NSDF 2018: Reflections on an Inspiring Week (25 Mar 2018)

Natalie Ann Hillman

For the last week or so I’ve been in the glorious bubble of theatre that is NSDF (National Student Drama Festival). In some ways it was an intense and at times tiring experience on the management team supervising venues, being on Front of House and facilitating workshops nonetheless it was always an endlessly joyful, rewarding and inspiring experience. Before I went I didn’t expect this experience to be as amazing as it was and it certainly exceeded my wildest expectations and dreams. Moreover, I didn’t realise how much a week in this environment, around these people, seeing so much theatre and having so many discussions could shape me and teach me not only more about theatre but myself. I thought I’d simply leave NSDF with experience of managing at a festival and how this festival works but in reality I left with so much more than that.

Undoubtedly, what NSDF did for me was leave me feeling much more confident and assured about what I want to do in theatre, how I see myself fitting in and making things happen and has empowered me to continue pursuing theatre, find even more opportunities and stay in contact with those who I’ve met there who can support me and I can in turn support. I think NSDF does something really special because not only does it showcase some amazing work it brings people together to see what theatre can do and be whilst simultaneously encouraging  and initiating further conversations about what more theatre could do and be and what needs to change. It also by making this space introduced me to some amazing new friends. The experience I’ve had at NSDF has been so important and undeniably will extend much further than the week I was there. Essentially, I just hope to hold onto feeling inspired, encouraged and empowered as I return to ‘normality’.

Aside, from merely summarising how I feel and what I got from the week I felt it productive to also record some more specifics about what I did, what I learnt and simply just what I liked about the theatre that was there. This could very easily become a very long essay with the amount of notes I wrote nevertheless I’ll try keep this as concise as I can and just give a flavour of the festival.


I managed to see 14 out of 16 of the shows (all except ‘The Events’ and ‘Violet’) which was pretty successful considering I was on the management team. I really enjoyed how many of these plays were staged for example Lights Over Tesco Carpark played with clever ways of audience participation and was a charming play and The Search for Black Browed Albatross used things such as shadow screens and innovative storytelling tools. Furthermore, I loved the way some of these plays sparked interesting debates and discussions e.g. Kinder K surrounding ethics and Speed Death around the various ways the audience interpreted it. A lot of the work made crucial political points, such Can’t Stop Can’t Stop commenting on how we view mental health and support those who deal with mental illness and 1001010 about gender identity. Others were really fun shows with great music e.g. Buried.

It’s hard to pick a favourite, however I think The Search for The Black Browed Albatross was mine because of how engaging it was, the style and techniques they used and the heartfelt and simple story about coping with loss that they portrayed. Although, I think Speed Death would have to be a close second because it fostered so many discussions about what it meant and it made me think about themes such as language and how we communicate with each other through seeing this chaotic society and I also enjoyed the way it was directed and staged.


This year NSDF had 2 big workshop days, Tuesday and Friday which allowed everyone including the management team to be able to get involved with more. On Tuesday I managed to do a PappyShow workshop with Kwami Odoom called ‘Starting with Movement’ which taught me about devising movement through play to find genuine and natural moments that work and  to think about the context of the movement we created. Then on Friday I went to a workshop with Lily Einhorn about Community Theatre which helped demystify what it is, how you can work and be involved in it and allowed us to think about the form different projects can take to suit the participants. Finally, I did another movement workshop called ‘Theatre Making and Physicality’ with Simon Pittman where we explored principles of creating movement, presumptions surrounding physicality and adding layers to build interesting choreography. These workshops were great in teaching me about how I can approach making theatre and it was very rewarding to learn from these Visiting Artists about how they create theatre and what projects they are involved in.


Perhaps the most empowering, exciting and important part of the festival was the discussions. Not only the Q&A style discussions about the work at the festival but those that we had in Forums or with each other in smaller groups whether that be with friends, a VA or someone from a show. It felt very enlightening learning from each other, talking about what can change, hearing others interpretations or just about their general interests in theatre. The discussions particularly some after the shows highlighted how relevant the work is to the world outside the festival and the forums particularly ‘U Ok Hun?’ reflected how we can learn from each other, understand how to work in the industry and support each other. Undeniably, the fact that NSDF provides these spaces is so important and is part of what makes it so great and I hope to continue having these discussions.


I can’t wait to be involved with NSDF again next year and hopefully for many years after. Overall, NSDF has had a significant impact on my life, its been enlightening and I’m sure it will continue to change my life in many ways. Simply, its been a pleasure to be involved in such an inspiring and crucial organisation.

Find out more about NSDF here.