Well managed

25 April 2019

Mohammed Barber explains why he volunteered for Management Team

It was a day like any other. With a bored face, I scrolled through my Twitter timeline sifting through the usual slew of angry tweets, animal memes, and the latest viral thread.

‘National Student Drama Festival’, one such tweet read. I had no idea what the festival was about or that it even existed. Curious, I opened the link taking me to the website. An entire week of student-created theatre and workshops by industry professionals, and they were looking for volunteers. The website caught my attention.

The shift to want to work in theatre has been a relatively recent one for me. All through university I never really knew what I wanted to do, what ‘proper job’ I wanted, to use my Dad’s words. I considered becoming an academic or a publisher, but not theatre. Because of that I never joined a drama society. As a result I lacked the experience of performing in this play, producing that show, or any committee position, experience that would really help me break into the industry.

The festival were looking for volunteers in the management team. Given my lack of experience I didn’t fancy my chances, but I applied anyway, thinking I had nothing to lose. Much to my surprise, I got in.

I had no idea what to expect.

Nothing could have prepared me for what it was going to be.

15/16-hour days chaperoning visiting artists, assisting on workshops, managing the venues, and some more random things like blowing up 100 balloons for the front desk and stapling hundreds of Noises Off magazines. It was wild, but I loved every minute of it. Except for dinner at the Ramada, that I won’t a bit miss.

The tweet that led me to NSDF was posted by Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen. She’s a massive supporter for the arts and took part in a discussion at City Hall about how theatre can bring people together in a time of national crisis, a debate that was lively, impassioned, and controversial. During the discussion she said “You have to share your talents. Don’t just think it’s me and my career”. She makes a good point, except the other side of the story is how difficult it is to break into the industry as professional actors, producers, directors, stage managers, technicians, and so on. Theatre definitely has the potential to bring communities together, foster a sense of understanding, but at the same time it is also a business. For it to survive it needs to turn a profit and earn its professionals a sustainable livelihood. This sometimes means looking out for your own interests.

I learnt a great deal from speaking to visiting artists about the industry that would otherwise have taken hours of Googling. But I also learnt a great deal from talking to festgoers. I truly believe I’ve seen the next generation of theatre professionals that will break out in the next decade or so, and that’s a thrilling notion.

At the end of a long week I am really tired – and ran a rose soaking bath the night I got home, it was amazing – but also felt revived and enthused. Seeing the passion of others is infectious. There’s a special magic about NSDF that I’ve never encountered anywhere else before, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. I spoke to three lads from West Yorkshire who said the same thing, adding that that’s why they came back this year.

As for me, I too will be back next year and will do it all again.


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Image credit: Beatrice Debney