Volunteering for the Sheffield Documentary Festival 2019

A blog post by Xiuchun Xu, MA Film Studies

From June 8th to 11th, I had a fabulous experience volunteering for the 2019 Sheffield Doc Fest, one of the biggest international documentary festivals in the world. Like most film festivals around the world, this festival had a number of indoor and outdoor screening events for showcasing high-quality documentaries (2019 entries), and provided the marketplace for international filmmakers, producers, broadcasters, distributors, festival directors, funders, etc., to meet up and make connections, which was called ‘MeetMarket’. In addition, one of the interesting parts of this festival was their Alternate Realities projects and one of the very valuable sections for me was the Marketplace sessions where I actually volunteered for.

As I have developed a great passion for media festivals and business activities related to the media and film, I chose this role to volunteer alongside the friendly and considerate marketplace sessions team. I attended an induction on the 8th from 9 am to 12 pm, through which session the Head of Marketplace & Talent, Patrick Hurley, and Marketplace & Talent Coordinator, Manon Euler, alongside other programme assistants organised all the volunteers to visit the venue, Cutlers’ Hall, where the marketing activities would take place between 10th and 11th, and explained what we need to know to volunteer for this event in detail to make us fully prepared.


Drawing Room of Culters’ Hall (The Venue for Marketplace Sessions (Source: Sheffield Doc/Fest Official Website Marketplace Sessions 2019. https://sheffdocfest.com/articles/707-marketplace-summit-sessions-2019?tag=homepage.)


I actually volunteered from 8 am to 6.30 pm for 2 days between 10th and 11th. As regards the specific roles, on the one hand, we mainly helped international filmmakers and producers network with documentary broadcasters, distributors, funders, festivals and film foundations through ‘round table’ sessions which were several 90 minutes featuring six tables with a group of around eight to ten delegates at each. The invited experts, such as other film festival directors, decision makers from prestigious creative companies (including BBC, ITV, The Guardian and New York Times), and producers, started by giving a short 3-minute introduction of themselves and their company to everyone attending. After this, they joined a table for their first meeting, moving tables every 15 minutes. As volunteers, we were responsible for greeting Round Table participants, directing them to their table and keeping track of the timings. On the other hand, for the masterclass sessions, we were sometimes ‘the gatekeepers’ to make sure that the room was not disturbed by other delegates who were in the Cutlers’ Hall but had not registered for the sessions, and were sometimes in the door which were extremely valuable opportunities for us to take the masterclasses with regards to budgeting, funding application, and marketing strategies. Additionally, as volunteers, we had some benefits, such as snacks and light refreshments, a free film voucher after finishing every shift, and free access to any industry sessions, documentary filmmaking workshops and parties. In fact, after my shifts, I also went to the fantastic Alternate Realities Exhibition and got my own unique perfume through Algorithmic Perfumery

Algorithmic Perfumery at Alternate Realities Exhibition

Having studied the media and film for around 5 years, it was my first time to be a member of the staff of a media festival, so although the voluntary work was intense, I felt quite excited to see how real marketing activities of the media took place and progressed, and really enjoyed the masterclasses delivered by professional producers. Also, I was so happy to make new friends there and I think I am going to miss the lovely little Marketplace Sessions team very much.


The 2019 Sheffield Doc/Fest Marketplace Sessions Team


At Home in Gaza and London – Wednesday 1st May, 5 – 7pm

Please join staff and students here in the Drama Department for this special event: A presentation on ‘At Home in Gaza and London’, with Julian Maynard Smith and Taghrid Choucair-Vizoso (Co-artistic Directors), and Ania Obolewicz (producer).

At Home in Gaza and London by Station House Opera is a live performance that follows the lives of people living in two locations separated by great political, economic and physical divides – Gaza in the Palestinian territories and London in the UK. Using a mix of live-streaming and recorded video, the performance goes beyond the headlines, offering voice to individual artists and giving expression to the ways of working and surviving under strained, damaging and threatening conditions.

