Dec 14, 2007

National Student Drama Festival Crisis

When I was younger I never went to the theatre. We were more of the Clint Eastwood Thriller on a Sunday night kind of a family. Not that I'm scorning this - there's nothing I love more than a gratuitous overdose of CSI of an evening... there's something comforting about naked exposition, the feeling of pure undiluted plot coursing through your veins.

When I started at University I knew almost nothing. I would sit for an unsociable number of hours in the Drama section of James Thin attempting to read plays and invariably failing to find anything that could hold me for longer than a handful of pages. I must've read the first page of almost every canonical drama text there is. I am the undisputed Michael Billington of openings. Yet I felt no closer to knowing anything. I had all of this unchannelled enthusiasm and nowhere to put it.

And then, as a wide eyed first year who looked closer to 14 than 18, I was lucky enough to get cast in a play called Like Skinnydipping by a guy called Chris Perkin. And with this play, we went to the National Student Drama Festival. And undoubtedly, nothing (no play, no performance, no person, no opportunity) has had more of an effect on me than that festival.

Simply being surrounded by this bubbling, intoxicating enthusiasm was incredible. Surrounded by people desperate to learn, desperate to prove themselves. Young people in love with theatre. How exciting is that?

Not all of the shows were great. In fact some were awful. But others were still some of the most memorable shows I've seen. I remember a company called Deer Park from Dartington who did a beautiful, haunting piece with nothing but several potted plants a handful of school uniforms - a melodic, lyrical mesmerising show. We left the theatre and could barely speak for the next half an hour. I remember a show called the Freudian Slip (by a company that have now become Pegabovine) - still one of the wittiest, most surreal and brilliant comic shows I've ever seen. I remember a production of Enda Walsh's Bedbound, that was evisceratingly painful to watch, in the best possible way. I remember seeing all these things and being staggered, astounded by what theatre could be.

But the festival is so much more than its programming. There was a workshop in which Richard Hurst manage to somehow make me humiliatingly aware that I am utterly incapable of working with actors. There was a magazine, written daily by a pale faced, underslept battalion of inspired writers. A totally open forum in which anyone could drop in and write something, which has spawned some of the best young writers around.

And then I remember being introduced to Mark Ravenhill in the bar, to vomitting questions on this playwright who I'd heard of but who's work I had never seen. Asking him how he got to know plays, what should I read, what should I do? I remember talking to him for almost an hour. Him recommending to me Howard Barker, who's play Victory was the first major show I directed and who's inspiring writings I devoured throughout the rest of university and ended up writing my dissertation on.

I remember the spirit of the place. I remember how perfect a location Scarborough was. It's own intimate melting pot, a quiet seaside town suddenly infused with faintly drunken excitement.

And I know that the place has had the same effect on dozens of other people. And that thousands of the people creating work today do so as a direct consequence of having a chance to partake in this joyous week-long experience on the Yorkshire coast.

And now Yorkshire Arts Council have withdrawn its funding, choosing to focus on regional producing houses and companies. And I cannot stress how bad a decision I think this is. In an industry where people are constantly talking about the need to get young people involved, to interest young people, to make theatre relevent and exciting. Nowhere does this better than NSDF, nowhere is as challenging and exciting and enlightening for the next generation of theatre makers. And there are few better services for Scarborough than the bevvy of theatre makers, and school groups and press that descend on the town for a week in the Spring.

So please do sign the petition set up to help protest this decision, which must be done before 15th January.


Anonymous said...

well if that doesn't get them, i don't know what will.

Richard said...

Did I? Sorry.

Davis Wateracre said...

Thanks for the Freudian namecheck, Andrew!

And what a brilliant, heartfelt piece of writing. Thank you.