“Why don’t we organise a Festival we’d like to enter?”
Those fateful words passed between Lighthorne Drama Group chum Alan Pickin and myself as we left a disappointing event elsewhere.
Neither of us now recalls which of us uttered the sentence – but it was to have an extraordinary outcome three years later.
Nine plays over three nights. Six top-quality amateur theatre groups quitting their auditoria to perform alongside LDG in an adjudicated and competitive Festival of one-act plays in our village hall. The £1,000 net ticket profit – as specified by our rules – split equally between the winning group and a charity of their choice.
We, I should explain, are a South Warwickshire hamlet of just 134 households, nevertheless blessed with a powerful community spirit and a highly-active drama group. We’ve staged all sorts in our village hall – Happy Families, ‘Allo ‘Allo and even – yes – Noises Off.
We decided to await another blockbuster before inviting the seriously-good Amateur Theatre groups who surround us to share the “Lighthorne Experience”.
The opportunity came in May 2012 with Month of Sundays, directed by Alan’s wife, Tracey, performed in-the-round in our traditional cafe-style, the audience at candle-lit tables, enjoying their wine and a hot supper during the interval. As rehearsals progressed, I became convinced that, in my 25 years with LDG, we had done nothing better. If we needed a showcase with which to convince sceptical local Amateur Theatre groups that we were worthy of staging a Festival, this, I felt sure, was it.
My first call was to the chairman of a leading local theatre group. It did not go well.
“We don’t do festivals and we don’t do competitions. What we do is art,” he replied, loftily. The whole project could have died there and then.
I pressed on and called other theatre groups, meeting varying degrees of enthusiasm. But those who came to Month of Sundays were instantly convinced.
Fully backed by LDG, we gathered around us a committee of trusted village friends – whom I privately suspected of thinking us completely mad, but nevertheless willing to back a mate.
Alan and I toured local theatres, turning up at their Autumn productions. Gradually, the Lighthorne Festival of One-Act Plays became a buzz subject. We were filling a gap, had found a niche. By November 2012 I was able to go to an LDG Committee meeting and announce we had seven groups offering between them nine plays. We had a three-night Festival.
We needed an adjudicator but, GoDA forgive us, we had never heard of them. In a formal letter, they reprimanded us for wishing to interview potential judges to ensure they were on our wavelength. In the process, we stumbled across Mike Kaiser, GoDA, who was frankly amused – and we had found our man.
The drama seemed easy. What took our time was food issues. I found myself emailing a holidaying committee member in Shanghai to enquire if the veggie option contained cheese? Should crew and actors pay? Solutions – discounted food-only tickets for competitors, and a “hot-desked” actors’ table at the rear of the hall.
Then, a fortnight out, Mike politely requested hard copies of each script, amendments endorsed in writing by the publishers, as per GoDA’s 21 Points.
Er, what 21 Points?
He assumed we had known of them before contacting him. We were in total ignorance. Two weeks to go and one competitor was on the point of pulling out with another feeling honour-bound to do so if the first retired. There was a flurry of stressful activity before all was resolved.
On a warm evening of June 2013 I left my house and strolled through Lighthorne to the village hall, still not quite believing it was happening. Inside, committee members put last touches. Punters and performers were greeted by pretend paparazzi, an awning and carpet transforming the approach. Alan ran backstage like clockwork. I nervously stayed foh.
And … ?
The performers loved our intimate cafe-theatre, the audience loved the drama, were enthralled by the adjudicator, villagers loved hosting it, every sell-out night.
Within hours our inboxes were filling, everyone insisting we go again. Overwhelmed, we had no option and fixed week-ending June 7, 2014.
A final bonus. We were embraced by the National Drama Festivals Association, who run annual All-Winners Finals for which ours, Caramba, was now eligible. We had founded an annual and nationally-recognised Festival.
The Lighthorne Festival of One-Act Plays.