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  • Sue Doherty

Virtual Adjudication - Sue Doherty shares her online experiences at the Welwyn Youth Festival

In May 2020 I was invited to adjudicate the prestigious Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival. I presumed I would be heading down to Hertfordshire in March 2021 to adjudicate a week of live drama. It soon became clear that this was unlikely to happen! The committee were determined that the event would go ahead, and the decision was made that the festival would be virtual. The rules and regulations were literally abandoned, and groups were invited to submit any recorded performance. The response was overwhelming and as result the festival ran for six evenings with thirty-eight entries involving over two hundred young people. Each evening I watched the performances via Zoom from Liverpool! At the end of the evening, I gave a live adjudication which the virtual audience could also watch. Afterwards groups had the opportunity to have personal feedback in breakout rooms which proved very popular.

The range and standard of work was so inspiring and uplifting. The age range of the performers was from six to early twenties. Over the week we saw Shakespeare, Musical theatre, thought provoking verbatim theatre, numerous scripted works, and monologues. Every style and genre were reflected in the choice of pieces. Many schools took the opportunity to perform their GCSE and A level pieces, some of which were controversial and hard hitting. Warning was given about any pieces which were unsuitable for children, so audience members had the opportunity to log off.

I was not required to award marks for the performances as the range of pieces was so diverse. How do you use the same criteria for six-year-olds performing a delightful Ghostbuster dance lasting two minutes to “Game Over” by Mark Wheeler? I approached my adjudication in the same way I would normally but with the emphasis on what worked well, taking into consideration the restrictions the groups had encountered rehearsing. The breakout rooms gave me the opportunity to talk in more detail with the teachers and students on ways to improve their skills. Feedback from the teachers and performers was very positive.

There was an awards ceremony on the last night. I was asked to award ten individual medals of excellence and nine delightful stuffed cuddly oxen at my discretion.

The determination and enthusiasm of all those involved made the experience so uplifting and inspiring in these “dark” times. Nothing can beat live performances, but virtual creative performance proves to be another genre that we as adjudicators should embrace.

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