My day at NSDF began alone. I’d travelled to the festival alone and sat alone on first arrival. I do a lot of things alone and it is rare that I often actually feel alone but suddenly, here, I did. Everyone seemed to have their own pocket of a community and when looking forward into a day filled with theatre and workshops, I feared that I’d made a mistake by coming alone. Theatre is, after all, an act of collaboration.
It took all of ten minutes for my fears to be rendered completely ridiculous. After a brief introduction to the day, we were led into a big sunlit room for what was introduced as a ‘Devoted and Disgruntled Workshop.’ There was a circle of chairs in the centre where we were all invited to sit and look around at various pieces of paper that had been taped up on the wall. I took them in.
‘Whoever comes are the right people’
‘Whenever it starts is the right time’
‘Wherever it happens is the right space’
‘Whatever happens is the only thing that could have’
‘When it’s over it’s over’
Some of my anxiety eased. I was the right person. It was the right time. This was the space in which I needed to be. It wasn’t long before a member of the NSDF team sat down next to me and struck up a chat. They assured me that I was going to love the workshop that was about to happen, that I couldn’t not. I felt silly for ever worrying I was going to spend the whole day alone, it was a theatre space, of course people were going to talk to me. It is impossible, or extremely detrimental, to hold a theatre space which isn’t social and based on open communication because theatre itself is, or should be, based off listening and communicating. Acting is reacting and all that.
The workshop was led by Pauline from London based theatre company Improbable and, from the moment she chimed a bell in order to silence our chatting, I loved her. She held the space with an authoritative openness. Speaking in a calm and considered manner, she explained what we were about to do, whilst also holding silences for us to process the richness of what she was saying. Whoever comes are the right people. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have. When it’s over it's over. A balance which is often hard to strike when you have thirty plus people staring at you. I found myself hanging onto every word. Pauline talked through the rules of the session, the same rules I had found myself comforted by upon entering, and the logistics of what we were about to do. We were working to explore and understand one overarching question:
‘How can we best support young Theatre Makers to create sustainable careers?’
She invited us to write down questions surrounding this topic on pieces of paper, share them with the group and then stick them on the wall. Each question would be assigned an animal, and this animal corresponded to a place in the room. Once the session was started, you could move to a space depending on the question you wanted to discuss.
Soon the wall was filled with questions. Questions from frustrated young people who love nothing more than theatre but don’t understand what to do with this love, when the industry is full of so many loud and angry problems.
‘Are 16-25 schemes keeping young people unpaid for longer?’
‘Is money > talent?’
‘What do I do with Creative Burnout?’
‘How can I get a show out of my head and onto the stage?’
‘Will I ever feel like I know what I’m doing?’
‘Why is networking so scary?’
‘Where do we start when we don’t know how to?’
‘Is graduating the end of learning?’
‘Am I theatery enough?’
‘How can I cope with rejection?’
‘WTF is a type cast?’
‘Who am I if not an Actor?’
The next two hours passed in a blur. Full of conversations. Good, meaningful conversations. Conversations that, up until that point, I had only been having with myself. I had conversations in different groups, on different questions. But I also had conversations while at the coffee stand, while deciding where to go next, afterwards whilst eating my lunch. The room was buzzing, alive with thoughts and feelings and a future which we were all trying to grasp. And, slowly, throughout these conversations a future that seemed slightly more in reach.
What seemed so essential about this workshop was that it was structured just enough to give an abundance of freedom. And it also wasn’t just angsty theatery students putting the world to rights. We were joined by the people who ran the festival. By accomplished theatre makers (whatever that means) who make a living off the industry. Who do exactly what we want to do. It removed any barrier or hierarchy. In this space, we were all the same. We had a shared interest in theatre but not only that, a shared interest in helping each other. At one point I was sat discussing the scary-palm-sweating-horror that is networking when someone pointed out that what we were doing, right there, was networking. We just hadn’t realised it.
The Devoted and Disgruntled workshop showed me that I wasn’t alone. In this day of theatre but also in the larger, metaphorical space of theatre. That we all love what the creative form allows us to do but hate the way it is currently capitalised. I left the room with a profound sense that we really might do it. That this new generation could transform the industry currently shown to us into something more accessible, viable and experimental. And after the conversations that had been facilitated for us that morning, we might just be a little closer to achieving it.