Counting on it
25 March 2018
How much does it cost to bring a show to NSDF? Joanna Trainor does the maths
So your university society’s show is one of just 16 productions that have been selected for this year’s National Student Drama Festival – great! But now there’s the £100 ticket price to think about, and the accommodation for a week, train travel, food, booze – it definitely adds up, particularly when you’re on a student budget and your loan doesn’t come in until after NSDF has finished. Ideally, your university would step in to help with the funds.
Alice Chambers is part of the team from St Cuthbert’s Drama Society, based at Durham University, bringing The Events to NSDF this year. And it seems like Durham has funding opportunities coming out of its ears. Students are able to apply to their own colleges for money to get them to the festival, although for Chambers “the only problem is that a few of us from Collingwood [College] are still waiting to hear if we’ve actually got it”. That means having to buy your festival ticket, travel and sleeping arrangements without knowing whether you’ll be able to reimburse yourself. There is also the Durham Arts Management fund, which St Cuth’s have applied to to cover a quarter of everyone’s accommodation costs, and most importantly Experience Durham.
Responsible for coordinating university sport, staff and student volunteering and outreach, student theatre and music, Experience Durham has been able to reduce the cost for Durham students attending NSDF from £100 to £60. They’ve also booked centralised accommodation and transport to get to Leicester. “They have been so understanding that without the ticket subsidisation a lot of students just couldn’t have gone,” Chambers beams.
President of Durham Student Theatre (DST) Emma-Louise Howell explains that the society and Experience Durham “recognise the value of attending the festival and are committed to ensuring that each member can benefit from the expertise and knowledge that is on offer”. Chambers says it’s clear that DST have been running a “big a campaign against nepotism in our theatre societies” this academic year. For Howell, “despite theatre often being an inaccessible industry, [they] are committed to ensuring our members have the best opportunity possible”.
Whereas Durham has had students at NSDF for years, this is Inflicted Theatre’s first trip to NSDF, with their original play 1001010, which “confronts the nature of performing gender and the restrictions of the gender binary”. Although founder Stevie Thomas originally created the piece as part of their dissertation, Inflicted Theatre was created after Thomas graduated. This means they didn’t have access to any university funding to get them to the festival, which is a particularly long journey when you’re coming all the way from south-west Cornwall. Return train ticket prices from Penzance to Leicester, with a 16-25 railcard, can run anywhere from £45 to £85 and that’s not including the cost of the ferry from the Isles of Scilly to mainland Cornwall.
Fortunately, Thomas was still able to utilise their university’s expertise in order to help the show financially: “My dissertation supervisor, Nic Fryer, has continued to support me discussing ways I could set up performances in the remote location I live in.” Entry to these performances is by donation, raising some of what is needed to cover costs but Thomas has also had to support themselves using the money from their part time job. Inflicted Theatre is a one-person company so although they have sole responsibility for finance at least they only have to fund themselves.
In contrast, there are more than 20 students from the University of Warwick coming to NSDF, so producer Emily Davis estimates the cost for all of them together will be about £6,000. That’s about £250 each before travel or food. The two companies – Freshblood and Warwick University Drama Society (WUDS) – are both crowdfunding for the ticket price and their accommodation on Indiegogo, offering perks including zines and posters in exchange for donations. Everything has been costed well in advance, with the initial audition notice for Freshblood’s Seeking Intimacy even listing the price of the train ticket – booked in advance, about £5.90.
“There’s no funding that I’m aware of through the theatre department,” Davis explains, but there is “a pot of money for student performances” from the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning (IATL). IATL runs in conjunction with the university and has several bursaries including one for “performance festivals” that helped WUDS’ production of Celebration get to NSDF last year. The deadline for applications was 14th March, so Davis is still waiting to hear about whether they have been given the £500 to help with bringing Speed Death of the Radiant Child up to the festival this year.
Outside of IATL, Davis is clear that not only has Warwick Student Union not been helpful in terms of WUDS’ finances, they’ve actually been a hindrance. Despite submitting the forms for their November performances of Speed Death in July, Davis explains, “the papers didn’t get signed off by the societies’ coordinator until a week before the show”. This meant having to use a lot of guesswork when it came to the budget and they “ended up making a loss. [They] had to put a budget through with ticket prices that were too low because it worked out better for their [the SU’s] spreadsheet. It sucks because they're the ones who are supposed to be supporting us.”
Budgeting is never easy, particularly when you’re a student. But despite the ultimate cost of NSDF it’s obvious that students and graduates are determined to find ways to raise money to bring their show up for the week. Theatre-makers aren’t half resourceful.