The (virtual) National Student Drama Festival

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This year’s National Student Drama Festival was meant to take place from the 4th to [x] of April in Leicester, showcasing the best in student drama and allowing hundreds of enthusiastic students from around the country to meet, collaborate and enjoy the wide range of career and social aspects that the festival traditionally allows.

Then Corona happened.

A testament to the creativity and resilience of theatre practitioners

Instead, what we got was an amazing and brilliantly put together series of online workshops that covered everything from writing to producing to verbatim theatre, with a side order of frenzied movement, trauma work and screen acting thrown in. The festival was cancelled only two weeks before it was meant to open, so to have such a range of events, including ones run by big names such as Emma Rice and Joanna Scanlan, organised at such short notice is a testament to the creativity and resilience of theatre practitioners. To add to this, all the workshops were laid back and inclusive, as you were able to participate as much or as little as you liked from the comfort of your own home and for free, which opened up the festival even further and convinced a lot of people who wouldn’t have attended to do so. This level of access was bold for such an established festival but allowed for the level of diversity theatre should strive for and I hope it continues in the future.

The social events too somehow still happened. Virtual pubs let students and professional practitioners mingle over a virtual pint, although there was some awkwardness in having fifty-odd strangers thrown together over Zoom. The Slung Low gameshow and Chris Thorpe’s traditional quiz (though this time missing a Chris) were both brilliant antidotes to the pall of doom and gloom hanging over the cancelled plans and encouraged some sudden teams to form and a lot of scratched heads. I was in the ‘Noises Off’ team, and we were not prepared for questions on adjacent countries and theatrical marginalia – though we did get the Spooks theme tune right.

People closed their computers with a renewed sense of energy and inspiration

Of course, everyone there wished that they were actually in Leicester, mingling with fellow drama enthusiasts and showing their work to the world. I was heartened to see the names of current Durham students and alumni pop up on the Zooms—testament to our theatrical passion if nothing else. Sitting in your house watching a video chat can’t replace the real liveliness of a discussion or getting mentoring from someone doing what you’d love to do, but it comes closer than we could’ve expected it to when the physical festival was cancelled.

People closed their computers with a renewed sense of energy and inspiration, a clutch of new contacts and a window back out into the world. Let’s hope we can keep the momentum going til theatre gets back. 

Image: NSDF’s logo, taken from their Facebook page.

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