Yesterday I spent a fantastic afternoon at Mill Hill Library. That is a sentence I never expected to say, but students from The Playing Space kept me so thoroughly entertained at The Mill Hill Festival of Speech and Drama. I was completely absorbed by their performances and so impressed by the way they took my few notes and directions and combined them with ideas of their own to take complete ownership of their work.

I am slightly skeptical of Speech and Drama Festivals. It seems a strange way to celebrate hard work and high standards, pitting young performers against each other in the hope of getting prizes and medals. The standard yesterday was so high, and I’m sure that different adjudicators would have come up with different results because everyone really did do fantastically well. The adjudicator was James Traherne, Head of Acting at Mountview drama school. After watching 6 of our 10-12 year old students perform he said that he would have been very happy if any of his students had performed monologues at such as high standard!

I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I’ve spent over the last month working with this small group of very confident performers, and for me that is one of the main reasons to continue participating in the Festival – the time it gave us to polish and hone and raise standards even higher was so valuable and FUN! I worked with them on truthfulness and creating the illusion of spontaneity, of understanding that their character doesn’t have a script, and everything needs to be connected, grounded and motivated. Big ideas for some very young performers, but they took it all on. I strive to work with my students to avoid contrived performances that are the same every time, that have the impression of having been ‘copied from the teacher’ and (unfortunately, in my opinion) you do tend so see a lot of this at Speech and Drama Festivals. My experience yesterday confirmed that The Playing Space is getting it right!

I hope that the festival organisers will be open to a couple of bits of feedback from me – if they are I’ll definitely be entering students again! We have received some really interesting and lovely feedback from parents, both about the preparation phase and the festival experience. Here are some highlights:

“We believe it has been one of the most beautiful experiences our son has had so far. In these past few months he has learned how to build a character thanks to your wonderful and professional work. He attended an event where he could join a group of children who performed at outstanding standard. And all of them received such a competent and accurate feedback from the adjudicator.”

“Thank you so much for everything you have done: giving us the opportunity to participate in the festival, running the extra classes, providing feedback, dealing with the admin, getting the props and being there today.”

“Thank you so very much for making all the arrangements for the kids to participate in this lovely event. Our daughter really enjoyed herself and actually the fact it was quite small scale and so friendly suited her well as she’d never done anything like this before.”

“Thank you for all your lovely encouragement at the session today, and for giving your weekend time up to be there – and also for the prior coaching sessions which were a big help.”

Here are the winners from The Playing Space from this year – I think it’s fair to say we stole the show!

Verse-speaking age 6 and under: Clancy Jones 1st prize
Prose reading age 10-12: Alice Clements 1st prize
Solo acting age 10-12: Cesare Ramu 1st prize; Naser Donmez-Konstantinos 2nd prize; Sasha Patel 3rd prize
Solo acting age 13-15: Hannah Kamel 1st prize; Sophia and Ayana Sampson – joint 2nd prize
Shakespeare age 13-15: Hannah Kamel 1st prize
Group acting age 13-15: Rosa, Stella and Nancy 1st prize