What it costs to be here

16 April 2019

Grace Patrick gives us some hard facts about money at NSDF

Yesterday, I wrote a piece about who can access the arts in a professional capacity, and about how we can widen that access. Clearly, NSDF is an amazing stepping stone, and today I’d like to talk about how people have made their way to here, and the investments people have made.

I’ll start with myself. I’m on the Noises Off team, and I got a bursary to cover the £60 half-price ticket. In order to secure the bursary, I submitted my entitlement summary from Student Finance Wales and some information about my financial background. I paid about £30 for transport to and from London, and £145 for my share of an Airbnb, which is shared with one other person.

Apart from the ticket bursary, I funded this myself. I think that the festival is worth it, but I can only speak for myself when I say then: for plenty of people it doesn’t matter if it’s good value or not because if the money isn’t there to pay for it, value is an irrelevant question. Given that I’m here to write, there’s also another aspect to consider. In theatre press and criticism, tickets would generally be complimentary. By not paying to be there, writers are to detach themselves a bit from the normal consumer/provider model which dominates how we watch theatre, especially commercial shows. If I were paying for my ticket, I would want to declare that alongside every review I write here, because I don’t think it’s something we can just ignore. I’m not immune to unconscious bias, and money is as much a part of that as any of the other biases that we consider more frequently.

Obviously I couldn’t only include my own opinion, so I wandered around Curve and persuaded people to talk to me about their standpoints on this, and I’d like to offer a few of these as points of comparison.

The first person I spoke with was Jack from the Festival company. He paid £121 for his festival ticket, and £92 for his share of a Travelodge room shared with two other people (“I booked it so I got dibs on the kingsize bed”). Jack told me that he believes that the investment is worth it if you make it worth it. If you actively go and engage with people and take yourself to workshops and talks, that gives you the value for money – the work won’t do itself. He funded it between himself and his family.

Sophie, a member of the tech team, is staying at a hotel with whom NSDF has an agreement securing slightly cheaper rates, but is still paying a total of about £470 for accommodation. However, this does include breakfast so it’s not all bad. Her festival ticket was covered by the bursary scheme, but she paid about £30 for transport to and from Manchester. She told me that she believed the festival was better value for teams in the past, when accommodation was consistently funded by the festival. By contrast, this year her only accommodation cost covered by the festival is occasional taxis back to her hotel after late shifts.

One individual who I spoke to, and who asked for their name to be kept private, paid £96 for accommodation, but this and their ticket cost were covered by a university grant fund. They personally paid just under £40 for travel, and expects to spend around £20 “just on, like, stuff”. They told me that they only felt comfortable writing for Noff because the bursary scheme exists to widen access, even though their costs were covered by the university. On an ethical level, applying for a position in which bursaries weren’t available wouldn’t have fostered the same values that this person hopes to stand by as an artist. This person didn’t feel that the festival offers good value for money, suggesting that the combination of ticket, travel and accommodation costs are often too much for people to handle.

Finally, I spoke with Florence, one of the Noff editors. Out of everyone I’ve spoken to, Florence is the only person being paid to be here. Her freelance fee for the festival and work beforehand, which started in January, is £300. When this is divided by the number of hours she’ll work overall, this is still less than the minimum wage. However, Florence was quick to stress that she’s not doing this for the money. Her accommodation (about £120) and travel were covered by the festival. She believes that the festival is good value, but recognised her own discomfort in making this claim.

I was surprised by the fact that virtually everyone I spoke to was being helped in some way. The collaboration starts way before we got here, but instead of with other creators, it’s with families, funds and institutions. For a lot of us, finding a path here is the first creative act, and without that work, much of what goes on here just wouldn’t be possible.

Thank you to everyone who agreed to speak with me, even I couldn't directly include what you told me in the article.

@noffmag // [email protected]

Image credit: Beatrice Debney