A mentor once said to me that theatre is incredibly exciting and then gone forever. It's the transient nature of live art that makes it exciting, engaging and moving. Now with the lights taken down and students getting ready for the end of the school year, what can we take away from the Emerge Festival? What will remain after a year of work?
I could write for hours on the work created, the pieces performed but instead I want to talk about the people: one person to be precise. Every young artist that joined the Mansfield / Ashfield Emerge Festival will have their own journey, their own story and triumphs but there was someone who joined the festival whose story is more important to me than any other. I don't think it's right for me to give their name out so I'll call him David.
David was the very first person I ever met through Emerge back in October 2017. He was the only person that turned up to my first session and one of the most complicated people to find a place for. David suffers from a complicated medical condition, something that means he cannot be educated at a secondary school and so for most of his life he has been home schooled. David has no friends, no one of his own age to talk with, laugh with, someone who he can just be himself around. He is surrounded by adults most of the time and came to Emerge looking to make friends.
Some of the 2018 Emerge participants and artists
I tried him in the Drama Group but it wasn't for him so he just watched. During the breaks in the session he started talking to one of my other students who went to both the drama group and the art group up at the school on a Wednesday night. I suggested that David joined that session instead.
It's hard to comprehend how important feeling normal is, feeling accepted and that you belong somewhere. David fitted right in, the students accepted him without judgment or bias as only young people can do. The session became the most important two hours of his week and it was clear the impact of seeing him interact with students his own age was having on his mum.
The friendship he started with that person from the drama group continued through the festival and beyond. I know that they now regularly visit each other's homes and go out together to events.
The success of a festival can be measured many ways, but I measure the success of mine by this. David now has a friend, and while that may seem small to most people, to him it has fundamentally changed the quality of his life.
It is the biggest victory of all and worth every hour that was spent creating the Emerge festival.