 Please join us to watch the screening of the performance recorded at Battersea Arts Centre in London and El-Wedad Theatre in Gaza in June 2018. The screening will be followed by a talk given by the artistic team behind At Home in London and Gaza, including Julian Maynard Smith and Taghrid Choucair-Vizoso (Co-artistic Directors), and Ania Obolewicz (producer). We will be joined via Skype by the artists in Gaza who took part in performances at the Battersea Arts Centre in London and Everyman in Liverpool, and El-Wedad Theatre in Gaza in 2018.

Station House Opera

With past projects ranging from spectacular site-specific works created with concrete blocks to simultaneous performances across continents using live internet streaming, Station House Opera is an internationally renowned performance company with a unique physical and visual style. Founded in 1980, it has produced over 30 productions of widely varying scale and focus, all rooted in an interest to make work that brings together theatre and the visual arts in a single unified vision. Led by Artistic Director and Co-Founder Julian Maynard Smith, Station House Opera have created projects in a variety of locations all over the world, from New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage to Dresden’s historic Frauenkirche and Salisbury Cathedral, and have toured the world, from Azerbaijan to Kosovo, China to Brazil, working with over 100 performers on various projects. Station House Opera have pioneered the use of telematics in performance with works such as Life on Paradise and Play on Earth. They link spaces and performances via live stream, and recently with Dissolved and At Home in Gaza and London merge together people and spaces, creating new encounters and exploring identity. Station House Opera’s site-specific installation, Dominoes, has been adapted for different cities and contexts across the globe, transforming the rhythm of the city for one special day. Hundreds of volunteers and audience members gather together to make this exceptional and unique event.

Taghrid Choucair-Vizoso is a producer and facilitator with a practice in contemporary work in or about the Middle East. Since 2010, she has been developing intercultural and cross-cultural work with performance artists and playwrights in the UK, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine. She creates and performs work within the context of cultural resistance and as an associate artist of Kazzum, leads programmes of workshops with young refugees and asylum seekers across the UK. She produced and programmed the 2018 AWAN – Arab Women Artists Now Festival in London. In July 2018, she joined the Shubbak team as the festival’s Programme and Engagement Producer.

Ania Obolewicz is the artists’ producer at Artsadmin where she produces work by Station House Opera, Tim Spooner and Clare Patey. She has worked as an arts producer in freelance capacity and with leading arts organisations such as LIFT, ATC, Bush Theatre and British Council on projects ranging from plays development to mid-scale dance performances to large-scale site specific installations. Her work has included theatre, dance, live art, participatory art and cross-disciplinary projects, and has encompassed project management, international touring and festival producing.

Ania holds an MA in Arts Administration and Cultural Policy from Goldsmiths College (University of London) and MA in Theatre Studios from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.


If you would like to attend this event, please email Jenny Hughes (Head of Drama, University of Manchester) at jenny.hughes@manchester.ac.uk

The event will take place in room G16, on the ground floor of the Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama. This is building number 42 on the campus map available here – http://www.manchester.ac.uk/maps

Acknowledgement to the place where dream starts and is realised …

Read Xintong Han’s blog on being an international student in the Drama Department. Han graduated from the Drama Department in June 2018. He is currently studying Performance Studies at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

As one of the very few international students who did their undergraduate degree in the drama department at University of Manchester, I had really a precious experience of living and studying which I believe I could not find in anywhere else. During the three years, my life had been filled up with challenges and opportunities which made me to break out of my comfort zone and eventually made me get so many achievements. I never thought was able to make. Therefore, I would like to share my evaluation and suggestions with the staff and upcoming (international) students about my life in drama department, which I hope would be useful for them to enhance their study, work and life there.

As one of the top research universities in UK, University of Manchester turns out to be a great choice for academic education. During my undergraduate years, all the classes, exercises and assignments I have done leaves me a very solid academic base, which enables me to undertake academic tasks such as research and writing professionally and also made me a competitive candidate in several applications for further study. I owe this to the lecturers and teaching staff in drama department, who are always ready to offer help and suggestions on how to improve my work.

Moreover, I really appreciate the staff who encouraged me to be bold for my course selection and carefully explained the courses I wanted but felt not confident enough to take. With their help, finally I was brave enough to have a try the ‘Writing for Performance’ module in my final year, which is the thing I wanted to do for my career. Although it was still challenging for a second language speaker like me to do creative writing in English, the skills I learned and the plays I wrote during this courses helped me a lot in the process of applying for a Master programme in this area.

