Fiona Helleur on the opportunity the One Act Play Festival gives young performers from the Youth Arts Centre

The MADF One Act Play Festival (OAPF) has been one of the highlights of our year for the past twenty plus years and it has always been a really enjoyable experience for our participating members. The Youth Arts Centre (YAC) is a place for young people to come and try everything without fear of failure and we encourage everyone between the ages of 8 – 19 to come along and join us in what we do, be it drama, musical theatre, music, arts, dance or whatever. Our inclusion in the OAPF has always been the bait to tempt young people who may never before have performed before an audience, let alone received critique for that performance. To take a deep breath, gird their loins, learn their lines and put themselves out there unadorned and open before their peers and also before an audience who has no interest in patronage, only in what is delivered.

Young people do not come to the YAC for glory and are not following an arts based syllabus or doing it for exams; they do it because they love the performing arts; they use their own time to find a play that appeals to them, learn to produce and direct, coax the best performances. They are usually a disparate group of young people who come ‘for a laugh’ and to be ‘with their mates’ then suddenly find themselves on stage, in front of that audience – and being judged. It’s quite a wake up call and for most of them, it could be the first time in their lives they get applause and receive positive comments about something they chose to do of their own volition and in their own free time.

Over the years we have presented musicals, Shakespeare, self penned and devised plays as well as published plays about confused identity, the death of a friend, forbidden love and AIDS. We have done comedies about a teenage night out and being a disgruntled superhero, as well as serious issue plays about being the only gay in town or transgender. We don’t shy away from matters that affect young people and in the process we hope to create some excellent theatre that will please the audience as well as the judges. We have had our times when a cast is so nervous they forget everything the second they walk on stage, when we have left costumes and scenery behind in error and the one where not only did the leading lady forget to turn up and had to be replaced by a script reading peer, but also a fellow cast member had to have insulin administered backstage. A night to remember.

Drama is now the only subject where young people have to learn by rote and repeat on demand before a critical audience. The pressure for these young people to succeed is immense but succeed they do thanks to the Festival that can see past the nerves and the braying bravado of a stroppy teenager to see the potential of every cast member who trembles his way through his lines, faltering then hopefully, suddenly and bravely finding their voice, a voice that will never leave them because they did it and did it well.

We have so many wonderful memories of the Oct Act Play Festival, the encouragement of the adult actors, the closeness of the cast when they realise that this is it – they are on stage and everyone is watching. The YAC can boast of its former members who made their debut at the One Act Festival of Plays who are now professional producers, directors, musicians, actors, singers and dancers who are appearing in films, on television and on stages all over the world. The backstage crew of sound and lighting engineers, stage managers, set designers and artists, and even a few barristers who learnt to speak up and out with us. These are people who are all making a living doing something they love and can all look back to this festival on the Isle of Man as the place where it all started.

  • Fiona Helleur, Head of Youth Arts
    Youth Arts Centre

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