“Forget the words and be in the moment” is one of the biggest things Alan Watt has learned after years of participating in community theatre.
And it’s learning lessons like this that the actor and director thinks is one of the best things about participating in community theatre. Watt, an actor and director with Ladysmith Little Theatre and chair of Theatre BC’s South Island Zone, thinks education is also a big part of the South Island Zone Festival, which Ladysmith Little Theatre is hosting, starting this Sunday.
This year’s South Island Zone Festival is May 26 to June 1 in Ladysmith. This event is one of 10 annual adjudicated theatre festivals held across the province, and the winning production from this zone will advance to the Provincial Mainstage Festival in July.
“The biggest thing for a theatre group to participate in a festival is the experience and education,” says Watt. “It’s quite a different experience. Typically, you get there and you have four hours to get your set up and do your lighting, and you are judged on that as well. You have to be very well co-ordinated. The other thing is also to perform in a different venue than you are used to.”
Watt says one of the biggest learning experiences is the “Coffee Critics” the morning following the performances. For two hours, the festival adjudicator talks about the show’s strengths and weaknesses and about different ways they could have done it.
“If you’re someone interested in this, that two-hour talk is like a week-long intensive seminar,” said Watt. “It’s a huge educational experience, especially for people in theatre. I can’t stress that enough. I’ve learned so much.”
Watt says another big benefit of participating in a festival like this is the chance to meet people in other theatre groups.
“When you [branch out] and you interact with all these people, your learning goes way up,” he said. “People in community theatre, they don’t do it for the money because we’re all volunteers; they do it because they love it, and if you love something, you want to get better at it because you’ll enjoy it even more.”
Aside from the educational opportunities and the networking, there’s also the entertainment value of seeing three different productions in one weekend.
“It’s not just for people in theatre; it’s also for people who love theatre,” said Watt.
One thing Watt loves about being involved in community theatre is the friendships he has made and the people he has met.
“With community theatre, I’ve met more people and I’ve developed friendships with more people than other groups I’ve been involved in,” he said.
Watt says people often come into theatre a bit scared and having little or no experience, and they are always welcomed with open arms.
“I started eight years ago, and I’d never done anything like that; I’d never sung on a stage or anything,” he said. “I always say to people they call it a play because adults get to play. That’s why it’s so much fun. You get to deal with people, you get to have fun, and sometimes you get to overcome your fear of getting up on stage.”
Yellow Point Drama Group (YPDG) is coming to the South Island Zone Festival for the first time in five years. The group won Best Production at the last festival it attended and went on to the provincials.
Like Watt, YPDG president Brian March, who is also acting in the group’s production of Looking, feels education and building connections are key reasons for coming to the festival.
“It’s always a rewarding experience on a number of fronts,” he said. “It’s always educational because you have an adjudicator who will change things and look at it from a different perspective. You also get a chance to interact with other groups at the festival. This is absolutely a great way to connect with other groups and see what they are doing and perhaps learn from them as well. It’s fun.”
Personally, March is excited to perform Looking in front of an adjudicator and in front of a new audience.
“We had a good time doing it, and it was very successful for us in Cedar,” he said. “We had a chance to workshop it for a day with a fellow named Keith Digby, so it’s taking it to a new space and trying some new ideas adjusted by Keith and by ourselves because it is a new space. We’ll have to make some changes. I’m looking forward to the changes we’ll be making for it, and we can hopefully improve it.”
This year, the South Island Zone Festival will feature three productions — The Foursome from Ladysmith Little Theatre, Looking from Yellow Point Drama Group, and Albertine in Five Times by the Shawnigan Players.
The Foursome, a comedy written by celebrated Canadian playwright Norm Foster, will be shown Sunday, May 26 at 2 p.m. Another Foster comedy, Looking, is being presented Thursday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m., and Michel Tremblay’s award-winning play Albertine in Five Times will be shown Friday, May 31 at 7:30 p.m.
Coffee critics will be held Monday, May 27 at 10 a.m. at Ladysmith Little Theatre and then Friday, May 31 at 10 a.m. at the Diamond Hall and Saturday, June 1 at 10 a.m. at the Diamond Hall.
The gala will take place Saturday, June 1 at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets for the shows are $20, while gala tickets cost $45.
For more information, visit www.ladysmiththeatre.com or call the Ladysmith Little Theatre box office at 250-924-0658.