Meanwhile, I wanted to say thanks to all the teaching staff who were tolerant to my awkward English writing and left very detailed comments on my assignments, from which I was able to know how to improve my writing and eventually become more and more confident in it. It was really a great fortune for me to have so many chances to have a go at things that I used to think are impossible to do in an English context. Only in this way could I constantly push through my limits and explore my potential.

However, there are still some areas I think might not be very ideal for international students’ life in the drama department. The first thing I think the department could deal with relates to required readings for the lectures. Although I know it is very common and necessary for students to read a lot material in university, sometimes it may become very stressful for international students. Furthermore, when facing with some many readings, sometimes I just felt that I didn’t know what were the key points that I should focus on and that will be discussed in the classes. I suggest that the readings could be assigned as a kind of task, in which the students will be asked to select one or a certain numbers of readings to focus on, and asked find the answer to a certain questions in these readings. In this way students will read the articles with clear goals and aims, which will help them to understand the readings effectively.

It would also be good to have more help with socialising. It’s true that most people in the department are friendly and enthusiastic, but, due to the cultural and linguistic differences, it is still hard for international students to make friend with local students. I think it is very necessary to organise some activities like international students mixer, in which the international students from different majors gather together to know each other, by which they would know more people and enrich their social life. Improving the quality of social life could be relevant to the mental health of international students – who very easily come to feel lonely or homesick.

Finally, I wish there could be some workshops intended for international students in the first year, in which in the teaching staff will chat about their plans about their future and career and give some suggestions on the course selections for the following years. Although the curriculum in drama department is of great diversity, which I was deeply appreciate, the students have to have a very clear about their goals and plan after graduation when choosing the courses for second and third year, as only in this way could they learn about the skills and knowledge they desire in a consistent way.

My life in drama department and University of Manchester was never perfect, but it was one of the most valuable and meaningful stages in my life. After the three years of hard-working, eventually I was able to graduate with a good degree which was beyond my expectation and also get the opportunity to study in my ideal grad school where I never thought I could get admitted to. I attribute all of this to UoM and the drama department. Thanks to these magic places, I was able to meet many adorable and reliable people who taught me many things which are priceless and marvellous, and hone myself to be strong enough to pursuee my dream and goals. I intend these words to contribute to the development of drama department, helping it to improve the experience it could offer to students and to make it become the alma mater I can be proud of for the rest of my life.




On Audience – Andy Smith

So far this semester one of the things I have been thinking about most is audience. This is not surprising. I think about the audience and the idea of audience a lot.

I think that as students and teachers and makers of theatre, we should think about the audience all the time. We should think about them and we should also be them. We can be and should be both. Even if you are only reading a play you are still in some way an audience for it. When you are watching each other in a practical class it is useful to think and be — as my third year group of contemporary theatre makers hear me say all the time — a good audience for each other.

You might have also heard me say (the third years have) that I think that the audience is the only essential component of the theatre. I do think this. I can think of examples of theatre that have no lights, no actors, even no theatre, but I can never think of a type of theatre that does not have an audience.

This tells me something. The first thing it tells me is not to ignore them. I think it tells me to see them as the foundation and fundamental component of what theatre is. And so as we learn and think about theatre — and I hope we are all thinking about and learning more about theatre here at Manchester (I know that I am) then I think that we should continue to think about audience.

I don’t just mean that all theatre should look at the audience and say hello (as my work often does). Sometimes the people on the stage are pretending to be in another space and time and looking at the audience might not help matters. Look up the first line of Hamlet, for example. I think that line is also in some way for the audience. But I certainly would not expect (though there is nothing to say that it might not happen) a production of that play which is delivered directly to them all the way through.

This is complicated. The point I suppose I am trying to make is that we should never forget that an audience is there, and then find the appropriate way for that to happen with the particular work we are trying to make. Any production, however it does it, should be addressed to an audience. If we forget that then the whole enterprise feels like it could be lost.

I haven’t got enough words to even begin to scratch the surface of what being an audience might mean, but I can offer a few starters. I think it means being in the room with what is happening in the play or performance. Being invited to it (even though we might have paid). Unpacking it, interpreting it. Looking at it and hearing it, and considering what it makes you think or feel, or hopefully both. If you were not there then it would not be happening.

