The show must go on! Drama festival rips up the rule book for virtual event

The Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City

The Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. - Credit: Danny Loo

The 77th annual Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival opens next week in a new online format for this year.

Running from Monday, March 1 to Saturday, March 6, a virtual feast awaits viewers missing live theatre. 

Who could have known, when the Barn Theatre closed its doors at the end of the 2020 WGC YDF, that it would be the last time an audience would be able to enjoy a performance there for over a year – and counting.

The Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City lit up as part of the Light It In Red campaign drawing attent

The historic Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City lit up as part of the Light It In Red campaign. - Credit: Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures

The historic Barn Close venue's next production, Noel Coward’s aptly named Waiting in the Wings, was then in its final week of rehearsal before opening – and is now destined to stay there!

However, in the belief that the show must go on somehow, the organisers of this year’s WGC Youth Drama Festival, the event's 77th, have created a very different kind of event.

One of the Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival 2020 awards.

One of the Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival 2020 awards. - Credit: Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures

It will be a digital affair with ‘virtual’ entries for the first time.

Festival chairman Michael Merry said: "This year we have ripped up our rule book and invited entries of any kind of dramatic work – and the response has been overwhelming.  

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"We have entries of music videos, short monologues and one longer piece, all of which we will be including.

"Running from March 1 to March 6 and starting at 7.30pm, we hope to provide a varied week of performances and provide lots of enjoyable entertainment."

Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival 2020 awards. Picture: Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures

One of the Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival 2020 medals. - Credit: Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures

The Saturday will culminate in an awards ceremony where this year's festival adjudicator, Sue Doherty, will summarise the week and award prizes.

Sue Doherty GoDA (Guild of Drama Adjudicators) trained at Notre Dame College, Liverpool, graduating in Dance and Drama and gained her B.Ed. Honours degree.

Her teaching and involvement with drama and theatre spans over five decades. 

Olaf the Ox

Olaf the Ox - Credit: WGC YDF

Michael Merry added: “We will be presenting individual medals to various winners.

"Whilst we have marked our entries into Junior and Senior categories, our usual cups for the technical award will all be absent.

"This was felt the right move as we're not following our usual rules.

“Alongside this though, in keeping with our recent tradition of presenting quality soft toy animals to winners, we have Olaf the Ox.”

Limitless Academy of Performing Arts' production of Private Peaceful claimed first place in the seniors section and lifted the Youth Committee Cup at last year's festival at the Barn Theatre.

Limitless Academy of Performing Arts' production of Private Peaceful won first place in the WGC YDF 2020 seniors section.

Peter McNally, Callum Bowden and Kyle Gould from Limitless Academy of Performing Arts' production of Private Peaceful which claimed first place in the seniors section and lifted the Youth Committee Cup at the Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival 2020 at the Barn Theatre. - Credit: Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures

  • Tickets to watch the 77th WGC Youth Drama Festival are being offered free, but voluntary donations are welcome and will be passed to Keech Hospice Care.
  • Further details are available at www.wgcydf.org


History of the Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival

The Youth Drama Festival has been running since the 1940s.

In February 1944, a Youth Conference was held in Welwyn Garden City and a local committee was formed to coordinate activities.

The first event sponsored was a Youth Drama Festival, which was held at the Woodhall Community Centre, WGC, three months later.

A local resident adjudicated, but no awards were made, as it was non-competitive.

The success of the first festival encouraged the committee to commission a silver cup, the Youth Committee Cup, to be awarded for the best performance in 1945.

This historic trophy is still awarded annually to the winning Senior entry.

The annual festival moved to the Barn Theatre in 1947, following the building’s return from wartime use as an army salvage depot.

Productions at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City have been postponed due to concerns over coron

The Barn Theatre normally hosts the annual Welwyn Garden City Youth Drama Festival but it will be an online event this year - Credit: Archant

In 1949, the festival was divided into two sections, Senior and Junior, and a professional adjudicator was employed.

This became the pattern for all later years.

Since then, thousands of young actors from Herts, Beds, Cambs, London and elsewhere have participated in the annual theatrical extravaganza.

The Junior section is for casts of school Year 10 and under, at the time of the festival, and the Senior section for those under 22.

All performers must be amateurs. 


The 77th WGC Youth Drama Festival will enter the digital age with entries open.

The 77th WGC Youth Drama Festival will be a virtual one. - Credit: WGC Youth Drama Festival

Current programme list of what's on when includes:
Monday, March 1, 7.30pm

  • Beaumont School (S): Game Over by Mark Wheeller – not suitable for younger viewers.

Tuesday, March 2, 7.30pm

  • Hitchin Boys (Richard & Ruby) (S): A 'Wicked' Medley by the group.
  • Centre Stage 21 (S): Screw Your Courage by Keith Badham.
  • Mimic Stage School (S): Hocus Pocus by Bethany Filler.
  • Mimic Stage School (J): Ghostbusters music video.

Wednesday, March 3, 7.30pm

  • Mimic Stage School (J): Be Prepared music video.
  • St Albans High School For Girls (S): Stuck On Hold, devised by the group.
  • St Christopher School (S): Chatroom by Enda Walsh – not suitable for younger viewers.

Thursday, March 4, 7.30pm

  • Guy Crossland (J): Henry V – Harfleur by William Shakespeare.
  • St Albans High School For Girls (S): There's No Place Like Hollywood. Devised by the group.
  • Hitchin Boys’ School (S): Checking In.
  • Pump House CYT (S): A Series of Public Apologies by John Donnelly.
  • Habs Drama Company (S): Twelfth Night, abridged, by William Shakespeare.
  • Mimic Youth Theatre Company (S): Make Believe.

Friday, March 5, 7.30pm

  • Mimic Stage School (J): Thriller music video.
  • St Francis' College (S): Black Cat Drive by Charlotte McDermott.
  • St Albans High School For Girls (S): A Century Apart. Devised by the group.
  • Mimic Youth Theatre (J): Fairy Tales - The Real Story by Kim Southey.
  • St Albans High School For Girls (S): We The People. Devised by the group.
  • Mimic Stage School (J): Black Magic music video.

Saturday, March 6, 7.30pm

  • Habs Drama Company (S): Down The Rabbit Hole. Devised by the group.
  • St Francis' College (J): Banbury Ping - a game of... by Sandy Hill.
  • Limitless Academy of Performing Arts (J): The Greatest Snowman by Peter Heppelthwaite and Peter McNally.
  • Queenswood School (S): A Christmas Carol (abridged) by Charles Dickens.

Saturday's performances will be followed by an awards ceremony.


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