The Royal Air Force Theatrical Association, or ‘RAFTA’ for short, was founded in 1974 and became a registered charity in 2011 (Charity Number 1142863). The aim of RAFTA has always been, and remains today, to improve theatre in the Royal Air Force. But what do we mean by this, and how do we go about it?
Who? The aim of RAFTA is to improve theatre in the RAF; it should come as no surprise then that many RAFTA members are serving RAF personnel. But that’s just the tip of the ice berg! Theatre is in its essence a social activity, a collaborative pastime that brings people together both in the creative act of putting on a show and also in watching the fruits of any such labour. For many years, RAF theatre clubs have brought together various members of both ‘on-base’ and local communities in putting on and watching shows. This shared experience has enriched the lives of both servicemen and civilians alike; the former gaining friends and meaningful roots in wider society (the real world!), the latter gaining an appreciation of what RAF life is like through closer engagement with ‘blue suits’. This heritage is reflected in the composition of RAFTA’s 400-plus membership, which today includes serving RAF and Army personnel (and would welcome some RN members!), ex-serving personnel, dependants and other civilian members; in short, all those in and around the RAF who love theatre. RAFTA also has a number of member theatre clubs the full details of who can join RAFTA as either an individual member or a club may be found in our RAFTA Constitution.
What? There are probably as many different ways of interpreting ‘improving theatre in the RAF’ as there are of interpreting the character of Hamlet… To raise the standard of theatre across the Association as a whole forms part of this aim, but given the Association’s ever-changing composition – as new members join and old depart – such an ambition could be likened to the painting of theForthRoadBridge or to Sisyphus’s eternal quest to roll a boulder up a hill. It would also be difficult to measure such improvement at an organisational level. RAFTA therefore concentrates its efforts on helping each individual member and member club to improve. This approach seems to have worked pretty well, with improvements ranging from increased confidence all the way through to members who have decided to turn professional and dedicate their whole lives to the theatre.
How? The fact the Association exists at all goes a long way toward the achievement of its aim to improve theatre in the RAF as the members form a community where they can discuss all things theatrical and grow and improve by sharing their knowledge, opinions and experience. On a practical note, the following key RAFTA activities support the Association’s aim:
- One Act Play Festival. RAFTA runs an annual One Act Play Festival that its member clubs can enter. Viewed by many as the highlight of the RAFTA calendar, the Festival allows members to come together for a weekend, perform for each other, share ideas and have a bit of a party! An Adjudicator from the Guild of Drama Adjudicators (GODA) assesses each production and provides a ‘hot debrief’ of their comments; this informed external view provides feedback that prompts both debate and theatrical growth.
- Project. Every 2 years, RAFTA produces a ‘Project’. The aim of Project is to provide a ‘challenge’ to the Association and allow its members to put on a show at a professional ‘receiving’ theatre. The Project process allows members from different clubs and from across the country to work together, share their knowledge and skills, and make lasting friendships.
- Competitions/Awards & Adjudications. RAFTA trains its own in-house adjudicators from amongst the membership. Member clubs may then request an adjudication of any production they put on. The key aim behind performing adjudications is to provide clubs with peer review of their work; an independent critical eye could provide well-earned praise and also point out potential alternative ways of doing things. Adjudications are also scored, which allows productions to compete against one another in annual competitions.
- Courses and Workshops. Each year RAFTA runs one or two courses for its members with the intent of providing members with new skills or refreshing their current skill-base. The topics chosen for courses vary, but have recently included Shakespeare, stage management, directing, pantomime, song & dance, and creative writing.
When? The Events Calendar provides more detail about what happens when over a year in the life of RAFTA. Look out for the One Act Play Festival every May!
Where? RAFTA has no one physical home; it may seem a little clichéd, but RAFTA exists wherever there is a RAFTA member or a RAFTA club. The Theatre Clubs page provides details of where you would find our clubs. Since 2015, we have held our annual One Act Play Festival in The Charles Grace Theatre at The Defence Academy of the United Kingdom (Shrivenham, near Swindon).
Why? Each RAFTA member will have a different story behind their love of theatre; the connections that they have with the RAF will also vary member to member. Essentially, whilst there is even a single serving or retired member of the RAF who enjoys theatrical pursuits, RAFTA will have a role to play. The diverse nature of the RAFTA membership provides support to servicemen in their theatrical pursuits, providing a constant community that supports the pursuit of theatre despite the changing nature of service life (frequent postings, operational tours, other service needs). From getting involved in theatre, servicemen get to work in an artistic environment, often a breath of fresh air from their military day job. They get to develop team-working skills, their public-speaking ability, their memories (learning lines isn’t easy!) and their organisational skills in an environment where rank is dropped at the door – the SAC’s opinion is just as valued as the Group Captain’s (or more so, if the SAC happens to be the director….). The RAF undeniably benefits from this perhaps unusual force development activity!
And who pulls all this together? The lion’s share of the effort required to put on great plays, pantomimes, musicals, murder mystery nights and other theatrical events happens in RAFTA clubs or else involves individual members working with external (and sometimes professional) theatrical organisations. However, a small team is required in order to run RAFTA for the benefit of its members, coordinating communications within the Association, and organising/coordinating One Act Play Festivals, Projects, Adjudications and Courses & Workshops. To this end, the RAFTA membership annually elects a Committee to perform this role; the core Committee members also act as the trustees of the charity. For advice and guidance, the Committee are able to draw on a ‘brain trust’ of RAFTA Fellows. RAFTA Fellowships are awarded in recognition of service to the Association, and our Fellows between them have an encyclopaedic knowledge of myriad theatrical subjects: useful people to have on board! See the Contact Us page for details of the current Committee.