So my invitation to you is to be good audiences. Be curious audiences. Enjoy the work you see. Ask questions of it. Bring an open mind to it. It takes practice, though. Continuous practice. However experienced we are, we are always new audiences. The play might be hundreds of years old. It might be the three hundredth time the performers have performed it, but it is the first time we have seen it, so it is the first night for us. It never stops. For me, that’s part of the joy of it.image1

Begin, again

New member of staff Andy Smith (Lecturer in Theatre Practice) writes about new beginnings …
I have just begun rehearsals for my new play, SUMMIT. Even though I have worked in the theatre for years this is a first for me, as it is the first time I have written a play solely for other people to perform. It is a new start, and in just under three weeks the play will happen for the first time in The John Thaw Studio Theatre in The Martin Harris Centre. Many of the audience for these first performances will be made up of students from the department of drama. Many of them will be at the start of their three years at Manchester. It is, and will be, a moment of many beginnings.
As well as this, alongside these students, I have just joined the department as as a part-time lecturer in theatre practice. I’m in a similar situation, then. In the process of understanding new rhythms and systems and operations. Meeting lots of new people. Getting new information. Working to understand the particulars of a place. How something works and what my part in it might be.
How we begin, and move forward into what feels like a sometimes unknown future happens to be one of the concerns of the play. The first act is actually set in a place one thousand years from now. In this future, people gather together in a room like The John Thaw Studio Theatre to reflect on and tell a story from the past. They do this — as I think we often do in theatre practice — to consider where we are, how we got here, and where we have been. To consider how we have moved forward, and how we might move forward some more. Keep going even when we aren’t always clear about what lies ahead.
All three acts of the play think about this in some way. And when the play is over, one of the hopes — for me anyway — is that the audience go out into the world and something begins again. 
I have often thought that theatre is a good place for this kind of beginning. As Peter Handke suggests in a play called ‘Offending The Audience’ — a play that I am sure you will encounter or have encountered during your studies, a play can be a prologue. A prologue to everything that happens after it, when the doors have opened and the audience have returned to their lives outside that room. It is a common theme in a lot of plays. Look out for it as you move through your years here.
Beginning something — a new course, a new process of rehearsals, a new job — brings with it a mix of exhilaration and excitement. And also, let’s be honest, it comes with a a few nerves and sometimes even a little fear. This is OK, I think. It’s what makes something worth doing. If we can get the balance of all these elements right these beginnings can be intoxicating. At this moment, at the start of rehearsals, as we approach a new semester, everyone will be feeling this in some shape or form. It is a new year. Something is starting. Something unknown and new is there to be navigated and explored. Fresh territory lies ahead.
Let’s begin.

A new-bee’s guide to studying Drama at the University of Manchester

A blog post by UoM Drama graduate, Cara Looij (Class of 2018)


U nderstanding is what you strive for as a curious person.

N urture your curiosity, but I’ll warn you – the more you learn… the less you know…

I magination is, however, something that will continue to grow.

O pen your mind to the universe’s abundance in the years to come. The

F uture is scary as hell, but remember to have fun.

M ountains come in different forms: reading, exams, essays and more

C reativity is something to keep alive in your core

R emind yourself frequently of why you started the climb

D rama is culture, art, space, action and time

R emember, your craft has the power to disrupt the paradigm

A rt is important, don’t let people convince you otherwise

M anchester will show you what I mean, it is a hive of busy bees

A nd their buzz is the bustle of the city’s life – you’ll see

D on’t compare yourself to everyone around you

E merse* yourself in what you make and do

P lease bee you, you’re best when you’re authentic

T hree years will be over before you know it.

