The Massachusetts Drama Festival has been in existence since 1931 when 4 Massachusetts high schools got together to celebrate what they called “Massachusetts Drama Day”. According to the Massachusetts Drama Guild website at http://www.mhsdg.com , the first production was held in the old Huntington Chambers Building in Copley Square in the state capital, Boston. It was not a house packing event, at first. But as with all good theater experiences the word got out and over the year’s participants, performances and sponsors all multiplied.
The goal of the Massachusetts Drama Festival has always been at least threefold. First there is the obvious desire to give drama coaches, many of the them members of high school English departments the opportunity to provide an after school program of interest to high school students interested in theater arts. The competition for student after school energies is always considerable. Even in the earliest days of the Massachusetts Drama Festival high school students found many tugs on their time. Today schools offer all manner of afters school clubs, organizations, music programs and sports. The Massachusetts Drama Festival gives faculty members and staff with coaching skills and keen interest in dramatics bait with which to lure in potential high school students to an on stage activity. Faculty that have gifts to share likely will include English teachers but it often turns out that there are others on staff who have a long standing interest in live theater.
My own experience revealed the dramatic abilities of members of our high school faculty from the foreign language, history, physical education, industrial and commercial art staff. The Massachusetts Drama Festival over the years drew in support and technical assistance from all of these areas. The presence of the Massachusetts Drama Festival in a school gives teachers with gifts in the theater arts a respected and structured space in which to pass on their skills and the joy of doing so, to teach in a whole new setting.
A second, though less structured goal, has also been to expand interest in theater arts throughout the Commonwealth. Just as parents and friends hurry off to see offspring play basketball or march in the school band and so become more interested in sports and music, so too, when high school students perform in competitive theater,crowds do gather. Friends and family who formerly had little or no interest in live theater are drawn in and may very well discover that they both enjoyed watching their friend or family member performed, but that they found the whole experience to have some magic for them as well. Building support for drama among the general population can be a slow process but it is greatly enhanced when young performers take the stage in the Massachusetts Drama Festival.
The final goal of the Massachusetts Drama Festival and perhaps its most important is to encourage the growth and development of young performers in he Bay State. There are have always been high school at which, because of the presence of key faculty members and the availability of funding for drama, there have been annual drama presentations at the school. But the Massachusetts Drama Festival takes young thespians up a notch to a whole new theater experience.
The Massachusetts Drama Festival challenges high schools to perform a one act play in competition with other schools in their region. Successful plays move onto a semifinal and then final state competition. The top notch plays qualify each year to proceed to the New England Drama Festival. In this process the local actor or actress finds that they must first land a part in their high schools one act play and then that they must elevate their performances as part of a play that will grab the attention and merit the kinds of scores that will take them to the next level.
But the thing I learned myself as a 4 year performer in the the Massachusetts Drama Festival is that, as an actor or actress what you find at the festival is support for your craft and inspiration to continue trying to improve yourself and those in your drama group. Seeing other young people, for other schools do amazing bits of drama or comedy, live on stage, calls forth the desire of many a potential actor or actress to try another role, to work on stage management, to direct, perhaps even to write. For young people who may only be half conscious of their interest in theater the Massachusetts Drama Festival opens a door and shines a light.
From 4 schools in 1931 to the current 100 public, private and parochial schools that of late have been involved, the Massachusetts Drama Festival, a creation of the Massachusetts High School Drama Guild , has surely done its part to give teachers a place to teach, audiences quality productions to enjoy and young actors and actresses a garden in which to grow.