Now approaching its golden anniversary, the Bermuda Festival has for many years followed its mission to “entertain, educate and inspire” by offering a variety of cultural events performed by international artists during the months January through March. However, in the past, these events have been viewed by some as being elitist and largely limited to white western culture.

Cindy Campbell, executive director of the Bermuda Festival since 2020, is committed to changing this, particularly since she is passionate in her belief that theatre and performing arts can bring communities together. “We must not only appeal to a racially diverse audience; we must also present a culturally diverse programme.” Hip hop, for example, she argues, is just as important as classical ballet. The team also wants festival attendees of all ages, which free outreach performances for students and senior citizens at schools and residences have helped to make possible. Mikaela Kawaley-Lathan, social media coordinator, has introduced another age group by founding and leading the “Creatives Club” in which 10 to 12 artists aged 19–29 are invited to sign up for free tickets to shows on the understanding they will meet on a weekend to share their reactions to the events. Where do they meet? This festival, in a tattoo parlour!

Berkeley students enjoy workshop hosted by festival.

Campbell was thrilled with Mikaela’s idea since she is convinced the festival should “do more than just bring in a show. We want it to leave a lasting impression, not only on the students but also on the community.” While the festival has always organised some classes and workshops to complement the performances, since 2020 the Bermuda Festival Arts Education Outreach Programme has greatly increased its range of educational opportunities for both children and adults. As Mariya Tsitron, director of planning and marketing, explains, changing the festival’s time structure to stretch from November through May has led to greater flexibility and availability for both performers and institutions. Now 85 percent of the festival’s performers offer workshops and/or master classes as part of their contracts. Of course, many of these, cost free for participants, are geared to Bermuda’s schools, private and public, at all levels.
In November, for example, outreach coordinator Lilyana Simmons worked with fifteen of Bermuda’s schools, enabling them to attend workshops given by jazz singer Ana Hoffman, Actors from the London Stage (who performed Macbeth), and brass quartet The Westerlies. “We do know that children who are involved in the arts are more engaged students than those who are not,” argues Campbell. In addition to offering classes, The Westerlies invited local musicians, including local singer Hana Bushara, to join them in performance.

Westgate inmates enjoy workshop hosted by festival.

Not all of the festival’s educational opportunities are for students, however; they are also for the public in general. Under Butterfield Bank’s Butterfield Residency for Arts Engagement, for example, the Actors from the London Stage not only gave a number of workshops focusing on Shakespeare and other plays on the school syllabus to schools, but also gave a workshop at Westgate Correctional Facility. Ten inmates participated with members of the festival team along with two staff members from social services in a highly successful workshop focusing on communication and emotional control. The actors, Simmons explains, broke down barriers between staff and inmates, creating an atmosphere of coequality. Commissioner Keeva Joell-Benjamin, delighted by “how enthused and engaged the inmates were,” looks forward to the possibility of more arts workshops being held at Westgate.

In February, Dan and Claudia Zanes will perform their Small Island, Big Smiles family show at the Earl Cameron Theatre. In addition, they will perform four sensory-friendly sessions for the neurodiverse at Westmeath, Hope Academy and Lorraine Nursing Home.

Throughout May, free modern dance and music workshops will be offered to schools and the public. “There will be something for everyone,” says Campbell. She cannot stress enough the team’s gratitude for all their sponsors. “Without them, our amazing outreach programme would not be possible.”

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