Saturday, 15 December 2007


The bevy of blogs responding to Arts Council England, Yorkshire's decision to cut funding for the National Student Drama Festival has occasioned a fair amount of personal soul-searching.

Like everyone else, I had some of my most important formative experiences at NSDF. Hell, I trump everyone else's stories: I met my wife there. Future generations will owe their lives to the Festival.

Unlike everyone else, I live and work in Yorkshire. I rely, to put it rather cruelly, on some organisations not getting funding in order that I might eat. For me to sign the petition would send to ACE Yorkshire - and my name would be noticed among the signatories - a very peculiar message: "don't fund me, fund them."

Nevertheless, I say, in full knowledge of the peculiar personal position this puts me in: Don't fund me, fund them.

Everything everyone else has said about how NSDF contributes more to the future of theatre for £52k than any of the region's producing theatres do for several times that figure is so obviously right that I don't need to rehash their arguments here: follow the links in the first sentence. I'll give you one more NSDF alumnus to be going on with: Alan Lane, winner, with his excellent company Slung Low, of this year's Samuel Beckett Award. By his own account everyone hated his two shows at NSDF. I'm guessing that's not quite true, but the work he makes now is fantastic and I've been proud to be involved in some of it (now that I think about it, that probably constitutes a declaration of interest. But honestly, I'm never deliberately nice about work I don't like, even when I like the people who made it).

But there is one key sticking point that no-one addresses and is, I think, worth looking at.

ACE Yorkshire's remit is, in large part, to support the arts infrastructure in its region. Producing theatres undoubtedly do that. Touring theatre companies do that not only by developing and producing work in the region, but also by becoming known as, e.g. "Leeds-based Unlimited Theatre", or "Sheffield-based Third Angel" or "Sheffield-based Forced Entertainment". I could go on, but you get the point: these companies bring kudos back to the region's arts scene.

Yet NSDF is a peculiar anomaly: it does very little for the region. Almost none of its alumni goes on to work here: they all go to London. Lane, my wife and myself are very rare exceptions. The work is not seen primarily by people from the region. It makes no dent on the regional media: when I was working as a journalist I repeatedly pitched articles on NSDF to the Northern Echo and the Yorkshire Post, but they weren't interested; it wasn't a story for them. Funding NSDF doesn't actually hit any of ACE Yorkshire's direct funding priorities.

Still, it should be funded. It's a unique organisation and like any unique organisation, it falls between gaps left by more conventional models. A stunning number of people from every individual festival go on to work professionally in the industry. Maybe they would have done so anyway - but almost every single one of them will cite NSDF as a huge influence, a turning point. There are fifty-two years worth of stories like Lane's. It's important. Its funding should be a national priority.


Andrew Haydon said...

I'm not sure that your musings on the NSDF are strictly fair or accurate.

You say: "NSDF is a peculiar anomaly: it does very little for the region."

I would dispute this. The SJT certainly disagree. As do Theatre in the Mill, Hull Truck, and numerous other Yorkshire-based buildings and companies who have NSDF alumni in their ranks and who are campaigning hard on our behalf.

"Almost none of its alumni goes on to work here: they all go to London."

Again, I think this is a narrow impression formed from your immediate contemporaries. The NSDF's alumni is psread pretty far and wide, include lots in Yorkshire, and plenty elsewhere. As an example, consider Chris W., you'd no doubt think of him as London-based, but in fact a vast majority of his work has been in outside the capital in Edinburgh, Chichester and Salisbury - none of these Yorkshire, but none of them London, either.

"Lane, my wife and myself are very rare exceptions."

I really, honestly don't think this is true. All the companies you cite - Unlimited, Third Angel and Forced Ents have NSDF alumni numbered in their ranks, as does every major Yorkshire theatre and comapny. In this case, I think an empirical approach to fact-finding does no one any favours. Talk to the staff, the administrators, the company members, the literary departments, the stage management &c. I think you'll be surprised how many have come from the NSDF.

Also, consider the way people talk about NSDF - can you think of anyone who doesn't use "Scarborough" as a synonym? The NSDF must be *the* national arts organisation most closely identified with Yorkshire.

wilko said...

