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Festival Of Performing Arts

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This May will be the time for the 84th Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts which started in 1926 in the week of the General Strike. It originally lasted for two days now it takes 12 days, occupying three venues in Cheltenham Town Hall, morning, afternoon and evening, and sometimes bursting out to extra venues such as St, Andrew’s Church, St. Luke’s hall and Pate’s Junior School.

The Festival is not only the oldest in Cheltenham (the National Hunt Festival is beyond the town boundaries!) but it is one of the largest of it’s kind in the country. Contrary to many people’s understanding it is not for young people only but includes competitive classes for people of all ages. There are between 4000 and 5000 competitors and as many enter for several classes there are many thousands of performances. Many of those competitors come from Cheltenham but there also large numbers from Gloucester and the county as well as people travelling from further afield. We often have competitors from Wales and Ireland and this year again we expect to welcome a couple who come every year from Holland as well as a fan who flies over from Los Angeles.

The Festival has three sections including Dance, Music and Speech and Drama. The Music section includes both school and adult choirs, piano and other instrumental classes and vocal solos,duets and trios. There are many high spots including the school choirs on the first day, Wednesday May 5th starting at 9.00am and going on until early evening. The final Saturday is the day for adult and youth choirs culminating in the Gold Cup classes in the early evening, at the conclusion of which the Mayor presents the Gold Cup to the overall winning choir.( Prestbury’s Gold Cup is not the only one in Cheltenham!) . On the previous Friday, May 14th, we have special classes for the winners of the many adult solo classes. Those awards include the Rose Bowl, the Gertrude Mace Shield and a new award, this year, the Cheltenham Cleeve Vale Rotary Club Trophy.

On the final Sunday at 2pm there is the Keith Nutland Class which is a recital class for students in their last year at school who will be going on to music college or to read music at university in the autumn. This is a prestigious award including a significant cheque, free entry to Cheltenham Music Festival and the chance of a showcase appearance at next year’s Music Festival. On this occasion, Meurig Bowen, Director of Cheltenham Music Festival joins the panel of judges.

The Dance section takes place from Thursday, May 6th to Tuesday, May 11th and the dance classes are always a delight to watch especially the group performances in the early evenings and a special moment is the Pas De Deux Class on the Sunday afternoon, May 9th.

Speech and Drama includes verse speaking for all ages, original poetry composition, dramatic monologues, dus and trios. There is always lots of excitement for the Group acting and also for Public Speaking. A special moment here is on the final Sunday, May 16th. when the best verse speakers under 18yrs. compete for the Lyric Championship Cup.

One of the special features of the Festival is that it is run entirely by volunteers. The only people to be paid are the 18 adjudicators who are professionals.

We believe that the programme (available from the Town Hall beforehand) provides one of the best shows of the year and at £2 per day, a spectator’s ticket is certainly the best value. That ticket makes it useful if anybody wants to pop in for just one particular class. On the otherhand , it is for the whole day which means that people can go in and out of the Town Hall picking and choosing their own personal programme for the day.

So there we have it. A great event for young and old! Come and help, or at least come and see and hear!

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