Rollercoaster ride to deliver a global arts bonanza

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AFTER more than 50 years of discovering, nurturing and promoting new theatrical talent, the National Student Drama Festival is going global this year – and coming to Sheffield.

Opening today, the first International Student Drama Festival takes place as part of the London 2012 Festival, the finale of the Cultural Olympiad, and is hosted by Sheffield Theatres in association with Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam University.

It is a nine-day festival presenting some of the most exciting and exceptional student productions from Britain and around the world along with workshops and debate held in various venues around the city.

Judging the student productions are award-winning Yorkshire playwright John Godber,  American actor Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler in the West Wing) and Malaysian actress, writer and director Rani, chaired by writer, Professor and NSDF Board member, Robert Hewison.

It is the fulfilment of a four-year dream for Holly Kendrick, NSDF director, to run an event parallel to the Olympics.

“I loved the Olympian idea of inspiring young people in sport and arts — they used to give gold medals for things like singing and poetry. It seemed an amazing opportunity to encourage young and emerging artists,” she says.

“It was a question of following the pattern of the national festival (held in Scarborough in recent years), to do what we are experienced in doing and give it a proper international flavour.” Previous alumnae of the NSDF include Pete Postlethwaite, Meera Syal, Ben Miller, Khalid Abdalla, Ruth Wilson, Antony Sher, Dennis Potter, Mark Ravenhill, Roger Michell and Michael Billington.

Kendrick admits it has been something of a rollercoaster ride to get to the finishing line this week ready to unveil 10 productions from the UK and 10 from international companies.

One of the main challenges has been untangling red tape for visiting companies. “We have a company from Iran and getting visas was tricky. They had to go to Turkey because there’s no British embassy in Iran and spend a week there. That showed real spirit and commitment.

“Also a group from Georgia and another from Zimbabwe which is a difficult place for people to become students without huge funds. We’ve been negotiating with the UK Border Agency and it’s helped that London 2012 have been so supportive.” More than 100 international companies applied online and a shortlist of 26 was drawn up for Kendrick and her team to go and see their productions.

In the end they chose 10 (along with 10 from a record 122 UK applications).

Kendrick estimates that the event will bring about 1,000 people to Sheffield with more than 500 students watching and taking part, 150 visiting artists, a technical team of 100 and an army of volunteer helpers.

“In the past the festival has run a training scheme providing work experience on the technical side and 80% went on to get professional work afterwards and now we’re doing it for front of house too.”

Over the nine days there will be 200 workshops and discussions from professionals exploring topics from acting, writing, devising and directing to design, lighting, sound, costume, puppetry, choreography, and stage fighting.  Companies leading the workshops include LAMDA, Menier Chocolate Factory, Old Vic Tunnels, Royal Shakespeare Company, the Sunday Times and locally-based companies Slung Low and Forced Entertainment. 

There will even be a festival newspaper published every morning, to which anyone can submit reviews and articles on work they have seen, as well as a daily discussion. Anyone aged 16 years and over can attend the festival, watch the productions and take part in the workshops, debates and events. Passes for the whole nine days cost £150 and there are also six-day (£100) and three-day tickets (£50) and a number of day passes, all available from the Crucible box office.