This past week I had the pleasure of judging a local eisteddfod for a small town close to where I grew up. Two mornings I left my parents’ house just after seven in the bitter cold looking as professional as I could muster despite the layered coats and the fact that my Great Dane ‘puppy’ is not opposed to running between my legs while I’m balancing in heels.
As an adjudicator at this eisteddfod my goal was to give a rounded critique of every performance so that each participant could grow from the experience, as well as fostering an appreciation for the stage and the arts. For each participant I endeavoured to find something positive to say, as well as an aspect that they could improve on despite their mark, whatever it might have been. I was also sure to give my brightest smile to each of the participants.
The first morning passed without great exception. The eisteddfod started with the younger participants and I started with a section of six year olds. There is something very sweet about watching these children, and seeing their thought processes as they try to remember what their teacher told them to do! The afternoon brought the high school participants, a number of which decided to perform poems they had authored themselves. I think that this is brave, although not necessarily recommendable. One of the high schoolers also delivered, what she thought was a monologue, that she had written herself. The entry form states clearly the difference between a monologue and dramatized pros. The fact that she had written it herself and left out the inverted commas in the direct speech did not make her piece a monologue either. As she was entered in the monologue category and not in the dramatized pros category I could unfortunately not give her a good mark, and she received a participatory mark. In my address to the participants I explained exactly this. One of the participants then enquired as to the differences between the two, which I explained. I also explained that exactly the same thing had happened to me when I had participated in an eisteddfod in primary school and that this interface was one in which they could learn and make their mistakes.
During my lunch break the mother of the self-authored ‘monologue’ came to see me:
“My daughter is very upset with the mark that she received from you”
I reiterated the fact that she had been in the incorrect category, as I had explained, and if she had been in a different section her marks would have been different. I had to stand my ground, but thankfully the organizer of the eisteddfod was next to me and she agreed with me vehemently.
Upon returning the following day I only saw poetry. I was however treated to various young lads who had come up with something different to break would could have been a monotonous afternoon. The first of these did a poem about Tarzan who had now aged but was still living in the jungle. The poem ended in Afrikaans rhyme, claiming that Tarzan had died and all that was to be found was his underwear. On this last line the 9 year old paired out a pair of leopard spotted underpants! I couldn’t help but laugh!
Another of the boys performed his poem in a pink tank top and ruffled white skirt. He walked up behind me to hand in a copy of his poem before he started, and I could clearly see that he was waiting for a reaction from me due to his dress. I smiled, thanked him for the poem and said he could go on stage unperturbed. He seemed slightly bewildered by the fact that I wasn’t, but after studying drama, and having guys who look better in a skirt and walks better in heels than you do sitting behind you in class precious little takes you by surprise.
One of the last poems I heard for the eisteddfod was done by a mischievous blond 11 year old boy with a gelled fringe and chocolate all over his face. I couldn’t help thinking of Dennis the Menace. When he was called to the stage he ran to the front of my table, handed me his poem and then with a wicked grin and a look around placed a packet of cookies in front of me and then in front of the organizer who was seated next to me. He ran on stage and threw two more packets into the audience. The first one dropped straight to the floor in the middle of a group of girls. I think it took them completely by surprise. The second packet was almost wrestled for while mid-air. He commenced with his poem, something to the tune of:
“I didn’t steal the cookies!”
Not only had this piece of theatre before he started completely grabbed the attention of the entire audience he had done the piece so well I could help but to give him a 90% (despite the blatant attempt to bribe me with cookies)!
I had been an adjudicator for an acrobatics eisteddfod before, and I had been one of a panel of adjudicators for acrobatic provincial championships more than once before. Even though drama is now my field of speciality, and I am busy with my Masters, I had never been an adjudicator for a drama eisteddfod before. It was therefore really grateful when the organizer thanked me afterwards, and told me that I had done a good job. One of the teachers also approached me after my final address to the participants. She wanted to thank me for the balanced critique, and also for delivering it in such a way to build the children up and not break them down.
“One last thing” she added quickly “Thank you for smiling at them. I can imagine you didn’t always feel like it”
I will admit that my cheeks were quite sore that evening. But seeing children try to hard, sometimes without the help of a teacher just because they want to do it is quite humbling.