The future is here: Dispatches from the National Student Drama Festival

In Features, Inspiring people, Opinion by Chris GradyLeave a Comment

I’m not sure whether I will manage a daily dispatch from my time at the National Student Drama Festival, but let’s start with a first one. I arrived at 9.25pm last night from a day in Belfast, and the administrator Joseph welcomed me, not with a welcome pint, but with the news that I was just in time to see a piece of gig theatre which started at 9.30pm.

Fittingly, it was a concert by a Belfast/Derry family, the Iconoclasts, who were paying tribute to their recently deceased sister/daughter. This new play by Ben Price developed with a cast from Sheffield University features a family of pretty bad variety performers and a crack band. Sorry I mean they were all great, but they were meant to be bad, which is hard to pull off.   We had bad Belfast standup with disturbing jokes about The Troubles, a reject tv magician, quite bad karaoke style cabaret singing, awful choreographed anthemic celebration of being Irish, and an ex English army bearded drag artist poet father. Gathered all together in a variety bill to heal a fractured family. Many congratulations to the company – catch them in Edinburgh this summer.

Each day there is a gathering at NSDF where all the performers and staff come together to meet the cast/creative for a particular show. It allows for some rich questioning, taking us into some very deep worlds of politics, gender identity, play construction, performance technique, and collaboration experience. Intelligent questions from passionate people, and the opening of fascinating rich veins of exploration caused by the art which has been created on stage. It is a tribute to each company that they understand the richness of the work that they have created deeply enough to be able to explore the most challenging and perceptive questions, in a public forum.   An education for us all.

This morning I did a 3 hour workshop with 15 would be/being producers of theatre and opera who are working here with shows. We covered a mass of material very fast – copyright, not for profit budget balancing, touring, team building, contracts, company setup, and a whole lot more. Again rich questioning and exploration – and a realization for everyone in the room, that there is great wisdom in fellow students which can and must be shared – all you need to do is ask !

And from there hotfoot (after a lovely lunch with Louise of Equity, Anthony of the Pleasance and Pat the President of NSDF) to see a piece of theatre which MUST be seen more widely. Say It Loud comes from Feat.Theatre from a call out to fellow students across Warwick University for reflections, reactions, to refugees and the current political mess. Dramaturg Lilith Wozniak, Director Josie Davies and the cast of 5 present their voices and those of 15 other writers in a vocal tapestry which is terrifying to witness, disturbing and emotionally draining to confront, as they offer the matter of fact genocidal stories and the failings of all of us to do enough as we watch the stories unfold amongst us. It is beautifully simply staged and even offers us a way to do something at the end to care for someone we don’t know. We cannot save all the starfish on the beach, but we can help one with our love.

This is a piece which is, I suppose, playing in a bubble of understanding. It is playing to an audience of young people who are doing stuff, and using theatre to make a difference, and are probably active in so many ways. They are the 48%, the marchers, the volunteers, the readers and signers of petitions. The artistic echo chamber. The challenge for Feat.Theatre, their producer Rozzy Knoz, and anyone else reading this who wants to help, is to see how to play this to an audience of people who might be awakened from their sideline watching, and encouraged to think differently, and act anew to make a difference.

I so hope this showing at NSDF, amidst producers and professionals from all walks of theatreland, will offer a path to a less predictable audience. Maybe my Hull taxi driver this morning should be in the audience as someone who bemons how much damage Labour is doing to his City, and has been a lifelong Tory supporter. This from a man who, from the back of his head and his voice, sounded like a relatively recent arrival to our shores from Poland or Eastern Europe.   If he heard this show, and became as passionately positive about advocating a new way forward for governments, as he was passionately negative about his adopted City policies, then he’d “Say it Loud” to more of the 52%, and the Daily Mail readers. He might act as the megaphone for good which we theatre voices so desperately need to find.

Thank you to Sheffield and Warwick for my first two experiences. Two more shows tonight.

Chris Grady
Chris Grady is a creative and business life coach who has worked in arts and project management for more than 30 years, running marketing departments and creating festivals and theatres in Bristol, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Buxton, Keswick, London and Bury St Edmonds. He has also run the Vivian Ellis Prize for new musicals, and written Your Life in Theatre, a careers guide for all stages of your career. He is preparing an MA for Theatre Producers with Mountview Academy for Theatre Arts. Chris blogs about arts management at www.chrisgrady.org.
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Chris Grady
Chris Grady is a creative and business life coach who has worked in arts and project management for more than 30 years, running marketing departments and creating festivals and theatres in Bristol, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Buxton, Keswick, London and Bury St Edmonds. He has also run the Vivian Ellis Prize for new musicals, and written Your Life in Theatre, a careers guide for all stages of your career. He is preparing an MA for Theatre Producers with Mountview Academy for Theatre Arts. Chris blogs about arts management at www.chrisgrady.org.