National Student Drama Festival – 2016

scarborough NSDFWhat do the Addams Family, Toyland murders, verbatim theatre on child pornography, fast turnaround arts journalism, and a 3hr course of creative producing have in common? The answer is Scarborough and the National Student Drama Festival. For the 2nd year I was invited by Mountview to spend a day at the festival, meeting the next generation of theatremakers, and seeing some shows. It is inspiring, and I felt sad leaving so many shows and discussions unseen/unheard, as I return to my producing cohort in Wood Green.

My session on creative producing this morning was enriched by three observers – two from West Yorkshire Playhouse and one from Equity. Not ofsted inspectors, but other creative professionals who are in town to listen, meet with, and inspire the masses of students at the festival.

If you are reading this and have never been to NSDF, then plan a visit for next year. If you are reading this and either make theatre at schools, colleges or universities, or you have children who are at that stage in their development, then again – think about joining an extraordinary opportunity.

This morning with 11 producers/creators from schools and universities, we explored marketing, fundraising, the role of the producer, why & how to be creative, taking shows to Edinburgh, exploring fringe theatres, making connections, crowdfunding, multiple task management, working freelance, the wheel of life, and making a difference in the world. They were receptive to a lot of stuff from my book “Your Life in Theatre” and we explored the ways in which you can learn more about the art of producing including our new MA in Creative Producing at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.

I only had the chance to see three shows. The Addams Family brought to goulish life with brilliant physicality, and some cracking voices, by Durham Light Opera Group. I will definitely follow some of the performers, and I want to go back and understand more about this show from its earliest development by Phelim McDermott.

Two shows are heading to Edinburgh, and I recommend you try and catch them: Daniel is a new play by Matilda Reith from Sheffield’s Footprint Theatre. It uses verbatim techniques and devised theatre to explore a real, deeply harrowing story through the eyes of those who lived through it. Not easy listening, but involving for us all in very personal stories. A fine cast of 4 performers, created with skill and passion. Check them out at Zoo Venues this summer.

The Toyland Murders brings us a new play written, directed, designed and sound designed by Ben Hollands from Nottingham New Theatre. There’s a cast of 14 – 7H 7T, 7 human puppeteers, 7 toys, and they will be re-working the show and taking it to Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh this summer. Think 1930s detective film noir with puppets – sounds unusual…it is, and I can’t wait to see it again as it develops from this first outing.

The Festival have a wealth of classes each day, and I found myself meeting teachers from the RSC, Frantic Assembly, Act for Change, Arts Council England, Slunglow, the Gate, the Orange Tree, Hull Truck and many freelance worlds. It is an opportunity to be grabbed by any young person with a dedication to finding their career legs in the theatre business. But it is also a great seaside festival where you can enjoy working in a company, making stuff happen, and then wake up and get on with a more “sensible” career.

There’s a great publication “Noises Off” and it was a pleasure to meet the deputy editor who had written an important challenge to University College London to re-evaluate its theatre provision, and an inspiring Bristol student, Kate Wyver, with whom I shared many memories of my time at Bristol, her plans to work in China, and her determination do some useful work in Calais/Dunkirk.

One hour later we were both witness to a call out for exactly this work. Lighting designer and founder of Crew For Calais , Katherine Williams, explained her charity. It is established to send stage management and tech crew over for intensive short periods to work on the building of camp facilities, and working with other volunteers over there.   This was a call to action for young people to help to make a difference to people’s lives today, now, in a real way. Within a moment she was mobbed with volunteers.  For more information email CrewForCalais [at] gmail [dot] com

The Spa Pavilion site is packed with passionate people. Wanting to make a difference through their skills and talent. Wanting to make theatre. Wanting to learn how it is done at the moment, just so they can figure out better ways to do it. The “it” being theatre, but also life and the way in which we tackle the massive issues of our planet. I left inspired, tired, and grateful to Michael Brazier for his calm directorship of this 60th anniversary festival.  I can’t wait for next year.

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