Where my Celts at?

14 April 2017

Bronwen Davies and Eilidh Nurse ask how 'National' the NSDF really is


The ESDF:

Where the fuck are the Celts?

NSDF is many incredible things. ‘National’ is not one of them. At all. Every show this year comes from an English University. They’re great, but not a reflection of the work of students throughout all of the UK. Where are the universities from Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland? There simply aren’t any. Out of all 125 entries for 2017 there were none whatsoever from Wales and Northern Ireland and only one from Scotland (and it was from St Andrews, a university arguably containing more English people than actual universities in England).

Whether this is representative of every year, I don’t know, but I found it shocking. Finally hearing a Scottish voice onstage, and a female voice at that, was unbelievably refreshing in Thick Skin. I, as a Scottish person at a Scottish university, now feel a responsibility to spread the word of NSDF to my drama society and theatre friends at home. But what is NSDF doing to make sure the festival lives up to the claim in its title? Universities, students and theatre-makers from all over the UK would be flooding to NSDF, if only they knew it existed. NSDF being England-centric is dangerous and not in-keeping with its otherwise inclusive and accepting message.

I had never been to NSDF until this year, and only because I had never heard of it. NSDF is a wonderful, wonderful, thing – and I feel privileged to be here on the management team. It is something every student should have the opportunity to experience. I would love to see NSDF make a recognisable effort to reach out to places that they unintentionally may have lost pace with. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, as is social media. Make NSDF national.

- Eilidh Nurse

 

As a Welsh woman living in England I often find myself correcting people when they use the words "British" and "English" interchangeably. Yes, I know, this may seem like a tiny detail, a worthless complaint, but the irrefutable truth is I am not English. Whatever I do, whatever stereotype I fulfil, I will always be Welsh, and, more often that not, British. I know that these two things are intertwined: my nationality is British and I am equally as proud as I am ashamed of that. So if you say that drinking tea is “so English,” which is laughable regardless of context, I will correct you, because I drink as much tea back in South Wales as I do in East London.

I am used to being the killjoy in this situation, but I never expected to have to be the killjoy here. Yes, I’m used to the Welsh accent only appearing when it’s attached to a working-class cliché in theatre, but here at NSDF I’m not even getting that. Same with Eilidh, this is my first time here at the festival, and I’m not sure if having no other British nations present is the norm or an anomaly, but surely, with so much focus during the festival on the topic of representation, we should assume that the festival is doing what it says on the tin, representing the Nation of Britain. Which is clearly not the case. It just makes me wonder, if we can’t achieve that, what hope is there? If we only have one Scottish play even entered then what has gone wrong? Do the 10 Welsh universities feel like they cannot apply, or is it because they don’t know this festival exists? Either answer isn’t good enough.

I have been so inspired by the work I’ve seen here at the festival, but it is all English work, mainly made by a handful of universities. If you can manage to get more than one show out of Durham production in the final fourteen, surely you can get one from Wales to apply in the first round? I think this is where my anger and discomfort lies. We are saying these shows are representing the best in The Nation, when really, we mean the best in England. My home in the South Welsh Valleys is a cultural dead zone. There’s little community theatre, and even less engagement with art, so how amazing would it be if students from back home could come here? Could even put forward a show in the hope of getting here, because NSDF has the power to inspire, to invigorate, and to create change, to open conversation and have our minds blown. It does so for all of us who get to experience it. But the festival cannot claim to be inspiring a nation, if it’s limited itself to a country.

This festival truly needs to be National. There are conversations that need to be had across borders. Borders that divide us not just by country, but divide us by history, by voting, by Brexit, by class, by language, by sport, by food, by culture, and if we aren’t doing that, on the most basic of levels, what can we ever hope this festival to achieve?

- Bronwen Davies


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