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THE 2021 BRITISH ALL WINNERS

Organiser Rod Chaytor looks ahead as planning continues for the 2021 BAWF....

When - on joining NDFA Council in October 2018 - I offered to help organise the first Midlands-based All-Winners in living memory, I foresaw a number of challenges.

I did not anticipate that, with only months to go, there would not have been one recent UK Festival to produce potential participants.

Fortunately, by the time COVID hit in March 2019, the biggest decisions had already been taken. At the suggestion of Dave Sedgwick, of Nuneaton’s Warwickshire Festival, the location would be my birthplace of Coventry in its 2021 UK City of Culture Year.

The reopened, restored and majestic 500-seater Albany Theatre in central Coventry was the obvious venue and the Trustees’ welcoming Chair, David Meredith, immediately diaried Sunday July 18 to Saturday July 24.

The next challenge was to seize the opportunities afforded by the theatre’s spacious coffee-bar foyer, large studio, and adjacent areas to stage therein an exciting programme of daytime events to support the evening Festival programme.

Thus, on Thursday July 22, there will be a day-long Les Mis Masterclass led by Coventry actor Dave Willetts, whose career went from the local amateur stage to West End lead roles in both Les Mis and Phantom.

Then a third element emerged - the biennial Drama Festivals Conference, now to be held on the All-Winners’ closing weekend.

Following discussions with Coventry’s City of Culture team, NDFA Chair Stew Mison embraced their agenda by settling on the inspired and inspiring theme of Inclusiveness and Diversity, which has been met universally with heart-warming enthusiasm. The Conference will therefore examine and seek answers to a simple question: “Why are some groups under-represented in UK amateur theatre, particularly in the provinces, and what can be done to remedy it ?”

All this gave an opportunity for the three elements of Festival, Day Programme and Conference symbiotically to be linked.

The wonderful Side by Side access theatre group of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, is performing within the Festival’s main programme on the Wednesday night - and its Chair, Penny Amis, and AD, Sara Evans, will curate pertinent discussions during the Saturday Conference.

RSC Practitioners, working as freelances and led by Open Stages Producer Ian Wainwright, will give daytime workshops on Tuesday, July 20, before returning as official RSC delegates to the Conference on the Saturday.

It is all, hopefully, starting to feel quite joined-up, although specialists in scriptwriting courses and youth theatre are still being sought and sounded out.

Early in the process, the Arts Council asked us: ”Who’s organising this ?” The answer became a dozen-strong NDFA Sub-Committee representing a wide range of theatrical skills and from a geographical base focussed on Coventry, surrounding Warwickshire, and the wider Midlands.

Among them, naturally, was Coventry-based Prof. Anne-marie Greene, AD of the Criterion, Coventry’s premier amateur theatre, whose day job is Professor of Work, Employment and Diversity at nearby Leicester University.

Anne-marie, together with young black actor Alexander Mushore, who worked with the Criterion and several Warwickshire theatre groups, including Lighthorne, before retraining as a professional and joining an RSC touring company, will jointly lead keynote discussions at the Saturday Conference.

Speaking of my home festival of Lighthorne, although it will be challenging to reproduce its intimate Village Hall atmosphere, it is a given that the Coventry All-Winners - to be adjudicated by former GoDA Chair Paul Fowler - will absolutely aim to replicate its relaxed and informal warmth and welcome.

And where will those “Winners” come from ? There are contingencies. There is a plan !

Rod Chaytor

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