The Great Hall of the University of Ulster at Magee saw the curtain come up on the first ever City of Derry Drama Festival (CDDF) in March 1981.
This year the Waterside Theatre will be the Festival home when the curtain comes up for the 35th Festival on Friday, March 4. And after a break last year to regroup and seek funding, the Festival Committee is delighted to be back.
The Festival is a celebration of the best of amateur drama from all over the island of Ireland with visiting drama companies staging a full-length play each night. The standard of the CDDF is high and many participants have gone on to compete in, and win, All-Ireland and Ulster finals.
Nowadays, professional theatres often draw their players from the amateur circuit and many professional actors have cut their teeth on the circuit, most notably Liam Neeson, who featured in the CDDF back in the 80s in Ballymena’s Slemish Players’ production of ‘Philadelphia Here I Come’.
Over the years, the CDDF has gained a reputation for being a well-run, friendly and hospitable Festival and now receives so many applications from drama groups throughout Ireland that the Festival Committee is able to select the best to come to the City. This year, in a change from the usual format, the Festival is being held over 7 nights instead of 9 with a two-night break in between. Festival Chairman, Mark Conway, feels this is an opportunity for both the volunteers who work so tirelessly at the Festival, and the audiences, to recharge their batteries.
An important feature of the Festival is ensuring it is affordable so that everyone, whether they are seasoned theatre goers, new to the theatre, or students studying drama or aspects of theatre, have an opportunity to experience live theatre. This year is no exception with concessionary rates available for students and over 60s, with a keenly priced season ticket, and with an excellent ‘buy tickets for 2 nights and get a 3rd night free’ offer! Complimentary tickets are also available for local community groups by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition, the Festival gives volunteers an opportunity to experience various roles including stage management and front of house, and serving on the organising committee provides experience of event management.
In a tribute to the late Brian Friel, this year’s Festival will open with Butt Drama Circle’s production of Friel’s ‘Translations’. The play made its world debut in Derry in 1980 and to honour his close connections with the City, the Festival Committee felt it was fitting to open the first CDDF since his death, with this production.
‘Translations’ will be followed by a line-up of old and new plays throughout the Festival featuring a mixture of comedy and darker themes – with a ghost thrown in for good measure courtesy of Hugh Leonard’s award winning, bittersweet comedy, ‘Da’!
Chairman Mark Conway is grateful to the Festival sponsors and the Derry and Strabane Council for their financial support of this year’s Festival. “We are sincerely grateful to our sponsors – all local businesses – and the Council which stepped in to help ensure we were able to have a Festival this year. This support, together with the hard work of our committee and our volunteers has helped to bring us this far,” said Mark. “Now all we need is people to come along and be entertained!” he added.
For further information on all the plays being staged, see the Festival’s Facebook page – City of Derry Drama Festival – or the Waterside Theatre’s website www.watersidetheatre.com – or pick up a Festival booklet at local supermarkets, libraries, bars, restaurants and numerous outlets throughout the city and beyond.