Even though it’s just begun, 2021 has already proved a difficult year for university students. Whether you’re stuck at home paying for accommodation you can’t live in or isolated in Durham unable to see friends, we can all agree that online classes, lack of socialising and the resulting struggles with mental health have been less than ideal. The theatre industry has also faced serious challenges over the past 11 months, with theatres having to close across the world and theatre professionals being forced to fight for the support that they need and deserve. As the intersection between student life and theatre, this preface seems to paint a very bleak picture for DST and DDF. However, the Durham Drama Festival as a proud 47-year tradition is still going ahead in 2021- but entirely online. This will give students a goal to focus on and to direct their energies towards in these bizarre and unpredictable times
Durham Drama Festival is traditionally a week-long celebration of student writing, involving workshops with industry professionals, a (usually) chaotic D’Oliviers awards ceremony and, most importantly, the shows themselves, normally performed in venues throughout Durham. Starting this year from within the confines of tier 4, it hardly seems necessary to say things will look a little different. However, as the famous saying goes, “the show must go on!” and so will DDF. This year’s festival commencing on the 1st of February will feature talks and workshops from industry professionals, an open mic night, a film night and nine student-written plays being performed over Zoom or as radio dramas.
The festival is coordinated entirely by students, allowing them to gain experience in multiple areas of theatre and receive valuable feedback from professionals. As co-publicity coordinator and an actor in one of the shows, I am responsible for designing the publicity program for the festival. In practice this means I spend most of my days working alongside Olivia Swain, grappling with the complexities of Canva and feeling perplexed as I try to make backgrounds disappear from logos. Despite this, I couldn’t be happier that DDF is still going ahead. It is easy in these times to feel as if everything is a bit futile, but getting to read the 20+ fantastic submissions written by students reminded me of the creativity and passion which students tenaciously continue to embody.
For the first time this year, the festival is united under the umbrella theme ‘Radical Voices for Radical Times’. More than summing up any one of the plays in the festival, this theme to me symbolises the continued political power of theatre to make us laugh, cry and most importantly think of how we remain connected together as a society in a time when many of us feel so isolated. The nine plays that make up the festival this year explore a wide range of themes, from retellings of classics to deeply personal stories, interrogating ideas of civilization, gender, love, redemption, moving through genres from tragedy to comedy, from surrealism to naturalism and everything in between. This variety to me represents the inclusivity of theatre, ensuring that there is something for everyone.
Illustration by Grace Brimacombe-Rand