National Student Drama Festival: The power of young people

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

So I left you, dear reader, with my first impressions of Iconoclasts, Say It Loud, and Hull Tory Taxi Drivers. So here is installment two when I look at agoraphobia, trans/cis gender, alcoholism, pelicans, self harm, mosaics, and anorexia – and that is all in one play. And then a quick trip into art installation theatre, and finally the power of theatre to change young people’s lives through global political awareness. Is that enough for a typical day at the NSDF – The National Student Drama Festival in Hull.

Swallow is a stunning three hander, gender blind cast piece of theatre which tackles all of the subjects in paragraph one. It comes from the sure creative heart of Durham student theatre, in this case Piccolo Theatre directed by George Rexstrew, with knockout performances from Steph Sarratt, Annie Davison and Matt Dormer. The play by Stef Smith started at the Traverse in 2015, I gather, and wow does it pack a beautiful rich character-based punch. It is a play about three people we learn to care for in so much depth. It tackles so many issues, and yet is not really an issue based play.

One of the challenges of any play tackling so many issues, is the role of the critic to explore it. Here at NSDF there are 200+ critics every day at the open panel about each work, and it is a tribute to the company that they sought to explain their process and journey against a rather unexpected focus of discussion. Gender politics are sensitive and a minefield of language and nuance – in the rough and tumble of a debate about art, this can get messed up. The company clearly explained their process, and I was delighted with the result that they generated for us on stage. I guess the lesson we all need to learn in offering supportive criticism and enquiry, is ask open questions not lay down your own opinions with too much gusto in a public forum. [Oh whoops I guess I am just doing that by saying how good I thought it was].

At a workshop this morning I explored with a diverse range of actors the challenge of marketing yourself, keeping your head above water financially, making exciting work, finding the right contacts, making yourself stand out in the right way, and starting the journey from here/now to a successful creative career. Fascinating, informed, interested, and stretching perspectives which taught us all loads. Thank you to all who came to the session.

So – change of pace – we don’t need music in schools, or arts, or theatre, or creative practice. We need 6th forms to study STEM subjects, and then we as a country will be fine.   And in the meantime enjoy celebrity squares on TV, disco, alcopops, and numbing out from the world of young people across the globe. Well that seems to be the plan from governments, the media, and all those who direct the traffic of young people’s minds.

13 young people from Leyton Sixth Form College are the best challenge of that view since Prof Ken Robinson’s report to government was used to prop up desks in Whitehall, and ignored. Creativity opens people’s minds to the world. In 25 minutes this multi-heritage company of young people told us that they knew nothing before, showed us their process, and then challenged us to join them and do something in the future. No Human is Illegal must be taken to audiences who are not within our bubble. It must be seen at as part of school conferences, government sessions, Daily Mail editorial conferences, and the gathering of working men and women who believe that some humans should be illegal, and should just disappear from merry England. Thank you to Katy Arnell, writer/director, and to Ermelina, Jacob, Eleanor, Toluwalope, Dermari, Elena, Joseph, Raheem, James, Nathan, Caitlin, Majoie, Halima and tec Tyler for making this devised play. Please do more.

And finally this afternoon to Theatre 42 from Lancaster University for a technically extraordinary art installation and happening with more cardboard boxes than you have ever seen. Devised written and directed by the company with tec design by David Callanan, it deserves a place in the Turbine Hall or any art / happening space. Nothing is Coming, The Pixels are Huge explored a future century reality of living on this planet in little boxes containing life, living, memory, dreams, trees, animals, consciousness, and uploaded selves. Complex, technically delivered to within an inch of its stage presence, and maybe a challenge for the actors to connect their humanity within the complexity – but I would like to see it again in all its meditative style with an art installation crowd.

So thank you to those from Leyton, Lancaster, Durham for today’s treats. I’ve missed a couple of shows tonight whilst trying to reconnect with London – but I do have an 11pm cabaret to look forward to.

Until next time.

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.