Our Very Own Festival of Speech & Drama

Since setting up The Playing Space in 2008, we had always entered our students into the local Speech and Drama Festival, which most of them had really enjoyed. However, there were problems that I couldn’t fix, as festivals are run in a very particular way, and are not necessarily that great at changing.

I knew that I didn’t want to stop giving our students the opportunity to perform in a real theatre, with stage lights to add that bit of extra magic, and a large and enthusiastic audience. And so, four years ago, I decided to create a special Speech and Drama Festival, just for The Playing Space. That way, we could run things exactly the way we wanted, without having to fit into anyone else’s rules.

This year, I thought it would be interesting to look back at our decision, reflect on the changes made during that time and see how things are going four years on…


I didn’t like the competitive nature of the regular Speech and Drama Festivals. I wanted everyone to come away from our festival feeling like winners. Everyone is on their own journey, and although some of our students can manage (and even enjoy) the competitive nature of festivals, for others it really detracted from the experience and actually knocked their confidence – the opposite of what we are trying to achieve!

So… our festival was to be non-competitive, but with an invited special guest from outside The Playing Space to act as the Adjudicator, giving valuable feedback and awarding prizes to EVERYONE!

However, some of our teachers and students really missed the competitive element, so last year I relented and said that our Adjudicator could choose three scenes, three performers and one compere who had really stood out for them over the course of the weekend and who would be awarded a special prize. This wouldn’t be a big issue during the weekend itself, and so wouldn’t cloud over the experience… but for our groups who enjoy a bit of healthy competition, they knew that there was something to fight for! This new system seems to satisfy everyone and we’ll be continuing with this policy this year.


At Speech and Drama Festivals, students are not given the opportunity to rehearse their scene in the performance space, and it was very difficult for our students (particularly the younger ones) to make the transition from a small rehearsal room to a big theatre. We wanted them to have a chance to run through their scenes before the performance, so we introduced rehearsal time! On the big day, performers get dropped off at the theatre 2 hours before the show, so that every group has the opportunity to run through their scene onstage, and get used to any entrances and exits.

There is a brilliant side effect of this, which I hadn’t anticipated; all of our groups can watch each other rehearsing; and they really enjoy seeing the other scenes that are part of the festival performance. They also have a great time socialising backstage during the performances, and are well supervised by our chaperones.


At The Playing Space, we run classes for a wide range of ages, from 4 – 18 year olds, and a wide range of performance areas: acting, devising, verse-speaking, public speaking, musical theatre and more! At the old festival, parents would only be able to watch one age group and one performance style (depending on which class their own child had entered)… and I thought it would be nice for our audience to see a range of ages and genres. We therefore made the decision to change the format to accommodate this; each hour-long performance at our own Festival has a nice mixture of ages and styles so you can see the big picture of the work we do at The Playing Space. And it’s so nice for our youngest students to see the work of our advanced students – and also lovely for our older students to take a trip down memory lane, remember what they were doing when they were little, and reflect on how far they’ve come.


The other thing I really like about our festival, is that the students run the show themselves; we select a group of advanced students at each performance to act as Comperes, and they introduce and reflect on each scene, showing how it fits in with the overall theme. They also perform themselves and introduce the Adjudicator. The less time spent on stage by the teachers, the better! It gives our students a sense of ownership, and builds valuable life skills.


All in all, I’m really happy that we made the change – and we will continue to make changes based on feedback from parents, students and teachers. Do let us know about your experience of the festival this year – we love knowing what we’re doing well, but are also really grateful for constructive criticism if we can improve!

(And, by the way, we do still enter some students for the North London Festival of Speech and Drama – it’s a high pressure environment and not suitable for everyone. But if this is something you’re interested in for your child, then do let us know.)

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