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Proving Ground

Posted on 13th February 2008. No Comment

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DDF Poster

Drama, drama, drama
Once a year, Durham Student Theatre opens up The Assembly Rooms Theatre to original writing from across Durham, providing an unique platform for new writers to cut their teeth: namely, The Durham Drama Festival.
The results vary from the radical, to the hilarious, to the thought-provoking – and DDF has all whole host of traditions. The festival lasts four nights with three shows on each night, and culminates on Saturday night with the awards ceremony and the infamous 24-Hour Takeaway. The latter involves two dedicated troupes of volunteer actors going head-to-head in a 24-hour challenge to write, rehearse, learn and perform the best play, based on a theme decided by the audience the night before. Obviously, all this takes a great deal of preparation and last week, and the schedule looks as follows:

“The Bald Prima Donna” (written by Eugene Ionesco, performed by Hild Bede Theatre Company)
“A Midsummer Night’s Space Odyssey” (written by student Alex Eccles, performed by No Theatre Company)
“Mousetrap!” (Durham Improv Comedy Society)

“This Sick Masquerade” (written and performed by student David Richards)
“The Age of Consent” (written by Peter Morris, performed by Top Floor Productions)
“Painted on the Frame” (written by student Tom Lyons, performed by Green Door Productions)

FRIDAY 15th:

“Sketchy Beast” (written by student Adam Blampied, performed by Arizona Bay Productions)
“Nobody Here But Us Chickens” (written by Peter Barnes, performed by Bailey Theatre Company)
“This Must Be The Place” (written by student Donnchadh O’Conaill, performed by Arizona Bay Productions)

“Life Song” (written by student Alex Carey)
The Annual 24-hour Takeaway
Awards Ceremony (awards presented by this year’s DDF Adjudicator, Giles Ramsay)

Last week, I met up with the man behind the festival, James Elliott to find out what will make this year’s event different.

Chris Jefferies: Now, tell me a bit about your special guest adjudicator, Giles Ramsey.

James Elliott (JE): Well he’s based at the Trident Theatre in Nottingham, but he does lots of projects abroad. His projects involve taking young actors from England to perform in countries as far afield as Zimbabwe and Mexico. The idea is to bring together these diverse cultures and see what they can learn from each other in terms of theatre. It also works in reverse, with actors from foreign countries coming to England to learn about our theatrical traditions and conventions.

This year he is the Director in residence for DST and is looking for young actors to get involved with his scheme. He also offers advice on applying to drama school for DST members.

CJ: So what have you got planned to make this year’s DDF special?

JE: We’re going for a fairly stripped-back approach this year, and we’re going to let the plays speak for themselves. Nothing superfluous; we’re just going to keep it simple.

One of the new ideas I am introducing, though is feedback forms for the audience to fill in at the end of the night. Hopefully this will provide useful feedback for the writers, and the criticism will be constructive, and not too hurtful. Much like your lively durham21 message boards [Sic].

CJ: In what ways do you think your role could be augmented or changed?

JE: Well I’m trying to develop the role so that it focuses more on cultivating new writing. Writing plays can be quite an exclusive niche: my aim isn’t to make more people write, it’s to help out those that already do. I am taking a year off myself to try my hand at getting my scripts published, and I wish I could have had more support in the past few years. Obviously I will be passing onto a successor pretty soon, after the DST AGM, but I am hoping that whoever takes over will continue my ideas. I am planning helping them to set up a theatrical writing group, and a reading forum for constructive feedback.

So I suppose we’re trying to do two things this year: keep it simple for the audience and make it helpful for the writers.

The 33rd Annual Durham Drama Festival will be taking place at The Assembly Rooms from Wednesday 13th February until Saturday 16th February. For more info, please visit the DST website.

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