Sanitised discussions

24 March 2016

by Kelly Goldring

What is the point?

When I first came along to the NSDF I was told that a key highlight was the vibrant discussions which would dissect the theatrical productions and consider the merits and area of weakness of each piece allowing true reflection for all involved.

Unfortunately, they are discussing the festival10-years past and it seems that this forum of learning has been sanitised and disinfected to leave a space for self-congratulation and bumbling explanations.

I believe the space for the theatre-makers to voice their ideas is the stage itself, surely the more interesting voices in these post-show discussions should be the voices of the audience. Why is debate and true discussion not being encouraged in a forum of learning? Should we not be encouraging reflection and analysis in a room full of students and artists? I do not think it is enough to say let's continue this conversation in the bar, get the discussion started properly when it is programmed to happen! Telling everyone that their questions are insightful is lovely but not particularly true. Examples of bland and very non-specific discussion:

Student: “Why did you make the decision for the actors to look out at the audience and not at the puppets?”

Response: A five-minute explanation by the director. Really, the director needs to know that the actors completely took the focus away from the puppets showing lack of expertise and a misunderstanding of the power of well-performed puppetry. What a shame that the director didn't get any useful feedback to improve his work as he was allowed to blather on for the majority of the discussion when he could have asked some questions himself, opened his ears and reflected for his forthcoming tour. There is certainly much work that could be done to develop Toyland Murders, should we not be sending them away from this festival with a better piece than they came with?

I am here with a group of students and as such have not contributed to discussions as I think it should be the young people talking – I don't feel it's my place to talk in a student festival... (Yes I know I probably shouldn't write and do so with hesitancy.) Quite a few of our group did contribute and myself and my colleagues encouraged this by talking through their ideas with them before the discussion today. Unfortunately, they just asked questions rather than speaking their thoughts and I think this is because the tone of the discussion is not open to opinion. It was just irritating as there was no sense of what worked and what didn't in the discussion and I worry that the students are walking away from what is at times OK work thinking that's it, that's as good as it gets... I do hope that Cock which I saw earlier gets amazing recognition on Friday – but also analysis into why it was so powerful and insightful. I was totally engrossed by the clarity and honesty of this work. There is much to learn from every piece but they should be dissected more and this should be facilitated and encouraged by the discussion leaders.

Let's stop self congratulating, it is boring!