Written by Amber Henry
In the wake of Saturday night's productions, the Connections Festival is relatively quiet, starting to prepare for tonight's plays after a Sunday break. Relative, in contrast to the sounds of the last performances, complete with creepy backing tracks, laughter, applause, occasional shrieks (mine), Chinese chanting, and the general excited noise present in and around the Cottesloe, part of the National Theatre, during the last set of performances.
But now with Saturday's programme past, and with the final day of The Festival tonight, I thought it a good idea to look at where the theatre groups involved in Saturday's production came from, how they got to the Connections Festival, and from their stories how others might be inspired to get involved, or even try again.
Group 64 and Marine Academy were the stars of Saturday night’s showcase, and both won their place through auditions. The auditions involve over a dozen local groups converging to a local theatre, performing the same play in front of National Theatre directors and writers, who decide on which group will take that play onto the Connections Festival.
For Marine Academy, their audition was the first time the company performed a full scale production, and up against youth theatres with more experience, they won! When asked how the process was, performing for the first time in front of such a big audience, ‘nerve racking’, ‘exciting’, and also ‘fun’ were the main responses, and backstage before their national theatre performance, the feelings were no different, the cast nervous and enjoying themselves in equal measure – and perhaps ‘hungry’ could be included; the interviews were conducted during their lunch break. The Connections performance was only their second, although hopefully not the last, and a bigger step up from the auditions, performing to an absolutely packed to the brim Cottesloe Theatre. Backstage before the show the actors shared lots of laughs, seemingly fuelled by both nerves and friendship. They attribute being able to perform on a major stage, despite their newcomer status, to being a close, supportive unit; many joined the company together after meeting in drama class at school in Plymouth.
Group 64 from Putney, London, are closer geographically, but had their own journey to get to the Connections Festival. Last year the company auditioned but just missed out on the final cut. They were disappointed not to be going to The National Theatre, but were glad they got involved with Connections, describing the audition itself as an amazing experience. The London auditions take place at the Lycra, but all the auditions throughout the country are a unique opportunity for youth companies, no matter their size or experience, to get onto a big stage, get experience, meet other local performers and theatre professionals and make an impression. Hopefully groups will go onto perform at Connections, but theatre companies get those benefits, regardless of the result of the auditions. So despite the disappointment of missing out on a place in 2011, the positive experience of the audition and chance to perform at Connections drove Group 64 to re-audition. They went back to the Lyrca this year, won their auditions, and finally performed at The National Theatre with a sold out show. “Chuffed” to get through, members of the Group describe a similar setting to Marine Academy’s, and speak affectionately of their company as a close knit group of dedicated aspiring actor creating a the mutually supportive environment which helped the company persevere with their ambitions to perform at The Connections Festival.
The experiences of both Marine Academy and Group 64 show two great things about getting involved with Connections.
Firstly, its open to all young companies of all experiences, from small drama school classes or bigger youth theatres; everyone has an equal opportunity to perform at the auditions or at The National Theatre, and like Marine Academy proves, those
Additionally, every group that participates in the auditions, whether they go through to the National Theatre or just miss out on a place, benefit from and enjoy the process of the auditions. Group 64 did, so much so that they came back and got a show at the festival! So it's well worth getting involved, either for the first time or trying again; you never know what could happen or where it could take you!