Anne Hailes: A drama summer holiday can give children so much

Children at Centre Stage summer drama holiday, run by Roma Tomelty and Colin Carnegie in the shadow of Slemish
Children at Centre Stage summer drama holiday, run by Roma Tomelty and Colin Carnegie in the shadow of Slemish Children at Centre Stage summer drama holiday, run by Roma Tomelty and Colin Carnegie in the shadow of Slemish

IF MEMBERS of your family have been doyens of the Ulster stage since 1896, you’d certainly know a thing or two about theatre. Take a bow Roma Tomelty, director of Centre Stage theatre company and actress who, like generations before her and most recently her father and sister, has appeared in all our major theatres, on television and film.

Roma and joint director Colin Carnegie make up a husband-and-wife team who have never given up their dream of bringing professional theatre to the public and for children the fun of being involved in this magical world.

Yesterday, for the 31st time, their annual Centre Stage Summer Drama Holiday got under way and today eight to 18-year-olds start sessions building their skills – and Roma is in a prime position to talk about the benefits of such a project and theatre in general.

“Drama helps develop self-discipline, working within a team, communications and memory. We teach speech, reading and posture but we never forget that this is a holiday so we have a lot of fun also. With children arriving from all over Europe friendships develop that will last a lifetime and offer an understanding of other cultures.”

When I worked with the Ulster Actors Company we had Christmas and Easter matinees when hundreds of primary school children came from all over the north in buses that parked up and down Botanic Avenue. As the children came through the doors I loved to stand in the foyer and welcome them. They were very shy, gripped each other's hands and said nothing, very suspicious of this woman chatting away.

In the interval they were prepared to say 'yes' to my question, were they enjoying the show? On the way out, what a change. They were bursting with excitement, wanted to talk about what they’d seen, the big bad wolf, the fairy and her beautiful dress, the funny man in the wig.

They overcame the fear of being seen and not heard, they shouted back at the baddie, their confidence grew in that hour and they were full of childish delight. This's what theatre can do for young people and this is what is at the heart of Roma’s drama holiday, giving young people a voice, building confidence and self-esteem.

The holiday is held in the most beautiful of locations, in the shadow of Slemish Mountain at the Slemish Barn, a hostel with performance space and dormitory accommodation and set in a secure environment. This is the centre of the theatrical universe where boarders work towards a show for parents and friends on the final afternoon – musical theatre, improvisation, choral speaking, singing, dance and mime and the chance to shoot a short film. There’s even Shakespeare with custard pies!

The tutors are all professionals and as everyone works, eats and plays together there’s a family atmosphere. And, praise be, there are no games consoles or computers allowed – not even television. Pure stimulating work with an end product.

Many past pupils have gone on to appear on television and in international films and, parents, you can find out much more about the results of this holiday, which runs until August 5, at or by phoning 028 9077 8099. There are still a few places left and discounts are available.


IT’S good news that the Fund Raising Regulator will be fining companies up to £25,000 if they pester perspective donors by sending fundraising messages by phone, text or email.

As I mentioned recently, over the past few months I’ve been annoyed with charities actually taking money out of my mobile phone account without my express permission.

Before Christmas I texted to a charity line pledging £20 – a one-off, I understood – but suddenly in March and April £20 appeared on my bill. I thought I was being reckless with telephone calls to Dublin. Then I went to the O2 shop and discovered the charity was at its work. Got it stopped. Relaxed. However, earlier this month I received the following text:

REETXT Unicef. Almost 41,000 Liberian children are acutely malnourished. £5 could provide therapeutic milk for a week and help save a malnourished child. Give now and The Power of Nutrition foundation will match your gift, doubling each pound. Reply YES to give £5 and make it go further. Opt out reply NOSMS UNI.

I then got another text, this time from Water Aid saying: To us you’re a quiet hero. We’d like to give you the chance to follow what’s happening in the field. Will you come with me as I fly out of London to Nepal? First stop? We’re off to explore something most people shrink from.

Then came a Website address. It finishes: To opt out txt NOSMS WATER to 7006.

I have given to several television appeals and obviously this is where they got my mobile number but rather than being a single donation they hound me with their clever and well-thought-out appeals.

Water Aid have even phoned me and a mature, well-spoken woman rabbited on for about 15 min. I told her I knew all about Water Aid, I’d seen it in action in Africa, I wasn’t going to be talked into a regular payment but still she kept on so I just listened and when she ran out of steam and said “So what can I put you down for?” or words to that effect, I told her: "Sorry, you’ve wasted your time but I did warn you." Call terminated.

Giving to charity is a very personal thing. It’s nice to join in a UK-wide appeal as well as having special local charities on an ongoing relationship. Now, sadly, I cut off phone calls and delete emails.

Dear charities, what you have done has resulted in you shooting yourselves in the foot.