TheatreFest looks to the future

TheatreFest 15
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The curtain may have come down at the Gaiety Theatre in October on the inaugural TheatreFest15 weekend but already discussions are under way about what form TheatreFest16 might take.

A legacy outcome from Island of Culture 2014 TheatreFest15, a partnership between the Isle of Man Arts Council and the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA), is a five-year project to encourage and promote new work for the theatre.

As 2015 draws to a close NODA's chief executive Tony Gibbs summed up the project's impact when he reflected: 'TheatreFest attracted new people to not only take part but also sit in the audience."

Isle of Man Arts Council vice-chairman Michael Lees agreed adding, 'We've all learned something from this first year, and that, surely, must be good for theatre.'

The learning process was particularly valued by the cast members in the three productions: the devised piece of community theatre Invisible Chains written and directed by Bev Clarke; the love story For Tonight set to music by Spencer Williams that made its British Isles debut and the world premiere of Jimmy Mac, a musical comedy by Stuart Brayson. As Kristene Sutcliffe, a director of Stage Door Entertainment, TheatreFest15's production team, observed: 'The fact that many of the cast members had never been on stage before added to the intensity and it's something which we'd hope to continue in 2016, giving people new to theatre an opportunity to perform.'

Expanding on the theme Tony Gibbs said: 'TheatreFest is not only encouraging new performing talent, but also new writing talent, as the play-writing competition attests. Colin Dolley, who generously agreed to be the competition's judge, has said that entries submitted so far for the TheatreFest15 New Work Award (deadline December 31 2015) have been of an exceptionally high calibre, which is extremely encouraging given that Colin, an eminent member of GODA (Guild of Drama Adjudicators), has adjudicated more than 2,500 plays.'

Michael Lees said: 'Now we've had time to reflect on the performances themselves, we've been giving thought to the wider impact of TheatreFest15. We all agree that overall it achieved its aims and what's emerged is how proud all of us involved in the project were that it was the Isle of Man that hosted it, and this will be central to whatever form TheatreFest takes in 2016.

'One new element we would hope to introduce in 2016, though, is to take TheatreFest "on the road" as it were and to use other performance venues around the island as well as the Gaiety Theatre to make the festival accessible to as wide an audience as possible.'

'When it comes to putting on totally unknown new work amateur theatre tends to be risk averse,' said Tony Gibbs, 'but the Isle of Man can serve as a pioneering beacon and provide a framework that will show companies that you can take a measured risk; that with faith and vision you can stage new plays, perhaps not always to full houses, but people - maybe even new audiences - will come.

'Without new work, where's amateur theatre left to go? What we don't want is for amateur theatre to become a niche product, and TheatreFest can do much to avoid that happening.

'TheatreFest may be less than one year old but already we see opportunities to apply lessons from what we've learned so far in the NODA "world". This project has created a forum with the power to spark a heightened appetite for new work. And while the Isle of Man is always going to be the hub of TheatreFest, what's stopping mini-versions of the TheatreFest brand from springing up across the UK?'

Isle of Man Arts Council chairman Geoff Corkish MBE MLC said: 'The success of TheatreFest15 demonstrates how working in partnership and sharing a vision can excite, inspire and challenge. TheatreFest is also opening up opportunities for new writers, new talent and new audiences, as well as providing a platform for established artists to take their skills in new directions. Importantly TheatreFest is helping to contribute to the Isle of Man's status as a creative and artistic powerhouse.'

A sponsored body of
The Department of Education, Sport and Culture
Rheynn Ynsee, Spoyrt as Cultoor
Isle of Man Government
Reiltys Ellan Vannin
Isle of man Government