I agree with much of your blog dan, but I think andrew makes some very god points in response. I would also add to Andrew's post that I have worked in Yorkshire as a direct result of my involvement with NSDF - with the (admittedly smallish amount of) stuff I have done with Slung Low, but also at the WYP in the education work I did with Sarah - though clearly that is not directly as a result of my NSDF work. Plus, I return every yer to NSDF to work and teach (journalism) there - presumably that counts as work in Yorkshire? Dom Leclerc is another one who went from NSDF to Yorkshire with his C4 work at the Crucible.

Plus the theatre world is very fluid, and someone can run the Sheffield Crucible one minute and then be working at the Donmar the next - Michael Grandage and Sam West. I think the boundary between London and the regions is infintely more porous in both directions than is commonly understood, and this benefits most theatres in most places most of the time.

Ultimately, like most people who work in the theatre I take the work where I can get it, regardless of where it is. That is what makes it all so fluid, and it is what makes any discusion about the direct benefit of a particular place or thing (be it the NSDF or the BAC) to its immediate area problematic.

Sorry if this is a bit confused, I am in a hurry as i hve to eat my first Chrstmas lunch of the season.

Chris T said...

Dan... basically what Andrew said above. There are more than three theatre professionals still working in Yorkshire who have participated in the NSDF as students and/or still contribute to it now through workshops etc. Many more. I'm not going to list them to make a point. But you're wrong.

I'm totally in agreement with the rest of your post though - I share your passion for the festival (and your hope that its funding will be reinstated)


chris thorpe

Statler said...

Interesting to see your take on this Daniel. I'd raised suspicions in a comment on Andrews post a few days ago, that looking at it as an outsider, it appeared the aspect of the *Yorkshire* arts budget funding a *National* event may have been (partly) behind the decision. And in fairness it really isn't an argument without legitimacy.

Yes, as Andrew suggests there will be many in Yorkshire who have benefitted from attending the NSDF, but there will be many many more from elsewhere, and you do have to question if it disadvantages other potential recipients of funding in Yorkshire by providing benefit to others elsewhere.

While I think there's a good case for appealing the decision, I think there's a much stronger one for campaigning for funding from a national budget.

danbye said...

Well, there you go, folks.

I was concerned to address the only argument I could see for ACE Yorkshire cutting this funding: I was trying to get into their heads.

My impression was that theirs was a fair argument, although I hope I made it clear that this argument wasn't nearly strong enough in face of all the arguments in favour of keeping the funding in place.

Basically, I was going for a bit of balance. I hope my overwhelming support for NSDF was nonetheless pretty clear.

I was wrong about the argument. Chris and Andrew both know a great deal more about the festival and its history than I do, and I accept all their points of information with enormous gratitude. I'm delighted that the one argument I could see for this decision, insufficient though it was to justify it, is also a non-starter.

There are no arguments left that I can see for cutting this funding, not even poor ones.

That's it.

Andrew Haydon said...

Oddly, ACY haven't really brought Yorkshire into it. Probably because they know they'd lose that fight. Instead, their stated rationale seems to be that they'd like to see it funded by Further & Higher Education type bodies, and view it as the province of education. A more wrong-headed belief is hard to imagine.

Sal said...

I'm one of the "live and work in Yorkshire" ones - agree with your general gist, Daniel, and also with the points your commenters make. I think if there is an argument about AC Yorkshire funding the festival, it would be along the lines of "its a national festival, it should get national funding" - however, this shouldn't be taken to mean I think ACY are correct, because I don't. But perhaps there should be a discussion about where it would be appropriate for the money to come from.

danbye said...

Sal - I agree. I think NSDF should be funded any which way, and making it a national priority, as I suggest in the post, would remove the danger of arguments like the one I discuss in the article even being put. It's only four or five years since NSDF's funding was moved from national office to ACE Yorkshire; if ACE Yorkshire can't prioritise it then national office should take responsibility back.

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wilko said...

Well thanks Barb, an interesting solution to the NSDF's funding woes.

Andrew Haydon said...

Write something new...

danbye said...

Yes, sorry folks: 60-hour weeks are the minimum at the moment and it's going to be a couple more weeks before I'm free enough to be back.

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