The long weekend around Whitsunday and -monday is traditionally the time for FEATS. For those of you not in the know, the Festival of European Anglophone Theatrical Societies is an annual theatre event bringing together English-speaking amateur theatre groups from all over Europe for friendly competition and lots of socializing under the guise of watching (and occasionally performing) a row of short plays each evening.
You may remember it from when we hosted it in Hamburg in the Altonaer Theater in 2015. The Hamburg Players have a history of competing successfully in the event, so we arrived in Antwerp, this year’s FEATS location, in high spirits. We took part in the festival with “The Hunchback Variations” by Mickle Maher, directed by Rebecca Garron.
How to pass the time before you're on
As our play wasn’t on until the third evening, we had two nights to check out the competition and reunite with old FEATS friends. All in all, the Hamburg Players came to Belgium with a congregation of nearly twenty people. Those included the cast and crew, as well as a number of spectators who came to cheer for our play, give moral support and simply have a good time in Antwerp watching theatre.
Being such a big group meant we didn’t necessarily spend all of the day together. Some people went sightseeing in the beautiful city of Antwerp, some watched the Fringe, the out-of-competition afternoon programme at FEATS, some kept themselves otherwise occupied. Watching the Royal Wedding that happened that weekend was also high on some to-do lists. But in the evenings, everyone came together in the theatre for the plays and the following adjudication.
Dress rehearsal and last-minute solutions
Two days passed in this way, but by Sunday, it got serious. The day of our performance, we got a two-hour rehearsal period in the theatre. This is part of the FEATS process. Every group can use that rehearsal time however they please, but typically it’s used to arrange the set and test lights and sounds. I originally came to Antwerp only as a spectator but was allowed to join the crew last minute and take part in the rehearsal. It gave me a tiny little sneak peek into our play which already at this point promised to be good. Every last-minute problem that arose was solved, the most creative one being the replacement of our Quasimodo’s carefully prepared hump with a handbag, because it simply looked better.
In the end, we were so effective that we finished our rehearsal half an hour early – something I’m sure must be unheard of in FEATS history. If you ask me, we should have been given the stage management award just for that. After all, it provided the hosting crew from BATS a longer break before the next group came in. (We didn’t win that, though. Turns out there are other considerations…)
There was some time to kill before the evening’s performance. After having lunch with all cast and crew, everyone fell back to their own methods to quell those pre-performance nerves. Taking a rest. Going for a run. Having an ice-cream. Whatever helps.
Finally, the evening had arrived. One minute into the play, it was already clear it would be a success. Audiences were laughing long before our two brilliant actors, Martin John Mills and Harald Djürken, even uttered their first lines. And they didn’t stop until the curtain closed after about 45 minutes of hilariously absurd theatre. The adjudicator, Ben Humphrey, had nothing but praise for our performance, both during his public adjudication in the evening and the private one with just our group the next morning.
And two awards go to...
After this, the hard part for us was over and we got to enjoy one last sunny day in Antwerp before the last three plays and of course the award ceremony on Monday night. While the first few awards went away to other groups for their great performances, our big moment started when it was time for the best actor award. Both Martin and Harald received a nomination, with Harald Djürken taking home the price!
This was only topped when “The Hunchback Variations” was awarded the Founder’s Trophy for best play! A well-deserved achievement by the two actors, director Rebecca Garron and everyone else included in the production.
We spent the rest of the night like every self-respecting theatre group would do after such a success: celebrating at the theatre bar until late in the night. It was well into the early hours before everyone finally said goodbye to all their FEATS friends. Until we see them again next year in Munich, for FEATS 2019!