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In Praise of Festivals

In Praise of Festivals

Amateur One Act drama festivals have been popular in the UK for around a hundred years. These festivals offer amateur companies the opportunity to partake in a friendly festival environment and receive detailed adjudication from a representative from the Guild of Drama Adjudicators (GODA).

I’m sure many of Amdram’s readers are familiar with festivals but I wonder how many actually take part.

I formed a small company Tiger Productions in 2013 primarily because I was frustrated that other amateur companies I belonged too seemed unwilling to support the festivals, which has resulted in a fairly catastrophic decline in the number of festivals and the audience attendance. Over the past few years we have seen many festivals disappear including Haverhill, Skegness, and Thurrock, and these are just in the South East. Even major festivals such as Welwyn and Leatherhead are struggling and unless we, the amateur theatre participants start actively supporting them, I fear within the next five years the play festivals will become a thing of the past.

I’m a great advocate of festivals as I believe they offer amateur companies some real benefits such as:
The opportunity to perform in many different types of theatre. Taking a play from a small intimate theatre such as the Barn in Welwyn Garden City to a large stage such as Leatherhead is an artistic and logistical challenge. You may have a tech rehearsal of an hour but that’s it, you truly are travelling players.

Seeing other companies work and interacting with them is great fun, too many amateur companies perform the same type of plays with the same core acting group to the same audience, festivals get you out of this comfort zone and are both entertaining and educational.

Your work is assessed in a more critical manner than you will normally get from your ‘dahling you were wonderful’ membership and local press. This can be problematical as I’ve seen directors get quite upset by adjudications but on the whole I’ve found them to be very thoughtful and thought provoking and they are of course just one person’s opinion.

Another benefit is that several of the festivals are part of the all England finals, so if you win you can actually go through to perhaps a knock out round and also the final, good publicity for your group and your back on the road again to another theatre you probably have never played before.

The only real argument against participation in festivals seems to be do we have the human resources and can we afford it? The answer we found is to be realistic in the play you choose and how you stage it, at Tiger we try to follow the following precepts:

  • No more than 3 in the cast if possible
  • The entire cast and crew and staging has to fit into one 4*4 and one car (although often it’s just the 4*4)

Over the past 5 years we’ve taken part in around 20 festivals won over 25 awards and even got to the UK finals one year, total cost really only petrol, beer and sandwiches. I do hope you will consider this and look at perhaps entering festivals in future, if your society isn’t interested look at forming your own, it’s really not that difficult and you could be presenting plays in some wonderful theatres and hopefully preserving a 100 year old theatrical tradition.

Bob Thomson

Image – Bob Thomson (seated) and Adam Dryer in Tiger Productions Bill and Ben by Richard James

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