Speech arts festival starts Saturday

The words will rattle and roar, whisper and wail in the spirit of constructive competition.

Each spring the Speech Arts & Drama Festival ushers in the warm weather with waves of odes and storms of sonnets. This is the 37th edition of the public speaking arts show, and spokesperson Grace Arnott said the event is on an upswing.

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"There are some categories where growth was really noticeable," said Arnott, one of the city's speech arts coaches. "We had an increase in the number of adults this year, doing solo work or groups, and that's really exciting. If more adults can take part, that will really resonate within the community.

"We have definitely seen a growth in the participation of the schools," she added. "I think we can credit Julie Fisher, she's the arts coordinator for School District 57 and I know she has been trying to get teachers to get their classrooms involved, especially in the choral speaking categories. Her job is to encourage the arts where she can, and the word is out that our festival is alive, well and doing really well."

The festival is structured to develop the personal skills of public speaking and literature appreciation at the same time. It presents itself as a competition for reading and reciting works of poetry and prose, but floating under that surface fun are skills like personal confidence, strong communication abilities, and the charisma for bringing words and ideas to life.

One of the city's best known actors on the Canadian stage and screen grew up participating in the Prince George Speech Arts & Drama Festival, and she is coming back this year as one of the adjudicators for the competition. Alana Hawley-Purvis is a working actor (she was a regular actor in the famed Stratford Festival, co-star of the movie The Great Fear, plus many other credits) and she has been an instructor and adjudicator internationally, but never lets Prince George fall from her attention.

Joining her as the other adjudicator at this year's competition is Nitisha Rajoo, who also has global experience as an actor, director and educator in the oratory arts. She is on the board of directors for the Jessie Richardson Awards, advises on drama education practices in schools, and leads a creative teens' program at The Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver.

The festival this year starts Saturday and runs to May 2. All sessions are scheduled for the Weldwood, Wintergarden and Canfor Theatres all at UNBC. Admission is by donation and program booklets are for sale for $8 each.

The competitors are aged seven and older. Some are working towards attaining higher levels in the Royal Conservatory of Music's speech arts program, while others are simply having some personal fun.

"There are more than 370 separate entries this year," said Arnott. "This is one of the largest volunteer-run, professionally adjudicated Speech Arts & Drama Festivals in all of Canada."

Some of the participants, depending on age and category, will go on to compete at the provincial level May 26-30 this year held in Chilliwack.

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