Networking and NSDF

In June, I went to the National Student Drama Festival. While there, I did a fair bit of writing for Noises Off, their daily magazine. I also made attempts to network. This is an article written for the former about the latter, and it seems like a good place for this blog to start.

“At the beginning of ISDF, we were told to say ‘hello’. It was a message repeated often: at the opening ceremony; in advice from frequent festival goers and even in an article or two in Noises Off.

I am not exactly a shy person. I am, however, an awkward individual, prone to making noises in response to things rather than producing words and jiggling about a bit weirdly when I feel uncomfortable or excited. I swear like a trooper; ask too many questions and tend to allow words to spill out of my face into a great heap of nonsensical bollocks. When I meet new people, I am all the more aware of these ‘qualities’.

But, I tried. I really did. In all honesty, it took me a few days to even consider approaching someone in the bar and, when I finally did, I would (and still do) spend a good 5 minutes psyching myself up, trying to train myself out of all my natural instincts of communication. Inevitably my prep work goes to waste and I end up word vomiting on the shoes of visiting artists. But, despite my initial reservations, some aspects of my participation in the festival eventually caused me to man up and crack on.

At the Drama Studio, where my Front of House antics are focused, there was a fire alarm and subsequent full evacuation during a Red Route show. For those unaware, Red Route contains all the visiting artists, and it is easy to see this route as the most intimidating – rooms fill with confident and successful people who could, theoretically, influence your career – especially when you become aware of the fact that when you make the announcement asking everyone to ‘kindly turn off your mobile phones and be aware this show does have a wee bit of full frontal nudity’ that you do not sound like a budding young professional, but a failed children’s TV presenter with a spider crawling down your back. Post fire alarm, everyone was fine, but, dear God, the worry about causing Red Route inconvenience. The tension was, of course, completely unnecessary. Everyone was calm and understanding, even letting out a happy cheer when it was announced the audience could re-enter. At this point I realised that, while confident and successful, these people were also nice, and probably up for a chat at some point.

Secondly, I’d like to be a producer when I ‘grow up’ and thus went to many a producing workshop, which normally take a chatty, question and answer form, unless things got seriously exciting and hand-outs were printed. The workshops I went to were brilliant and I feel like I learned things I wouldn’t have learned elsewhere (never underestimate the power of Tesco clubcard points, for example). The workshops, therefore, reinforced the idea that people who are confident and successful are probably that way partly because they are nice. Workshops also made it evident that, for a few days alone, I was surrounded by a superabundance of people who had knowledge I could tap into. To waste it would’ve been a lost opportunity. Or at least lost bragging rights somewhere down the line.

So, it happened. Over the course of the Festival I managed to approach a few people – trying to gain access to the things they knew by asking about projects I’m currently involved in, attempting to seem like I actually had a reason to approach them aside from ‘yeah, you just seem kinda cool and that.’ In one especially successful case I actually bought the guy a drink and chatted to him for half an hour without embarrassing myself, in the process learning that I am wrong about a lot of things, which is invaluable to realise now rather than later when I’m knee-deep in admin, angry phone calls, death threats and unsold tickets.

The fact of the matter is ISDF is an excellent place to ‘network’. However, I have two years left of a degree, minimal experience and a lot of terrible ideas (suggesting that someone set a Sondheim musical in the Occupy movement, in turns out, is a terrible idea): if anyone was kooky enough to offer me a position I would probably have to turn it down for now. But that doesn’t mean the ‘networking’ was useless – there’s a string of people who’ve got me and my misguided enthusiasm on their radar, and I have a handful of business cards naming people who will now receive invites to any theatrical project I undertake (yet another lesson from workshops – they won’t come, but they know, at least, that you and your show exist). More than that, however, I have gained some funky new know-how; met some inspiring people and been told some brilliant stories. Most importantly, I learned to actually start saying ‘hello’.

And I hope anyone new to the National Student Drama Festival will try saying ‘Hello’ again next year, because it’s a useful, lovely thing to be able to handle.”

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