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EXCLUSIVE: National Student Drama Festival puts spotlight on students

The National Student Drama Festival (NSDF) showcases some of the best theatre productions written, directed and performed by people aged 16-25 across the UK. 

However, the event is not just about what happens on stage. It offers 60 student crew members the chance to get real behind the scenes experience of technical production. 

From its humble beginnings in 1956, the NSDF has grown exponentially over the years and today gives young people the opportunity to learn about every element of event production, from sound and lights, to rigging and staging. This year’s event showcased 11 theatrical productions held in five venues across Scarborough. 

Emerging talent 

As with every live event, the show really couldn’t go on without a hard working technical team behind it. Each year the NSDF technical team takes on 60 young applicants, both new to the festival and returning students. 

“We always receive a huge number of entries from companies wanting to showcase their productions and this year alone had 93 entries submitted, before choosing the final shows,” said NSDF’s director Michael Brazier. “Myself and the rest of the selection committee spends an incredible amount of time visiting each live show throughout the year and discussing every entry until we can narrow down the chosen productions.” 

While some might already have an innate interest in specific areas of event production prior to coming to the festival, places are also offered to those who are unsure if the industry is right for them. This includes performers, directors or writers who want to immerse themselves in the industry and learn more about production.   

The show must go on

One of the biggest challenges in 2014 was how to effectively and affordably black out the main sports hall at Scarborough Sports Centre to create the Clive Wolfe Auditorium. 

Luckily, draping and rigging specialist Blackout provided the festival with a solution by building a black box environment using a 25m x 18m and 6m high mother grid with black wool serge sides and roof. This gave the lighting, sound and set design teams a much cleaner, more suitable environment for the chosen productions. 

Blackout’s project manager, Nick Brown, who worked with the students to build the theatre, commented: “Although technically this is a fairly simple method we use to black out spaces, it requires a lot of equipment to achieve, which the festival didn’t have the budget for.” 

Brown explained that Blackout donated kit to create a better environment for the shows – giving students the opportunity “to create a theatre build from scratch and see how drapes and rigging can be used to transform venues quickly and effectively.” 

Supporting the festival 

Sponsors like Blackout are integral to the event’s success – their donations of production equipment are often worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

Some sponsors also provide onsite crew who dedicate their time to assist the students with the installations as well as running workshops, which give students the chance to learn the latest sound, lights and production techniques. 

With theory-based vocational studies within the industry becoming a more popular choice for young people starting out, events like the NSDF are a fantastic way to offer real hands on experience and develop the skills that could shape their future careers.   

“Our goal is to empower each applicant by giving them free reign to explore every element of theatre production,” Brazier said. “Whether this means facilitating performers with ambitious show productions or giving students the opportunity to work specifically within a sector they have no previous experience in. 

“Ultimately the festival is a celebration of their work and for many it’s a bridge between their aspirations and achieving them.”

  

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