(*deliberate spelling error alert*)
Are you a new student at the University of Manchester’s Drama department? Are you currently shitting yourself about what is to come over the next three years? Are you seeking some reassurance from an older and wiser soul to comfort you? Well good luck finding one because I have no idea what just happened but I somehow managed to graduate and Jenny has asked me to write a blog for the newbies … or new bees because we’re in Manchester! Here are my thoughts:

  1. Forget your a levels, they’re done, they were stressful as hell but they’re over now … they are not a barcode on your forehead. If you came to an open day you heard David Calder say “you are more than your a level results”. He is a wise man and I trust his judgement – you should too.
  2. You WILL make friends, on the course, in halls and beyond, it might not happen straight away, and it will feel like everyone else has more friends than they know what to do with and you are alone, but I assure you, this is not the case!
  3. University essays are different to a levels so read your feedback, meet up with your academic advisor, and go to the study skills sessions. It took me 3 years to figure out how to write an academic essay, I wish I’d spent more time in first year grasping an understanding of it because that’s when you have the “space to fail”. (on a side note – failure is not bad, often your downfalls are the things that you learn the most from!)
  4. Talk to people, stay in touch with your peer mentor and academic advisor, the latter is a particularly important person to have a strong rapport with. Eventually they will be writing references for you, so it’s good to get to know each other over the three years. Furthermore, life happens and things get challenging – you need to let your academic advisor know if you are struggling with anything that might be affecting your work, they can’t help if they don’t know.
  5. Get creative. Manchester is an incredible creative hub with so many opportunities for young artists, performers, writers, musicians, designers, photographers… you name it. Put yourself out there and try some new things- societies are a good start, but try to branch out, it’s good to have a diverse range of friends. I’ve included a list of organisations below!

List of things to get involved in:

  1. Contact theatre:
    has a young company and the focus of the theatre is to engage people under the age of 30 so see what’s going on with them- they’re currently based at HOME.
  2. Royal Exchange theatre:
    has initiatives for young directors and producers- definitely have a look.
  3. Stockport conversation club:
    always in need of volunteers to teach English to refugees!
  4. Whitworth Art Gallery:
    Has lots of workshops and events as well as some amazing rotating and permanent exhibitions!
  5. Islington Mill:
    plenty going on there, though it’s in Salford it’s great for people who are interested in lots of different kinds of creative practice.
  6. Young Identity:
    a poetry group based at Contact theatre (currently based at HOME) who meet weekly for creative writing workshops and are incredibly well connected in the literature and performance scene nationally.
  7. Drama Society
  8. Creative Writing society
  9. Shakespeare Society
  10. Studio Group: is usually in the John Thaw on a Wednesday evening from 6-9 … think of it as an experimental
  11. (IN)SANE:
    is a multimedia arts platform which aims to open discussion around mental health through providing a space in which creatives can express their testimonies through creative practice. The first event was hosted in March of this year and their next event will be in October.
  12. Girl gang Manchester:
    A creative event series + community promoting creativity, collaboration, confidence + positivity, to help inspire + support women to succeed in life work + society.
  13. Musical Theatre society
  14. Raw Forms Magazine:
    A zine which was launched in March 2018. They are a platform for queer and minority voices to write about politics and culture.
  15. M(.)ist Collective:
    a Queer women’s art collective who do events such as lesbian speed dating, exhibitions, performance evenings and parties.


Read blogs by other UoM Drama current students and recent graduates on their experience of studying at Manchester here –

Sarah Faulkner

Sadie Stanton

Molly Stedman

Cerys Splisbury

Non-directive play in schools

In this post Sarah Eastaff, UoM Drama alumna, reflects on her work with theatre in educational and therapeutic contexts since graduating 

I currently work for the learning department at the National Theatre – a post I took up after being the Learning and Engagement Officer for Education at Oldham Coliseum Theatre for some years. A large part of my role in Oldham involved leading on and delivering the Secondary Partnership Scheme, which focused on building effective relationships with secondary school teachers and supporting the development of students aged 12 to 16. Participating schools had access to subsidised workshops, tours, a fully technically supported main stage production and subsidised tickets to see professional work.

In this work, I regularly observed the power structures at play in education settings and my ongoing training as a play therapist has highlighted the ways in which theatre and play can disrupt the presumed hierarchies at play in schools. This disruption is valuable – it offers students artistic ownership and provides an opportunity to explore different power balances in working and learning environments.

Play therapy is rooted in Virginia Axline’s principles. Axline developed a client-centred method for working with children, drawing on Carl Roger’s person-centred approach to therapy. When in the play therapy room, the child leads the play, with the therapist following and observing, thus maintaining a non-directive environment. While the parent or guardian must consent for the child to come to play therapy, so must the child. The child can refuse to come to play therapy at any time, and this non-directive process provides an opportunity for the client to take and maintain ownership, autonomy and authority.

