Saturday 15 December 2007, 19:14
This week, the Arts Council announced that they are cutting their Â£52,000 grant for the National Student Drama Festival, jeopardising not only its ability to happen in three months time, but to exist at all. Asked by The Stage newspaper why this decision had been made, Andy Carver, Executive Director of ACE Yorkshire, said "While we recognise the benefits of the work of the National Student Drama Festival, we believe that primary theatre training for students is more appropriately resourced through the further and higher education sectors."
This decision is at best short-sighted, and at worst a disaster; not only for theatre, but for TV, radio and film. The NSDF, over its 53 year existence, has provided a unique bridge between student and professional work, and has encouraged and enabled young practitioners to get a foothold in the creative industries. The list of NSDF alumni reads like a Who's Who of theatre, from Harold Pinter, Michael Billington and Tim West in the earlier years of the Festival to recent successes such as writer Lucy Prebble, actors Khalid Abdalla and Ruth Wilson and director Caroline Cracknell. It's wholly misguided to suggest that the experience of the Festival is in any way akin to something that could be found on a college or university course: there's nowhere that puts students in touch with the range of professional experience that they can draw upon at the NSDF. In the past few years, for example, talks, workshops and masterclasses have been offered by amongst others Boublil and Schoenburg, Peter Hall, Mark Ravenhill, Michael Attenborough, Annie Castledine, Frantic Assembly, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Hampstead Theatre, and the Bush. At the 2008 Festival, the writersroom plan to offer workshops too. But more than this, NSDF generates a level of enthusiasm and passion for creating and watching new work that is without equal.
NSDF is unique in the world. It's not like Edinburgh, it's not like a drama school course, and it's not like youth theatre. We're incredibly lucky in the UK that it's survived for over half a century: if you'd like to help it further, there's an online petition which you can sign here, a Facebook group which you can join here, or you can write to your MP here. This may be particularly helpful if you live in the constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde, which is the constituency of Arts Minister James Purnell - himself an NSDF alumnus.