Having been a 13 year old Prepared Speech contestant in the 1956 Eisteddfod, I remember full well the hours of practice, the performance nerves and the Easter Island face of the adjudicator who never once reacted to my world-shattering insights into the human condition nor so much as even smiled at any of my carefully crafted jokes.
The fact that I won was arguably more satisfying for having survived bouncing off this judicial brick wall, but I hope that now I’m at the adjudicator’s table, I appear a little more open and welcoming to today’s performers.
For over fifty years, I’ve been involved in Australian, British and American theatre as a playwright, lyricist, librettist and director, so with luck I’ve learnt a thing or two, but I have to say that most of the golden rules still apply: choose a piece which plays to your strengths; master your text; demonstrate your range; take your audience on the journey (openings and closings matter); focus on clear diction; and whether you’re in rage or reflection, play to the back of the space and vocally project.
Of course, adjudicators are especially delighted by the X-factor, that unique gift which the natural artist brings to their interpretation and presence.
Oh, and when it comes to costumes and props, remember that less is more. Leave the chandeliers and helicopters to big budget musicals!
I regard it as a privilege to enjoy and encourage the talent of emerging performers, and to my way of thinking, the demands of eisteddfod conditions help contestants hone their vocal and dramatic skills in front of an audience.
And I’m a firm believer in the right to get things wrong, so I see real value in the occasional crash when for whatever reason, a performer simply loses it and has to leave the platform before completing their piece.
Remember, the person who never made a mistake never made anything, and learning from glitches and meltdowns is a great way to put poor technique behind you and return more polished and confident next time.
So to all you speakers and players, recite the Sydney Eisteddfod motto to yourselves before you go onto the platform and most of all, enjoy what you’re performing.
That way, all of us will.
Born with a gift for words, playwright Melvyn Morrow etched his name in Sydney Eisteddfod record books in the late 1950’s as a champion of its Public Speaking program. He began writing scripts for theatre and television early in his career and his witty sketches helped empower the success of Australia’s first satirical comedy series The Mavis Bramston Show. His more recent work includes co-writing the successful Australian musicals Shout! The Legend of the Wild One and Dusty – The Original Pop Diva. Also an inspiring teacher, he taught at St Ignatius College, Riverview, for many years, where author Gerard Windsor and playwright Nick Enright were among his pupils. He continues contributing to the Australian theatrical scene through his writing and maintains links with Sydney Eisteddfod as a member of its syllabus panel.
Melvyn was an adjudicator for Sydney Eisteddfod's Speech and Drama events in 2014 & 2015.