2 November 2016

 Joseph Schofield talks about what NSDF means to them

Being a part of NSDF, in various guises, has really shaped a large chunk of my life. Coming to the Festival in 2014 as a performer (with Shotgun Theatre’s Spring Awakening), as a member of the Management Team in 2015, as Festival Coordinator in 2016 and now, in my new role as Administrator, has given me a privileged insight into how this remarkable organisation operates, what it does for people, and why it matters. Coming to NSDF changed my life - and I’d be a ferocious advocate for it even if I wasn’t paid to be - although … thanks for that too Michael. Let me elaborate:

Studying drama as an undergraduate, I was exposed to wonderful teachers and practitioners, but the work that we made never quite did it for me. Joining Shotgun Theatre, and coming to lead the company was something of a lifeline, but it was attending NSDF with the company to perform Spring Awakening in 2014 that revitalised me, and reminded me why I chose to make performance, rather than be a lawyer or something. Performing our work for audiences of near-total strangers was a marked departure from the ultra-supportive university crowd; here, our choices were interrogated with a constructively critical eye and an intellectual rigour by peers and practitioners alike. Simultaneously, we got to see the foremost work being made by people our age from around the country, we got to talk about the work and about wider issues in the arts. If my enthusiasm for theatre had been flagging, NSDF14 reinvigorated me and made me remember that what we do is valuable, is important and is worth doing, even if it often feels like you’re wading through shit to do it.

In 2015, with one eye on my final university performances/dissertation, and the other fixed firmly on the question of WhatTheFuckAmIGonnaDoWhenILeave? I returned to Scarborough for NSDF15. The idea was to get professional experience in producing and events management that might help me get a job post-Uni. NSDF provided bountiful experience - producing the late night events like the Quiz and the Open Mic night, liaising with Visiting Artists and assisting them delivering workshops, and helping the companies arriving at the Festival. I made friends for life at NSDF15; I first ran into loads of people that are now doing exciting things working in theatre and performance at the Festival - shoutouts to John King, Alice Boulton Breeze, Toby Hanton, Chantal Moynihan to name but four gr8 ppl.  The workshops I sat in on there have continued to shape my career - I’ve used techniques learned in Lucy Ellinson’s solo performance workshop when rehearsing my own pieces, and every time that I’ve applied for a job since 2015, I’ve looked at my notes from Donna Munday’s How to Get Your First Job in Arts Producing, which she ran for Management Team members.

I looked at those notes when applying for the Coordinator role in 2016, when Michael offered me my first paid role in producing. Sitting in the office with Sarah and Michael, I got hands-on experience organising the leviathan that is the National Student Drama Festival. If we wanted to indulge the maritime metaphor (appropriate given NSDF’s penchant for Northern port towns), I might also say that hunting the elusive whales that are artists who don’t reply to their emails taught me the importance of planning early, making contingency plans and accepting that even the best laid plans might need altering at a moment’s notice. Nurturing a workshop programme, that offered something for everybody, from a few question marks on paper into corporeality, and then making sure that it got delivered (with the assistance of the gorgeously and sublimely talented Christabel Holmes) was a responsibility. I remembered how the various workshops that I and my pals had gone to had redefined our knowledge of what’s possible in theatre, and refined our skills. ‘GET GOOD WORKSHOPS FOR THE PEOPLE’ I thought. And we did. We welcomed familiar faces back to Scarbados, and brought new people in, including Bridget Aphrodite and Laura Keefe of My Beautiful Black Dog fame, who not only gave a great workshop, but joined our curated panel of practitioners talking about the crucially important question of HOW WE TAKE CARE OF OUR MENTAL HEALTH WHEN OUR LIVES AS ARTISTS AND MAKERS AND FACILITATORS CAN BE SO PRECARIOUS.

NSDF matters because it brings together intelligent, talented, passionate young people, reminding us of what unites us and how we can use that power, that drive, that ambition to transform our culture. The list of NSDF alumni is long. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that plenty of the people that I’ve met in the last few years will be shaping the arts in this increasingly divided country for a long time to come. To paraphrase Whitney Houston, I believe that young people are our future and NSDF if about meeting other young people who will shape our future - culturally, politically and socially.

What will NSDF17 bring? I don’t know yet. There’ll be some great shows, some thought provoking, if angst ridden discussions, there will be a quiz and maybe a late night cabaret too. We are diversifying, and getting better at that every day, and, in the office, we’re talking about some great, exciting, urgently contemporary makers and doers to invite to lead workshops. We’re in Hull next year too, and that’s exciting. Our venue changes, our line up changes, but what remains is a burning desire to ask questions, and an urgent need to create, watch and discuss art. Come be a part of that: you won’t regret it.