Far too often in spaces like NSDF, I feel frustrated by the conversations that happen around access. They are filled with well-meaning people with great ideas, and we rant at the world for an hour or so, and then go home with no material changes to our prospects. Change is hard of course, and does not happen in one-hour workshops, but I am starting to get workshop fatigue when it comes to changing theatre.
With this in mind, then, I am happy to report that conversations about financial access at NSDF were genuinely helpful. These were facilitated by the Devoted and Disgruntled workshop, where we brainstormed questions about theatre that we wanted to discuss, and inevitably most were about access of some kind. We then formed groups around different questions that interested us, with freedom to move between groups and then share outcomes at the end. The key help came from ensuring that each space was not solely made up of students, where inevitably the session becomes one of commiseration. Rather, each group contained both students and professionals working in the industry, meaning that when woes were discussed, there was often a practical response. Said woes were not necessarily solved, but as they were aired, these professionals helped to demystify them and explain how they and others had broken through them.
Discussions around access ranged from the idealistic - how would we implement industry-wide change? – which included brainstorming a pledge around financial access for production companies, to the pragmatic – how can individuals in the industry help emerging creatives? The latter was inevitably more practically useful, and chimed with the practical focus on access and connecting people at this year’s festival.
In our group, discussion largely revolved around tech as access in tech had been the question posed, and two creatives from the Association of Sound Designers’ Board, Vicki Hill and Rosie Stroud, were friendly and open to questions breaking down their profession that were useful even to non-technicians like myself. Sometimes that demystification was honesty about difficulties – explaining the difficulty in requiring cast and creatives to source their own digs and how that left so many without a permanent home in the pandemic was an eye-opening conversation.
Other times conversation was materially useful – one question posed was simply, “how do I get a job?” Financial access is more than just a lack of money; it's also bound up in a lack of connections that help you to get that first foot in the door. For new creatives, needing experience to get a job can feel like a vicious circle. This is where the importance of shadowing comes in, and where Vicki and Rosie talked us through how to reach out and make those vital connections, as intimidating as it may seem!
Between these sessions and a later networking event, connections were made both horizontally and vertically, which further helped to cement the material benefit of that conversation. I went home with a sense that the conversation and those connections would continue beyond the hour we had spent in discussion.