Drama: Lower Sixth Attend National Student Drama Festival
Most of the Lower Sixth Theatre Studies group had never heard of Scarborough before I started raving about the delights of the NSDF.
A quick line drawing of the map of GB and a - 'we are here and Scarborough is all the way up here' - later, the Lower Sixth had an idea of the scale of the journey that was in front of us.
We took three trains (from Polegate to Victoria to York to Scarbrough) and, with only minor skirmishes with another school sitting in our seats, we had an easy and beautiful journey up North.
We threw our bags into The Esplanade Gardens B&B and headed off to the SPA complex for our welcome meeting with Michael Brazier, who is the Director of the NSDF. Michael, who is a theatre director by trade, enthusiastically welcomed the 400-strong collection of festival goers to the week long event that would be 'jam packed' with productions, workshops and discussions.
We were told we were one of 10 schools present at the festival - other attendees being University and Drama School types. It felt like the focus of the week would be more geared to these younger folk and we would be in for a treat; we were all very eager to get to our first show!
Our BLUE ROUTE meant that we would be seeing 11 productions including two musicals, two verbatim pieces, lots of new writing, an A Level Theatre Studies piece and a version of the Bacchae. Although the Festival claims not to choose pieces based on creating an eclectic mix, year on year there is always a good mixture of genre and style.
It is brilliant!
The UCL Production of The Bacchae
I will not review every play here but it is safe to say the students learnt such a lot from watching the good and the bad. Our first evening was spent watching WASTWATER by Simon Stephens, a play about connecting flights and connecting people that aimed to create an unsettling atmosphere with a promenading setting.
It was a great quirky start to the week and demonstrated how the old OHP can create very interesting visuals. This production was particularly exciting for the L6th as they have been working on a Stephens play 'Punk Rock' for their own A Level Practical exam and it was clear that we are bang on trend as this playwright was described as the 'King of NSDF' to one keen blogger.
Most enjoyed production was another promenade piece, The Nutcracker by Sheffield University. It was a total bonkers show that led the audience through an abandoned house, newly renovated by Sheffield, to create the location of a highly dysfunctional family's Christmas celebrations.
We were fed mince pies, sang carols and played snap before finally being taken on a dream-like tour of the youngest son's mission to build the Nutcracker.
Ismael was given the task of reading the bedtime story and did so with lovely sensitivity!
Easily the biggest controversial production was our final delight (tongue in cheek) 'Angry' by Hull University, a newly written piece that won the Times Award for New Writing.
Unfortunately, we found the piece swung from utterly boring to utterly offensive and many of our students found it difficult to swallow. Needless to say, we made an early exit.
Our views on the piece have sparked controversy and Michael Brazier will be raising our concerns with the board.
Our Lower Sixth have learned about the power of theatre!
The daily discussions were not the usual lion's den that they have been in previous years, with the various companies nervously taking the floor to be picked apart, but more of a critique of the justifications of choices made. This was a shame when it came to the one A Level piece on show, 'Fete', which was a poor example of the level of work that can be achieved by this age group.
Under scrutiny, they were patted on the proverbial back and told to try better next time. I would like to think that our own Bede's students could handle a bit of constructive criticism and would relish the opportunity to learn from professionals - but alas this wasn't on offer here.
Daily workshops were enthusiastically taken by all, including staff, and are a defining feature of NSDF that sets it apart from other festivals. Between us, we learnt how to dig into Shakespeare, prepare audition speeches, create devised work, develop verbatim, find our voice within a musical and much more.
This experiences were invaluable, and so much wider in scope than I could ever hope to replicate at school.
All in all, we had a fantastic week, with other highlights being the very-down-to-earth B&B owners who didn't know what to make of going to see a play at 11pm at night, the festival disco where Mr Waring's shifting shapes were unearthed and finally just getting to know each other in a very intensive week of creativity, discussion and BIG debates.