The Show Must Go On - By Siobhan Donnelley

by Emerge Festival (2018)

We had a fantastic Tamworth Emerge Fest this year! We were fortunate to be part of the Tamworth St. George's Day celebrations in Tamworth Castle Grounds which gave us the opportunity to engage with a wider audience. There were some incredible performances from all the groups involved. Upbeat Danced Studio brought a dynamic Tempest inspired piece. Landau Forte Academy QEMS performed a re-write of Romeo and Juliet along with a selection of dance pieces inspired by Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet, as well as a number of musical pieces including the school choir, piano solos, rock band, and singers. Phoenix Theatre presented a number of their self-penned sketches including a Shakespeare Murder Mystery, Shakespeare Vs. Netflix, a selection of monologues and duologues, as well as a stunning Macbeth movement piece to the soundtrack of Who Wants T Live Forever by Queen, which they also performed in the main St George's Day arena alongside two dancers from Landau Forte. All the young people involved behaved in an exceptionally professionally for the duration of the day especially when things weren't going quite to plan, and we had to go off programme from time to time. They really adopted a 'the show must go on' mentality which really helped myself and the LAB staff. We did come up against some issues during the course of the day. Firstly the beautiful Emerge stage flats the school had painted wouldn't fit out of the school doors!! So we had to improvise some new ones. We had a few problems with the mics and sounds, and as I mentioned there were some occasions were we had to deviate from the programme but I feel like we handled those situations well.

For most of the day we had fantastic weather. Hot and sunny with brilliant blue skies, the kind of weather you dream of when organising an outdoor event. The sunshine drew lots of people to the castle grounds and as such we had a good sized audience for much of the day. Unfortunately by mid-afternoon the heavens had opened. We carried on as long as we could but in the end we had to call off the last few performances as the dance floor became too slippery to perform on and it wasn't safe to keep using the electrical equipment in wet weather. We had tried to prepare for wet weather by using gazebos to cover the sound desks but the piano and mics had to be out in the open. We moved some performances onto the grass when the dance floor became slippery but after a while the ground started getting too soft to perform on and participants were getting too cold and wet to continue. The wet weather had also driven away most of our audience so we called it a day. Fortunately the way we had programmed the event meant that by this point all the young people had performed their pieces at least once so no-one missed out too much. Despite the rain it was a fantastic day and I'm so proud of all the young people involved and all that they have achieved over the last year.

I have been very lucky that my LAB partners at Fired Up Theatre and at Landau Forte Academy QEMS were fantastic through the whole Emerge process. It wasn't all plain sailing, nothing ever is, and it was to be expected that there would be some difficulties along the way. We initially struggled with recruitment across the board and although we did build groups of fantastically enthusiastic and engaged young people in both LABS, the groups were smaller than we would have liked. Within the LAB groups we also had some participants who were unable to take part on festival day because of GCSE and A Level exams which was disappointing for everyone. Because of the duration of the project there were also times when Emerge wasn't a priority for the LABS as they had other commitments such as exams, competitions, other shows and performances, and at times this made it difficult to keep the ball rolling and keep everyone on board and enthusiastic. However overall I felt supported by the Tamworth LAB staff who were all very passionate about the project and gave up lots of time and energy to make Emerge a success. They were also a brilliant recourse when it came to local knowledge and community links, something I was lacking in being new to the area.

The biggest struggle I came up against was Arts Award! Some of the young people taking part in this year's Tamworth Emerge Fest were involved in last year's event and had undertaken Art Award then and for various reasons didn't want to work towards another level this year. For a lot of the older participants it wasn't something they were willing to take on in addition the masses of exams and coursework they were already having to complete. As much as myself and the LAB staff tried to incorporate Arts Award into the workshops and make it as accessible as possible, for many it still felt like yet another piece of coursework. As we got closer and closer to festival day it became increasingly difficult to find time to dedicate to the Art Award portfolios within the Emerge workshops as we were having to prioritising rehearsing and organising for the big day. That being said we have had some Arts Award successes. There are a group of students from Landau Forte Academy QEMS who are working towards both Bronze and Silver levels. Although Emerge is over teachers are continuing to run weekly Arts Award sessions and will hopefully be putting students forward for moderation at the end of term.

I have learnt a lot of from the Emerge commission. In particular I feel I have gained a huge amount of project management skills, specifically the logistics of putting on an event like this, from risk assessments and operation plans to insurance and licencing. I feel that going forward I'm now on the position where I feel able to apply for opportunities that I wouldn't have considered myself suitable for before taking part in Emerge. It has also been a fantastic networking opportunity and I made some brilliant connections, not only with the other artists and with TMC, but I've also made good community links within Tamworth that with be beneficial to me as I continue to work as an artist in the area.

Overall Emerge has been a fantastic opportunity and I'm so glad to have been a part of it. I have met so many wonderful people through this experience, from the other young artists who have all be incredibly supportive, to the team at TMC who have always been on hand when needed, and of course the wonderful young people without whom the festival would have never happened.