Formal education, however, is primarily delivered in a directive setting. In a pragmatic sense, schools need to manage timetables, safeguarding, exams and a myriad of unexpected situations. To do this, it is important that there are rules in place, but in the play therapy room, students are told that these rules do not apply. The play room can be situated in the school, creating a small space for rule breaking within the confines of the school. In my experience, this creates an initial exuberance in a child, and this is a moment that effectively informs the ‘client’ that this can be a place to explore emotions or experiences they may aim to avoid in school.

For the child to be able to explore therapeutic play effectively, there must be some boundaries in place. These boundaries include maintaining the safety of both the child and the therapist, as well as the room being safe and remaining consistent. The room can only stay consistent if the symbolic world the child creates stays in the room and so children cannot take toys or objects with them when they leave. Outside of this, the child has full agency and autonomy within the room. While in a traditional educational setting the child’s safety is maintained by the rules of the institution, and the focus is on directing a child’s learning, in play therapy there is an opportunity for the child to take the lead while still being kept safe.

Something similar can happen in ensemble work in theatre in education. When students are introduced to devising, choral work or directing they are handed the reins to the creative process. Many teachers I work with relish the freedom they can offer their students in a drama class, and as visiting facilitators had the opportunity to highlight this.

It is possible to blend some of the play therapy approach in to drama work in a more formal education setting. At the beginning of a devising process in a secondary school we can create a shared and accepted ‘boundary statement’; by creating a contract which enabled the students lead safely and with consent, students can become better able to take ownership of the process. These democratically chosen rules can be revisited throughout the rehearsal process. The contract may contain rules like: everyone respects each other’s opinion, arrives ready to work and can offer constructive criticism. By referencing the contract that the students have agreed, you are reflecting their own boundaries while also keeping them safe.

As a facilitator, providing time to experiment, to fail and to compromise is key. This is a valuable experience for students because they will be expected to direct their own lives as well as make their own theatre if they pursue a career in this area. When children are taught to jump through the hoops of exam questions, follow primarily directive curriculum learning, there may be a lack of experience of working without this structure, as young people are expected to do either at university or when leaving education. In theatre in education, the freedom to make their own work can impact students’ academic and artistic choices but also in a small way, their understanding of taking control. Similarly, in play therapy, the client leads their own therapeutic change.

Another connection relates to play therapy’s focus on non-directive language. As I work primarily in a non-directive manner, instead of asking questions or making suggestions, I reflect the child’s statements and physicality back to them to help them gain insight in their behaviour. This approach has resulted in some moments of illumination for clients I work with in therapeutic play. They have reflected on their statements and actions, having had the opportunity to observe their own behaviours.

What happens when this is applied to work as facilitators in schools? If a student devising a piece of theatre tells me, “I feel like we made progress this afternoon”, I might reflect “You feel the work this afternoon was good.” In the first instance, this allows the student an opportunity to examine their original statement, and potentially analyse it further. It also allows other people in the group to engage with the statement and offer their own opinions. In theory, students could respond immediately to the student’s statement; however as the facilitator you are in a position of power, and by reflecting students’ statements back to them you are redistributing some of that power and agency to them. In play therapy, there is a belief that the child has the tools to instigate their own change, and I apply this to theatre in education.

I am not advocating for the use of therapeutic practice in theatre in education. Therapy is based on a contract and an understanding of the boundaries in the sessions, the safeguarding procedures in place and the therapist’s professional experience and training. While the process of making theatre can be therapeutic for an individual, it can never be the aim. However, as this blog shows, I am very interested in utilising non-directive approaches to build an understanding of ensemble working and artistic control. If you are assisting groups of student actors on their devised piece, other cast members can direct and offer insight, for example. The shared rituals that we create can be suggested and led by different members of the group. In a school setting, you will always have the power as the adult in the room. While we as facilitators may aim to work against this, I believe that half of the battle is acknowledging your power and where possible, redistributing it.


Axline, Virginia M. (1964) Dibs: In Search of Self. London, Penguin Group.

Axline, Virginia M. (1969) Play Therapy. London, The Random House Publishing Group.

Follow Sarah on twitter @SarahEastaff