Latest updates from Organiser Rod Chaytor as planning continues apace for the 2021 BAWF at the Albany Theatre in Coventry.
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 weeks to go, there would not have been one recent UK Festival to produce potential participants.
Fortunately, by the time COVID hit in March 2020, 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 and large studio to stage an exciting programme of daytime events to support the evening Festival programme in the main house.
Thus, on Wednesday July 21, with a potential overspill to 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 Inclusion and Diversity, which has been met universally with heartwarming 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.
Sadly, COVID rehearsal constraints preclude the wonderful Side by Side access theatre group of Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, from performing within the Festival’s main programme on the Wednesday night as planned, - but its Chair, Penny Amis, and AD, Sara Evans, will curate pertinent discussions during the Saturday Conference together with AETF Chair Rebekah Fortune.
RSC Practitioners, working as freelances and led by Open Stages Producer Ian Wainwright, will give daytime workshops on Monday July 19, with a potential overspill to Tuesday, July 20, before Ian returns as an official RSC delegate to the Conference on the Saturday.
It is all, hopefully, starting to feel quite joined-up.
Early in the process, we were 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 focused 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 also jointly lead keynote discussions at the Saturday Conference.
And to answer the other question:”Where are you going to get your winners from?”, the answer has proved to be former winners, BAWF finalists, etc, hand picked and specially invited, who together form an astonishingly strong line up, plus a “wild card” handed to Anne-marie’s Criterion group who are opening the Festival with a revival of their production of “Queers: The Monologues”, curated by TV “Sherlock” writer and star Mark Gatiss, which they were only able to perform for a tiny, distanced audience in October 2020.
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 overseen by former GoDA Chair Paul Fowler - will absolutely aim to replicate its relaxed and informal warmth and welcome.
Tickets for the evening All-Winners programme have deliberately been set at a really competitive price - £12 per night, £11 student/ unwaged and £59.25/£52.50 for a seven-night Season Ticket. They are available from the Albany Box Office on https://www.albanytheatre.co.uk/shows/ndfa/
Tickets for the daytime workshops/Les Mis Masterclass at £40 per day are available from NDFA President Derek Palmer on firstname.lastname@example.org / 07860 573896, as are tickets for the all-day Drama Festivals Conference, tickets at £35 pp, including lunch.
Chair, The Lighthorne Festival of One-Act Plays.
Chair, NDFA Coventry 2021 Sub-Committee.