Festival of English-Language School Theatre 2024

19 fév. 2024
Festival of English-Language School Theatre 2024

Léonard Doos and Nadia Cannivy, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer
Article in English
Author: Ben Kraemer
Léonard Doos and Nadia Cannivy, LCD, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer

One class, one act. High school students perform English stage plays at the Rotondes

“I think, for us, that’s quite a big move,” Tony Kingston says. Us, that is FEST, the Festival of English-Language School Theatre. This year, they are moving to the big stage at the Rotondes. 

A friendly smile awaits me in front of a coffee place in Diekirch. It belongs to Tony, a British expat and Luxembourger of choice, but foremost a native theatre person. After a firm handshake, we enter and sit down. If I wouldn’t mind him eating a sandwich, he asks politely. I don’t. 

“As long as I can remember, I wanted to do theatre,” he states. In the 1970s, his dad, a successful music publisher at the time, took him to a show in London. “We went backstage afterwards. I'd never been backstage in a theatre before, and the whole atmosphere there –,” he stops for a moment in retrospective awe. “I wasn't watching it from the front so much. That was fun, but it was just the mood, the feel, and even the smell of it to be honest with you... The atmosphere was capturing me, and I remember coming out of there thinking, ‘This is where I belong”.”

Tony Kingston, LCD, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer
Tony Kingston, LCD, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer

“I love watching people gain that confidence.”

The passion he developed at a young age never left him. Struggling to work in theatre in London, he moved with his wife to Berlin, where he founded the Berliner Grundtheater right before the Wende. In the late 1990s, he arrived in Luxembourg, bringing with him the BGT. Today he is directing English stage plays and providing theatre workshops for high school students.

Tony sees himself as a drama coach rather than a drama teacher. “What I do is basically just practical. We get together, we discover how to act, and then the group puts on a show. There will always be a result. It's project driven rather than exam driven,” he says.

“I’ve always loved the process of seeing something written on paper and making it come alive through people’s voices.” Coaching, however, for him goes beyond that. “I think that the primary thing is seeing people grow in self-confidence.” In a society where marketing your products and marketing yourself is everything, “being able to present yourself and to speak confidently, whether it’s in front of an audience of 500 people or just an interview board, is vital. I love watching people gain that confidence.”

Tony Kingston with Léonard Doos and Nadia Cannivy, LCD, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer
Tony Kingston with his students, LCD, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer

“I want to see [theatre] become more centrally integrated into the Luxembourgish school system.” 

Theatre is educational by nature. You step on stage in front of a crowd, and present something people paid for. It takes courage. If something goes wrong, you carry on. You learn how to “hold eye contact, how to speak clearly, loudly, and slowly, or, in short, how to articulate yourself” – practical everyday skills. Theatre, in some sense, is a school for life.

“I think there’s so much that individuals can benefit from doing theatre at a student level,” Tony says. “I want to see it become more centrally integrated into the Luxembourgish school system.” That’s where his project-based workshops and the Festival for English Language School Theatre jump in.

FEST is a two-day event where students from nine different secondary schools in Luxembourg perform one-act plays in English. The actors and actresses all attended English theatre options or extracurricular workshops in preparation for their acts. The festival “is giving students a chance to improve their language abilities by using [English] practically on stage.”

“We’re becoming more known.”

The idea for the festival goes back to a conversation between Tony and Laure Schreiner, a Luxembourgish actress and English teacher in Junglinster. They were talking about “how many English language drama groups there are dotted around in different schools” and “what a shame it was that there wasn’t a kind of connection.” Thus, in 2018, they organised the first FEST at the Mierscher Kulturhaus.

Tony Kingston with his students, LCD, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer
Tony Kingston with his students, LCD, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer

Due to its first success, FEST was turned into an asbl with four members and gained several big sponsors, such as the Œuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte or the British Embassy. The biggest evolution since its creation, however, according to Tony, is their recent move to the Rotondes. “We’re becoming more known. [...] People have heard of FEST; they know it; schools know it.” 

Over the last years, Tony has also seen an immense improvement in the quality of the performances. “Very often, school shows can be a bit ropy,” he says, “but the last edition was probably the highest standard of shows we’d seen, some really excellent shows. [...] Hopefully, that will continue this time.” The same goes for the students’ level of English. “I have seen a growing confidence in using English, and I think it’s not just within FEST, I think, it’s across Luxembourg. It’s huge, and it’s expanding,” he adds.

“The biggest response is that it was fun.”

Halfway through the sandwich, Tony gets a bit nervous. We should get going. His students at the local high school are already waiting for him. At the Lycée classique de Diekirch they are preparing their contribution to the festival, and Tony is directing the play. We pack our stuff and march over to the school building, where the rehearsal takes place.

A group of four students is rehearsing Innocent Witness by Geoff Rose-Michael (Rotondes, 24/02, 2:30 pm), a play about a girl who gets caught in a robbery – or so it seems. As we enter the room, Tony gives a quick speech about today’s plan, reminding everyone of the approaching date of the performance and the importance of learning the lines.

Léonard Doos and Nadia Cannivy, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer
Léonard Doos and Nadia Cannivy, LCD, FEST 2024 © Ben Kraemer

While Leo and Nadia are rehearsing a rather action-packed scene, I get a chance to talk with Jasmine and Amy, the two other young actresses. I want to know what theatre means to them. “I’m a very shy person,” Jasmine tells me, “so having a script and being someone else [for a moment] and changing personalities, it’s fun.” For Amy, it’s similar. “I just like having a break from being myself and being another person. I think it’s sometimes easier to just play a role.” Their responses reflect the general feedback Tony receives from his students: “[For them] it’s a bit of an escape, a bit of a release [...] but the biggest response is that it’s fun.”

Nine classes, nine plays.

“I like to think that [my students] will always feel that they have somehow, in terms of their professional lives or whatever, benefited from doing theatre,” Tony says when asked about the main goal of FEST towards the end of our interview. “And, that, maybe, theatre has come about in their lives because of FEST. Who knows?” 

Theatre can make a difference in young people’s lives, and FEST is proving it. On 23 and 24 February 2024, around 100 high school students from all around the country will present their passion for theatre, live on stage at the Rotondes. Nine classes, nine plays. A perfect occasion for bringing binge-watching to the theatre.