SOME of the best young actors in Donegal took to the stage of the Balor Theatre, Ballybofey, last Tuesday night for the annual Secondary Schools Drama Festival.
Organised by Teresa McGowan and the award-winning Butt Drama Circle, the prestigious competition has been running for more than forty years, giving the youth of the county the opportunity to perform in front of an audience in a professional theatre.
Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair swept the boards on the night with a Best Presentation award for ‘A View of the Clyde’, their powerful Donegal-Glasgow adaptation of the American classic ‘A View from The Bridge.’
Their teacher, Ms Alison McLean, was also awarded the cup for Best Director. She directed a very challenging and dramatic piece, tackling the serious subject matter of immigration. This mature group of students held the audience in thrall with the intense action and captivating performances, resulting in two of the cast receiving ‘Outstanding Performance’ awards.
There were four entries in total this year: Carndonagh Community School, Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair and two productions by Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon.
The festival was opened with a beautiful scene from a play titled ‘Public Embarrassment’, directed by Ms Fiona McLaughlin and performed by students ranging in age from twelve to sixteen years from Carndonagh. This was an energetic ensemble piece involving great music and dancing and was thoroughly enjoyed by both the cast and the audience.
Ms Anne Marie Garvey from Coláiste Cholmcille, then presented her Transition Year students with their adaptation of ‘Murder at Gray’s Hound Mansion’. The drama centred around the reading of a will, with some excellent performances and very impressive American accents from all of the cast.
The second group from Coláiste Cholmcille then took to the stage again with a TY production called ‘Yeats on a Bike.’ This original script was written and directed by their teacher, Mr Conor Beattie. The students brought the witty and topical script to life to the delight of the audience.
The festival was adjudicated by Maura Logue who awarded many certificates of merit to the participants. As the acting was of a particularly high standard this year, five plaques were presented for ‘Outstanding Performances.’
These were awarded to the character of Yeats in ‘Yeats on a Bike’, ‘Eamon’ in A View of the Clyde, ‘Bea’ in Murder at Gray’s Hound Mansion, the ‘PE teacher’ in Public Embarrassment and the cast of the same play for best ensemble acting. Mr Beattie’s original script performed by Coláiste Cholmcille, was awarded Second Place overall.
The adjudicator said she was very fortunate to have been involved with the schools festival for many years.
Ms Logue proceeded to deliver, from the stage, some wise words of wisdom for the young actors and those in the audience.
She also paid tribute to the teachers who she said go beyond the call of duty in taking on their theatre productions.
“By doing this, and they don’t have to do it, the teachers are giving students an opportunity to do something different from their daily academic studies,” she said.
“And as I always say, students might not remember their maths or Irish exams, but they’ll never forget the night they stood on a stage under the spotlight, being watched by a live audience. The learning they get in preparing for a play is also about team work and taking a step into the unknown. And it all comes to fruition when they take to the stage and learning they had a beautiful gift they never knew they had.”
Ms Logue told those present that she always encourages young people to get involved in theatre, drama and creative learning. She lamented that there is not as many opportunities in that area as there used to be, however, the Butt Drama Circle and the Balor Theatre were “excellent at keeping that beacon of light alive” in Donegal.
“Donegal is a rural county, so it takes an extra big effort for students and their teachers to prepare out of hours and take a bus on a cold Tuesday night in November to attend a drama festival. And, what an effort has been made to get here tonight with the winners coming from Gaoth Dobhair, along with schools as far away as Carndonagh and Ballyshannon. An effort like that only comes with true passion.”
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