The Isle of Man is set to take centre stage internationally as it pioneers new work for the theatre with the launch of TheatreFest 15, a partnership between the Isle of Man Arts Council and the National Operatic and Drama Association (NODA).
Speaking at the launch, Isle of Man Arts Council vice-chairman Michael Lees said: ‘TheatreFest15 is a brand new concept, a legacy outcome from Island of Culture 2014.
‘From the outset we were determined that Island of Culture should have a life long beyond 2014; legacy was fundamental. The idea for TheatreFest was first mooted after the Island hosted last year’s British All Winners’ Festival of Plays finals and it was clear that the enthusiasm for TheatreFest far outweighed any concerns over the risk factor associated with putting on new work.
‘TheatreFest 15 will be a five-year project encouraging and promoting new work for professional, amateur and community theatre in its very widest sense. What’s so exciting is that although the Isle of Man will be the hub and we’ll be supporting new local talent, we will be inviting participation from the UK and across the world.’
NODA chief executive Tony Gibbs said: ‘NODA was pleased to become a partner in this venture because we’re very aware that theatre – especially musical theatre - in the Isle of Man is of an extremely high standard and we’ve seen how the Island is taking a lead in advocating new work. Equally compelling was that while many NODA societies in England are unable to secure the rights to perform top-flight shows such as Les Misérables or Miss Saigon, this is not the case for the Isle of Man. The island is treated as an exception because rights holders know any production staged here will be of a high standard, the audiences will be very supportive and the show will be performed in one of the British Isles’ most magnificent theatres, the Gaiety.’
Mr Gibbs said that nowhere else in the UK was the TheatreFest concept being trialled. ‘The Isle of Man provides a nurturing environment for getting new work off the ground. Its arts community has vision and an Arts Council that’s far more forward-looking than any Arts Council elsewhere in the UK. All of which means that with TheatreFest the Isle of Man can take the lead in pioneering new productions.’
Mr Lees said TheatreFest would have a different theme each year. ‘For 2015 slavery will be the theme. Slavery’s not just something that went on 200 years ago. It’s an issue that’s still with us and on a global scale.
‘One of the elements of TheatreFest 15 is a new writing initiative that will take slavery as its theme and be open not only to writers in the Island but also worldwide. The selected work will then have its debut during TheatreFest 16.’
Other components in 2015 include puppetry workshops for schools delivered by an experienced puppeteer. As Tony Gibbs explained: ‘Puppetry’s enjoying a renaissance and is now very much part of mainstream theatre.’
There is also to be a devised theatre work, also on the theme of slavery, produced by Stage Door Entertainment, the theatre company responsible for staging last year’s I Love Culture show. Ahead of the production in October the three-strong team of Lisa Kreisky, Kristene Sutcliffe and Alex Toohey will be casting for local actors and holding workshops, led by director and theatre practitioner Bev Clark who said: ‘There are now more people in slavery than ever before. Slavery is alive and thriving.’ The new piece would, she said, start a process to give its victims ‘a face and a voice’. Lisa Kreisky explained that the devised work - a piece of community theatre embracing all ages and abilities - would not be scripted but ‘organic’ and had the potential to be ‘really exciting’.
A new original musical, For Tonight, is another strand to TheatreFest to be cast and produced by Stage Door Entertainment. Kristene Sutcliffe explained: ‘It’s a love story – a play with beautiful music that’s indie-rock/folk in style - which made its professional debut in the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival.’
Mr Lees said: ‘The legacy of Island of Culture 2014 has also led to TheatreFest featuring a world premiere; a professional production at the Gaiety Theatre of a new musical, Jimmy Mac, by Stuart Brayson who, with Tim Rice, composed From Here to Eternity. Stuart took part in last year’s celebrations so we’re delighted his experience of the Island’s arts scene has inspired him to bring his work to a Manx audience.
‘We are delighted to be partnering with such a respected body as NODA. To have the association’s support is tremendously valuable endorsement of the high quality of theatre in the Isle of Man as TheatreFest reaches out to the UK beyond to provide exciting new opportunities for artists and audiences and drive cultural tourism. Importantly, with a five-year life and a commitment to be as community-inclusive as possible, TheatreFest will be an evolving and involving project.’
TheatreFest 15 will be held over the weekend of October 9th and 10th at the Gaiety Theatre.
To register an interest in For Tonight and/or the devised theatre piece contact Stage Door Entertainment, firstname.lastname@example.org.