Meet a selector

14 April 2019

What's a selector? Who's a selector? How's a selection? Liam Rees gets some answers from Helen Goalen of RashDash


RashDash have been hailed as “the punk princesses of late-night theatre” (The Guardian) and recently joined the NSDF team of selectors. Fanboy, Liam Rees, talked to one third of the company, Helen Goalen, about the selection process, ripping up the classics, and what to look forward to at the festival.

So I’m total newbie to NSDF, what does a selector do?

We go to shows up and down the country, give feedback to the show teams, and write up a report. I saw 5 shows in 1 day in Hull and saw a real range of devised work, new writing, and extant plays which is great to see such breadth, but you have to be careful to reset after each one and make sure you’re not becoming weary. Everyone’s worked really hard so they all deserve a fair chance. Then there’s this big meeting where all the selectors have a really thorough conversation, championing different shows and coming up with the NSDF programme.

And what are you looking for?

Exceptional quality. To be surprised and delighted. For the programme we want to show the range and breadth of exceptional work being produced across the country: devised pieces, things with interesting political statements, great productions of extant plays. This is my first year as a selector but it [the programme] changes each year in response to the work we’ve seen – there’s no preconceived notion of what an ‘NSDF play’ is.

Chatting to friends who’ve been to NSDF, the question came up if it’s more important for a piece to be interesting and conversation-starting or 'good'?

These are really hard questions! I thought we were just going to chat about RashDash!

Ideally they’re both but there is that question: How do we judge quality? It’s not something that can be pinned down. You get some devised shows that are quite rough around the edges and that do take a long time to really hone but sometimes that’s the intended aesthetic. Also if NSDF only showed well-made productions of extant plays then it wouldn’t be showing the breadth of work that students are making.

Let’s chat about RashDash then! How did you get started? NSDF really helped get things started for you, no?

Absolutely! So Abbi [Greenland] and I were friends on the same course at uni in Hull and we both had a similar work ethic – we always wanted to make our uni work better than it needed to be – and we saw a lot of work together. Our first show ‘Strict Machine’ was selected for NSDF and that was huge for giving us the confidence to start a company.

Looking at Tanya, which is an adaptation of Eugene Onegin by Pushkin, I was wondering how RashDash went about doing Three Sisters after doing so much devised work?

Well, Three Sisters really felt like a devised piece. We started off with the intention of being totally irreverent to the text – early on we thought we’d just make a punk show about me, Abbi and Becky [Wilkie], call it Three Sisters and let people draw their own significance at some point. We’d had a lot of conversations with artistic directors who said if we wanted to get on bigger stages we’d have to do the classics so this was a big punk gesture, 2 fingers to success being getting onstage and repeating the words of a dead white man. But after talking to Sarah Frankcom (Artistic Director of Manchester Royal Exchange), who really loves the play and knows its intricacies we decided it could be stronger to know what what we were taking on and dismantling. But we still decided not to bring ourselves to the text but brought the text to us and only used the bits that shouted to our life experiences.

Finally, what are you excited for at NSDF?

I’ve read A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing but didn’t manage to see it at the Young Vic so I’m really excited to see that. I’m excited to see the work and meet theatremakers, but the most useful thing at NSDF is the conversations you have in between shows and the things you can’t plan for. Also I’m going to be MCing a cabaret with Marc Graham so we’re going to have an open call-out where you can do anything so that’ll be a lot of fun!

Dammit, now I need to come up with a cabaret act!

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Photo credit: The Other Richard, RashDash's Three Sisters