I saw the news today that Kate Wyver and Lily James were sadly stepping down as editors of Noises Off magazine (part of the National Student Drama Festival for anyone who is unaware). I guess I just wanted to say a few things on it.
The reason this occurred was that this year, NSDF have decided that anyone working in any capacity at the festival (Noises Off, technical, and management teams) will have to pay for their festival ticket (£60 cut from £120), travel, and to find their own accommodation (accommodation for an entire week that is). The festival will provide lunch and dinner. For comparison, last year as a member of the Noises Off team the only thing I had to pay for was my travel to Leicester. Luckily, as I was coming from London, that wasn’t much at all.
I understand that NSDF is a charity and some of its funding got cut, but I am confused – you want under 25s (many who are low income and working class) to PAY to WORK at the festival in order to learn new skills, network, and try and get into the theatre industry?? Ok.
You want technical teams to pay for a festival ticket even though they don’t/rarely get to see shows outside their venue? Ok.
You want budding critics to PAY for the privilege of seeing work and then spending hours writing carefully crafted and cleverly worded reviews? Even in London, regardless if critics get paid, they at least get a free ticket. Lol ok.
By introducing costs for everyone at NSDF – including for young people who are essentially working at the festival – an elitist system is created. A festival where only the more well-off can afford to go; mirroring our already elite arts industry. As Ava so well said, the festival will: “become a microcosm of all these elitist structures that are already thriving in the industry”.
NSDF is supposed to be a place where young talent, artists, critics, technical staff etc are supposed to be nurtured and given a platform, but this can’t be so when so many can’t afford to get there.
Of course, NSDF are able to give out bursaries to some applicants, but again, not everyone can get a bursary. It doesn’t quite work like that.
I don’t know how to describe it. It’s a real…shame. I went to NSDF for the first time last year, as a critic for Noises Off, and found the festival (or at least the people I surrounded myself with) so nurturing and wonderful. I learnt a lot from that week in rainy March -about theatre, about writing, about criticism – and Kate and Lily were fantastic mentors. Without going to NSDF, I certainly wouldn’t now have the confidence to write in the way I do, had the opportunity to be a paid critic at Edinburgh Fringe, or simply meet some utterly brilliant arts critics and makers. There is no way I would have been able to afford it last year if it wasn’t for the generous funding we all received.
It also just baffles me that a festival which, last year, had so many conversations and meet-ups about diversity and inclusion of all kinds, that something like this can happen. Discussion were had about why lots of universities don’t enter NSDF, about why there aren’t many people of colour at the festival, and about how Brexit may affect European artists. For that one week it felt like the festival was riding forwards into something so much better, but instead it seems to have back peddled immensely.
I respect Kate and Lily hugely for stepping down as editors. It can’t have been an easy decision to do so. I admire them for sticking to their principles and being honest about how they felt: that this situation is exploitative of young people.
For anyone who wants to go to NSDF this year (and maybe hasn’t been before): Go….if you can. It truly is a wonderful festival. You will learn so much and the shows will be excellent and divisive and conversation-starting. Apply for a bursary, take all the funding you can. But whilst you’re there, remember you have paid to be there, so go and enjoy it as much as you can. Take breaks. See all of or as many of the shows as possible. You deserve to. But just keep in mind about how much you have had to pay, and how much you are being asked to do and think whether it’s worth it.