­tle en­clave in Santa Mon­ica. Her neigh­bour is an old friend from her Lee­son Street days, the Kerry-born ac­tor Tim Mur- phy. They walk their dogs to­gether reg­u­larly.

‘I know in my heart and soul and ev­ery core of my be­ing that this is where I am sup­posed to be,’ she says. ‘I had my 40th birth­day here last year, two months af­ter I got here and 100 people showed up. Even when Red Car­pet was do­ing re­ally well, Dad kept say­ing “You need to be in LA. Go to LA. Go to LA”. We nearly had a row about it and I kept say­ing “Stop forc­ing me to go to LA”. But he was right, and I’m so glad I made the de­ci­sion.’

And dis­tance is the only thing be­tween Tara and Gerry, who is still very much a part of her daily life. ‘I wake up ev­ery morn­ing in Santa Mon­ica to about 20 to 30 emails, and they’re all about Dad,’ she says. ‘I’ve al­ways been a mas­sive fan of my dad and I was al­ways very close to him. I am the per­son I am to­day be­cause of him.

‘Though my dad strug­gles in many ways, given the chal­lenges of the de­gen­er­a­tive brain dis­ease he suf­fers from, he has never lost his en­ergy or drive. He is the most en­er­getic, good-hu­moured, smi­ley op­ti­mist you could

‘He’s the most smi­ley op­ti­mist you could meet’

ever meet. He can’t man­age some ev­ery­day things any more that re­quire plan­ning or se­quenc­ing like driv­ing, cook­ing for him­self and he has had to take it easy on the work front, but thank­fully the car­ers who now come in to give him a hand have very quickly be­come friends. A gang of in­domitable Dublin women, with the same spark and witty ban­ter they get from their client. He prob­a­bly has a bet­ter so­cial life now than I do!

‘It’s not been with­out its chal­lenges but he has had the most in­cred­i­ble de­ter­mi­na­tion. Like a lot of people with FTD, when parts of the brain die away, other parts flour­ish and his long-term mem­ory is amaz­ing, prob­a­bly bet­ter than it ever was. Ask him about child­hood pets and school friends and he has it all at his fin­ger­tips.’

Given the sup­port she has al­ways re­ceived from Gerry, and their close bond, Tara felt it only ap­pro­pri­ate to or­gan­ise a night in the venue which made his name, with some of the old guard from the hey­day of late-night gigs.

‘The trib­ute I’ve or­gan­ised for Dad is mine, and the the­atri­cal com­mu­nity in Ire­land want­ing to recog­nise the mas­sive con­tri­bu­tion that he made and all that he did.’

(Tick­ets for The Olympia Stars Salute To Gerry Sin­nott are on sale through the Olympia Theatre box of­fice and also through Tick­et­mas­ter, priced € 30. The show is on Sun­day, May 18)

Close bond: Tara Sin­nott with fa­ther Gerry

Roots: Tara keeps in touch reg­u­larly with her fa­ther. ‘I’m a mas­sive fan,’ she says.

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