Virtual youth drama showcase is an online success during lockdown
- Credit: Queenswood School. Supplied by WGC YDF
More than 200 talented youngsters from nearly 40 entries took part in this year's virtual Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival over six nights online.
As the curtain fell on the final night of the 76th WGC Youth Drama Festival on March 7, 2020, nobody could have guessed that, just days later, it would also have curtailed all activities on the Barn Theatre stage for over a year.
The subsequent weeks and months came and went, with ever changing edicts and advice from the government about what was and what was not permissible, and just when life might be able to return to some semblance of normality.
September – the traditional start of the school autumn term – ordinarily results in a flurry of activity for the WGC YDF committee, with invitations being emailed out to all regular and potential entrants for the annual March festival.
Uncertainty still prevailing, the team chose to tear up their usual rules, dispense with any entry fee, and advised that they would welcome entries of any form of theatre, of any length – within reason – and to be performed live on stage, if possible, or as a film.
The deadline for WGC YDF entries has always been the end of November, but, with second lockdown imposed on November 5, the committee realised that anything live on stage was going to be impossible.
So everything would have to be virtual, and would be screened to an audience via Zoom.
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“We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm shown by local schools, drama groups and individuals, many of whom had never previously entered our festival,” said committee secretary Hazel Halliday.
“Our November deadline went out of the window and we were still receiving filmed entries right up until two days before the festival opened!”
She added: “In fact, we even received a totally new and unexpected application on the Tuesday of the actual week and managed to squeeze it into the Friday night.”
This year, organisers felt it was important to make the festival celebratory, rather than competitive.
They chose not to award cups to winners in the different age sections, but instead, asked Sue Doherty, their GoDA adjudicator, to pick out performances that she had particularly enjoyed for any reason of her choosing and to award them with one of the cute, cuddly oxen, or with an individual medal.
Sue’s detailed, encouraging and constructive feedback provided to all teams during each evening, and privately to those who wished to meet her afterwards in a Zoom breakout room, was highly valued and appreciated by all.
Although hard for her to gauge, being unable to see or hear her audience, a strong rapport developed.
The WGC YDF is a member of the National Drama Festivals Association and, before the awards on the Saturday night, NDFA chairman Stewart Mison spoke about the hunger for theatre and the strength of the desire to return to performing.
He praised all those who had worked so hard to produce entries, as well as the team running the YDF who had produced the week’s entertainment so successfully and against such formidable odds.
By illustration, the festival showcased a total of 39 entries during the six nights of youth drama.
There was a massive variety of entries, ranging from the youngest performers, clearly have a whale of a time with their dance routines, to A-Level monologues and everything in between.
Over 200 young actors had their moment in the virtual spotlight.
Online tickets were free, but audiences were encouraged to make a donation to local charity Keech Hospice Care.
Almost 400 households applied for tickets and the sum of £768.46 was raised for Keech.
Next year, the 78th Festival dates are already in the diary and space is booked at the Barn Theatre from March 7 to March 12, 2022. For more on the festival, visit wgcydf.org
Before then, the YDF committee have a big question to ponder. Should filmed entries form a new category?
WGC YOUTH DRAMA FESTIVAL 2021
In no particular order, medals for individual excellence went to the following:
- Lauren King (Beaumont School, St Albans) for her comedic monologue from Quiche Isn’t Sexy by Gabriel Davis.
- Matthew Simms (Beaumont School, St Albans) for creating an unnerving impact in his portrayal of Lewis Daynes in Game Over by Mark Wheeller.
- Jasmine Udomjit-Taylor (Beaumont School, St Albans) for successfully pulling off a difficult monologue from the little known Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons by Sam Steiner.
- Jessica Payne (Beaumont School, St Albans) for a lovely interpretation, with sustained American accent, as Blanche Dubois in a monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams.
- Will Muir (St Christopher School, Letchworth) for his impact as Jim with three demanding and very different monologues in Chatroom by Enda Walsh.
- Lewis Jackson (Pump House CYT, Watford) for clear differentiation in multi-roling in portraying the Prime Minister and other characters in A Series of Public Apologies by John Donnelly.
- Jemima Hewitt (St Francis’ College, Letchworth) whose facial expressions and body language quickly established and sustained the stranger in Banbury Ping – A Game of… by Sandy Hill.
- Hannah Hunter (Beaumont School, St Albans) with a powerful and emotional monologue from The Arcata Promise by David Mercer.
- Natasha Reece (Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, Elstree) in several different roles and, in particular, as the March Hare, with effective accent and superb interaction with the other characters in Down The Rabbit Hole, a devised piece by Izzy Farmer, Natasha Reece and Charlotte Hooker.
- Freia Trinder (Queenswood, Brookmans Park) who captured, maintained and developed the character of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (abridged) by Charles Dickens.
And the Oxen went to:
- Pump House CYT for the imaginative interpretation of a text with an extract from A Series of Public Apologies by John Donnelly.
- Libby Goodwins (Tiger Productions, Tewin) for a lovely rendition of the poem Leisure by W H Davies, the words of which are so appropriate at the current time.
- St Albans High School for Girls for the most original devised piece with their performance of A Century Apart.
- Mimic Stage School (WGC) for a great variety of entertainment throughout the week and for showing great enthusiasm and enjoyment.
- Queenswood School for their production of A Christmas Carol (abridged) by Charles Dickens – a production that Sue said ticked every box.
- Limitless Academy of Performing Arts (Royston) for The Greatest Snowman by Peter Heppelthwaite and Peter McNally. A beautiful and emotional storyline, superb filming and a great cast.
- Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls for bringing Shakespeare to glorious life, imaginative interpretation, costumes, ensemble and enthusiasm with their production of Twelfth Night (abridged) by William Shakespeare.
- Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls for stagecraft, use of space and costumes with their production of Down the Rabbit Hole devised by Izzy Farmer, Natasha Reece and Charlotte Hooker.
- Beaumont School for impressive storytelling, with a strong and salient message to deliver in Game Over by Mark Wheeller.