Ahead of this year’s Enniskillen Drama Festival, that runs from March 1-9 at the Ardhowen Theatre, committee members for the festival explain in their own words why they got involved in it, and discuss the importance of amateur drama in the community.

Tracey Kernaghan

I first was asked onto the Enniskillen Drama Committee by David Wilkinson, my teacher from Enniskillen High school, and to be honest, at the time – around 15 years ago, I think – I didn’t really know what the Drama Festival was about.

But I was keen to get involved in local drama, as I had two small children at home, and it was an opportunity to integrate myself into the local community and drama circle.

I was fascinated when I first joined the committee and, to be honest, very overwhelmed at the knowledge, commitment, and enthusiasm of the committee for their drama festival.

I have to admit, at the beginning at meetings, I mostly listened and took in everything that was being discussed, and when it came to attending my first drama festival, it was like a ‘gift of creativity’ being served up to me; it was delicious and delightful!

I had seen all of the work going on behind the scenes – no pun intended – and like all good performances, the cast and crew of the drama festival committee had each added to the final production of the drama festival.

What initially struck me at the festival, and has continued at each since, is how the audience are so passionate and proud of their local festival.

There is a feeling of familiarity, family, and fondness as we gather each year to watch and dissect each play served up to us in the Ardhowen Theatre.

I feel honoured to be part of one of the longest-running drama festivals and I would certainly encourage anyone who has never been to the festival to come along and experience the joy of the performances, and the adjudication, where you learn so much about what the play is about, and how the cast and crew have achieved this.

In a time where loneliness, creativity and connectedness are all being challenged, the Enniskillen Drama Festival, I feel, is an opportunity to connect creatively with your community, and to appreciate all that is wonderful about where we live.

Enniskillen Drama Festival has and will continue to allow an opportunity for local people to be audience to first-class drama in their local theatre.

For me personally, to be part of the committee that facilitates this is a pleasure, and makes me feel like I am contributing to the wellbeing of local people through the wonder of drama – two of my greatest passions.

Amanda Finch

I LOVE being part of the drama festival because it’s a real celebration of community.

People come together from all across Ireland to connect through drama and learn and share their expertise and different perspectives.

The local community of Fermanagh comes together in the Ardhowen Theatre for nine nights to share in this experience.

It’s really special, seeing young people at the theatre for the first time, and encountering new ideas through the plays and the adjudications, and seeing people who come back night after night discussing what they have experienced with people they might not otherwise see or spend time with. 

Our sponsors are so important in making the drama festival happen at all and particularly in making it a very special experience where we can really welcome groups and audiences to Fermanagh and the Ardhowen.

It’s wonderful when sponsors want to get involved, because they are a part of our local community, and they help to support the growing of that community experience through their input.

And then, if they come along to the festival, they also get to enjoy and share in that experience

Christine Maher Irvine

We live in hard and uncertain times. Everything is going to happen, with or without you.

Creativity, through theatre and drama, is an important part of our active response to that.

Amateur theatre, with everything it brings to individuals and to communities, is perhaps more important than professional theatre in this because the people who act, produce, direct, or just make tea and help out backstage are just like us.

They live in our world. They step out of lives just like ours when they walk onto the stage.

These people are the embodiment of the unstoppable human desire for communication, belonging and play.

The fact that they don’t get paid does not mean they are less talented than professional actors.

Being a member of the Enniskillen Drama Festival Committee has been a huge part of my commitment to amateur theatre as a force for good in our communities.

The festival has a unique place in theatre. It is a showcase for amateur theatre groups from the length and breadth of Ireland to bring their own personal brand of creativity and joy to our town.

Debbie Murphy

Local amateur drama groups based in the townlands provide vital opportunities both on and off the stage.

Derrylin Dramatic Society, Knocks and Cavanacarragh are examples of the importance of these groups, allowing for budding thespians, directors, set creators and musicians to gain vital experience before treading the boards of larger productions.

Communities work together to create sets, lighting, make-up – and the vital cup of tea!

The buzz of a local performance can revitalise communities. Supported largely by local businesses, it contributes, sustains and challenges the community to create a visual, spectacular event, even though you might be in a scout hall or school hall.

Amateur drama is constantly contributing to culture and heritage, illuminating social issues, entertaining and moving audiences.

The artistic and creative practice of our craft is so important, and many have a lifelong commitment of either being in the productions, or being in the audience, or both!

The drama festival is also a community, and a collection of communities working together, and this becomes an important part of our identities, and providing cultural spaces to nurture our feelings of belonging.

Stefan Bukowski

I have always loved theatre, but rarely made the time to see all the variety of plays that are out there.

The reason I joined – and one that has been justified over the past nine years – is to expose myself to as many different types of shows as possible, to learn and enjoy as much variety as I can.

The festival does give its audience a huge variety of genres and interpretations, and it opens us up to so much.

The benefits of the festival to the community, sponsors and anyone who chooses to dip their toe in the festival world, is just that. A world outside the everyday.

An understanding that without hearing the stories from outside our small, everyday sphere, we would only see our small, everyday sphere.

Theatre can be visceral. It is right in front of you, almost within reach, and you can feel it.

Excellent amateur theatre is shown on the circuit by people who choose to do it because of the love of it, not for payment, or financial recompense, but simply because they want to be a part of telling a story.

There have been some spectacular performances over my nine years of involvement that stay with me, and will continue to do so.

I will keep being a part of it so I can see more stories and more performances that will embed themselves in my memory.

Paul Doherty

My first involvement with Enniskillen Drama Festival dates back many years, my love of theatre having been nurtured by the wonderfully varied programming that was available to us all "back in the day".

Over recent years, with successive cuts to Arts Council funding – meaning fewer professional touring groups, and a more commercially-orientated programme at the theatre – the importance of Enniskillen Drama Festival in bringing accessible theatre to Fermanagh has moved from important to vital.

The work of our volunteer committee ensures that local people have continuing availability of high-quality performances from across the island.

Dave Rees

I have been part of the festival for seven years, and during that time have seen the importance of amateur theatre.

It plays a significant part in cultural life, and vitally it helps with both emotional and mental wellbeing, not just for the performers and all taking part, but for audiences too.

Those involved grow in confidence and self-esteem, learn new interpersonal skills and become part of a cultural community.

Fermanagh has a strong amateur theatre tradition and the quality of the groups that we see is often extraordinarily high.

The involvement of our business community in supporting amateur theatre signifies how strong the commitment is to amateur theatre within our county.

The fact that many professional performers and stars of TV originally trod the boards in amateur theatre, thus shaping them for more lucrative exploits ahead, should not be understated, nor the fact that amateur theatre also supports professional theatre as well.

The venues amateur groups are hiring, mostly, are professional theatres and with that comes the employment of staff, both front of house and technical, as well as the hiring of freelancers, such as choreographers, directors, musical directors, make-up artists etc.

I am proud of our festival and of all who work in it. The plays we have are very exciting and each year they are so varied.

I believe it is a vital part of our cultural life and a hugely positive impact on our wellbeing.