19 March 2016
by Richard Dennis
So you made it to NSDF16. Well done. Seriously – if you’re here, it means your show was selected, or you were, or you made it on to the tech team, or you volunteered for the management team, or you paid for a ticket and came of your own volition, any one of which required time, hard work and money.
So take a moment. Breathe in that fresh(ish) Scarborough air. Feel good about being here. Because you’re about to embark on a heady six days during which you’ll work hard, lose track of time and probably spend more money than you meant to. You’ll be sweating bullets putting on your show, building stages, guiding people around Scarborough, dashing from venue to venue, pushing yourself in workshops and writing articles for Noises Off.
You’ll be having fun, of course, but you’ll wonder where the time went when every minute of every waking hour is spent doing something, until you get to the end of the night – after the discussions and the shows and the get outs – when you can relax in the Spa Bar and spend some cash on a well-earned drink, or two, or three. Or maybe a donkey ride (no judgement here).
And when you do finally kick back, you will – hopefully – feel a sense of satisfaction at everything you’ve done and achieved. It’s the sensation that makes all the blood, sweat and tears more than worthwhile. It’s the reason any of us do what we do, why we fall in love with it, why we enjoy it, become addicted to it. And NSDF, thanks to its size and structure, really emphasises how direct that feedback loop is of getting out what you put in. (You won’t get your money back, though. Sorry. Nothing to be done about that until we destroy this cultural obsession with equating both material and spiritual value with money, but I digress…)
Because if there’s one thing I think everyone – from students to visiting artists to judges – should know about NSDF, it’s that you get what you give. Give nothing, and you’ll get nothing back. You’ll get through the week, you’ll have a laugh with your mates, but you’ll wonder what the point of it all was. Give everything and you’ll end this week with far more than you can imagine right now. (Again, not in terms of money. Sorry, there really is nothing you can do about this.)
It’s daunting – I know it is. Ten years ago I arrived in Scarborough for my first NSDF with no idea of what to expect. I felt ignorant about theatre and was intimidated by all the people around me who I assumed were far too busy and skilled and smart to want to talk to me. It’s OK to feel like this. Everyone feels like this. The important thing is to take steps – small steps at first, then big leaps when you’re ready – towards interacting with others and putting yourself out there. Want to know how a visiting artist got to where they are? Ask them. They’re here for you, and they all want to talk to you. Blown away by another student’s performance? Talk to them about it. I’ve witnessed the births of friendships and collaborations at NSDF that have led to unexpected and wonderful places. Got an opinion about something you’ve seen? Write about it in Noises Off.
Ah yes, Noises Off, the magazine that you’re either holding in your hands or reading online right now. It’s your voice for the festival, the place for you to share whatever it is you want to share. If you’ve got something you want to say – whether it’s a review, or a joke, or an opinion, or a discussion, or a tweet, or a picture, or a thought, or a brain fart, or whatever – here’s where you can say it, and see it get published.
We don’t care if you’re an expert on critical theory or if you’ve never written anything about theatre before in your life. What we care about is giving you a place to express yourself, to make yourself heard, to say what it is you want to say about the festival and your experiences. You can be thoughtful, intelligent and considered. Or you can be provocative, silly and funny. Or any combination of the above, and more. Bring the anger, the anarchy, the compassion, the humility. All that matters is that you share what you think.
The editorial team comprises me – Richard Dennis – and fellow editors Alice Saville and Kate Wyver. We are here to run the magazine, to help you out with whatever you want to know about writing and arts journalism, to edit the copy and to make sure everything runs smoothly. But it’s you who fills the magazine with pieces, who decides its tone and what it means to the festival. What you give to it is what you’ll get in return. (Plus we have incentives, like comedy lagers for stand-out funny pieces, and two writers’ awards that are presented at the end of the festival, if that’s the kind of kickback you’re looking for.)
As a final example of what I mean, here’s a personal anecdote. Ten years ago, I was a few days into my first NSDF when I read an article in Noises Off that really pissed me off. I’d been reading Noises Off, but hadn’t really thought of writing anything for it as I’d never really considered writing about theatre, or writing anything really, and the NOFFice seemed full of bright, confident people who knew what they were doing and didn’t need me. But this article was so fucking stupid (seriously, I’m getting angry just thinking about it now) that I simply had to write a response. In retrospect, it wasn’t much more than an angry rant, but it was a rant that people happened to enjoy, so I kept going back to the NOFFice and writing more. Then the next year I came back and got into writing reviews (not particularly serious ones, but that didn’t matter). Before I knew it, from nowhere, I’d found what I wanted to do with my life in terms of arts journalism, editing and creative writing, and had met some brilliant people as well. And it all came from acting on that small spark of (indignant) inspiration.
This festival is a special place. It’s a place where inspiration and reward are always within reach. You’ll have to work hard, be brave, be open, surrender your time and do things you’d never considered before, but when you do, you’ll discover incredible things about yourself.
Just be sure to write about it here when you do.
To write something for Noises Off, visit our office (the NOFFice), which is open every day and is behind the main stairs in the Spa Complex, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and submit your copy there. Follow and tweet us @noffmag. The website will be updated throughout the day and the daily print edition – containing an editor’s pick of articles – will be distributed in the Spa Bar.
Richard Dennis (@RichardTzanov)