[Rough (and probably only) draft]
As you might have noticed from yesterday’s glut of postings, Postcards... is back from its annual editorship of the National Student Drama Festival’s daily reviews and comment magazine Noises Off. As you also might have gathered from my editorials, this year’s festival was pretty special. OK, you might not have gathered that – after all, it is pretty much set in stone that the final edition editorial needs to be a big, warm hug to the whole festival and is my best opportunity to attempt to thank the dozens of people who help to make Noises Off through the week. However, it was nice this year not having to write it through gritted teeth.
I suspect for first-timers NSDF can’t help but be magical. The packed, week-long programme of plays, workshops, coupled with meeting hundreds of like-minded theatre-obsessed souls is bound to feel revolutionary. But it’s quite something when a Festival makes jaded old hacks like me feel it all over again. And, much though I do think the weather had a lot to do with making it a more pleasant experience – wandering around a lovely sunny seaside town, rather than getting repeatedly soaked to the skin in freezing rain between plays and discussions, does tend to lift one’s mood – there was a lot more to the last week than mere weather.
As I mention in my Monday editorial, there was a concerted effort on the part of the selection team to really give the students a sense of ownership over the festival. This completely succeeded, without once feeling patronising or contrived. In previous years, discussions may have erred toward longer-standing members of staff getting to make their points about shows in preference to students. This year precisely the opposite was true. The odd staff point was taken, but the majority of questions came from festgoers proper. It was reassuring to note that, in most cases, the questions I had about a piece would get asked by someone else before I even got a chance to speak. There was less of a sense from the staff of: “We know best, so shut up and listen.” More a case of: “This is your Festival. Let’s hear what you’ve got to say”. As such the discussions – which, it was rightly noted, form the core of the festival experience – weren’t the bear-pit which had been the case in ’97 when I first went to NSDF. But at the same time, they avoided being the “PC”, no criticism, witch-hunt against critics who dared to receive work with anything less than adulation, which had replaced the bear-pit. Instead, everyone discussed the work sensitively and intelligently. Shows kind of found their own level at which to be discussed. People asked questions about aspects of the work that had either intrigued or confused them, and no one said “it means whatever you want it to mean” all week.
Beyond this, a lot more companies than usual came up to the Noises Off office (henceforth Noffice), with many company members actually writing reviews of other shows and becoming valued contributors to the magazine, with some extreme examples (hello Jon, Jen – not to be confused with John et Jehn – and Jasmine) helping with the production process.
Similarly, the selection team, workshop leaders and visiting artists seemed to have a lot more time for Noises Off this year. I won’t name names or single individuals out for special thanks – the ones who spent most time there or being generally nice to us know who they are. Perhaps my favourite moment of the week was when Simon Stephen and David Eldridge spontaneously offered to interview one another in print for the magazine, and then turned up in the office late at night, with Simon having just spent the evening celebrating with the student cast of Manchester University’s quite brilliant production of his play Herons.
It kind of encapsulated everything that is great about NSDF: the students had no idea that Simon would be at the festival when they decided to enter the play for the festival, and similarly Simon had no idea how good the production would be when he went to see it. As it turned out, it was just about as good as acting gets – no need to use the qualifier “student”, this was just quality, pure and simple – but as a result both parties had an unexpectedly brilliant night.
On a personal level, I was having quite a brilliant time too. Just before the festival commenced I was asked by the Arts Council to join its pilot peer assessment scheme, the first meeting for which took place earlier in the day when I travelled up to Scarborough.
During the Festival, it was extremely flattering seeing my name crop up a number of times as a suggestion as a possible replacement for Nick de Jongh at the Evening Standard in the comment threads of Mark Brown and Matt Trueman’s blogs on the subject – largely from people I don’t actually know.
Meanwhile, while at the festival, I was put in charge of the International Student Playscript Competition and on the same day I also happened to be on the winning team of the NSDF’s enormous pub (well, Grand Hall) quiz, and happened to be the person who won the tie-break question. Which was nice. It’s been a while since I had a day like that, and last week seemed to be made of them.
Back in the real(-ish) world, the Official Secrets Act’s debut album Understanding Electricity is out now, and is pretty much everything you could hope for. Elsewhere, Postcards’... joint favourite poet (the other being Chris Goode) has a new volume entitled The Migraine Hotel coming out at the end of the month, and in the interim is taking up the NaPoWriMo challenge to write a poem a day for a month. I’m already very fond of days four and three.
Anyway, I should stop writing this if I’m to get everything else written up before whizzing off to see the Tim Etchells/Victoria tonight.
Today’s song: Hope by Bauhaus. Pretty, I think. And optimistic.