ELLA WILSON interviews MATT TURBETT, festival director of the London Student Drama Festival.

EW: So, tell me a little about your involvement with LSDF.

MT: When I became president of the UCL Drama Society, the first thought that came to my mind at the AGM was I want to try to do something about bringing universities together, because that’s just something that doesn’t happen.

So when Josie and Owen handed LSDF over to us last year, my goal was to change it from – well, basically to make it an actual festival! Because it was called a festival, but actually it was just a new writing competition. So basically last year we did big workshops and socials, as well as the new writing competition. And we got some more universities involved, we kind of bumped up our visibility and the number of activities we did, so that then it became a festival, which is something we were really really proud of. And then the other thing we did last year was we started to mingle more with the other presidents. And also because it was entering its fifth year as well, we thought we should do a quinquennial celebration. Yeah, I had to look that word up.

So that was the fifth year, and then, kind of in between that finishing last March, and obviously this one kicking off, we then asked if we could host the Inter University Drama Festival. I thought that instead of UCL hosting it, LSDF could host it. Which is weird, because it means a festival is hosting a festival – festival-ception, I know. It was basically because UCL on its own wouldn’t be able to support it, in terms of having the room and capacity to do it. Also because I wanted it to be a big thing, in a similar way to how I thought LSDF wasn’t really a festival, but then we made it a festival, IUDF is supposed to be the country’s biggest student-led writing festival. And I was like, this is supposed to be the biggest event for students, every year, and it hasn’t really ever achieved that. And also like, I know that while everyone is trying not to be so London-centric, equally I was like if we bring it to London, that’s the most connected place in the UK, we can probably make it the biggest one so far. Which we did!

We then ran the UK’s largest student-led theatre festival… I’m gonna say to date, because fuck it, why not. And it really felt like a really big event. They came down on the Friday night, had a welcome talk, had a little workshop, then had drinks, and the performances were then on the Saturday and Sunday. And it felt like a huge deal, that everyone was coming together, and people were talking to each other from all these different universities, but equally, they were just all doing the same stuff. They were all performing on the same stage, all had twenty minutes, and yeah, they loved it, and it really meant something. And I hope – the goal is that that’s instilled in everyone else what IUDF is meant to be, it’s meant to be the UK’s biggest student-led theatre festival. It’s not meant to be something that’s done really badly and is shit. It’s meant to have as many people as possible. I also completely acknowledge that being in London makes it so much easier to do that.

So, we did that in between. And going into the sixth LSDF, I know it’s my last year doing it, because I think it should be student-led. That’s the whole point of it, it’s run by students for students. So I thought, if it’s my last year, I want to go big. I basically wanted to kind of level up all the venues.

Hence: West End!

West End, yeah! In the end, the signed contract for the Duchess was really just pot luck, and they offered us a good reduction. So that’s where we are at the moment.

The main thing was organising workshops. This year we’ve also had a trip to School of Rock, last week, which is our first event, thanks to Mousetrap. We have another theatre trip at the beginning of April to The Inheritance at the Young Vic, which will be really good. And then yeah, in between that we have the new writing competition, the semi-finals at the Pleasance and the finals at the Duchess, and also next Monday we have our play in a day, which is cool. So we’ve kind of added that in, as an extra.

The big thing is getting on the West End. And also just making a news story out of it as well. Really trying to do a push, like to get in The Stage, that was amazing. That’s the big aim, with this sixth one. We’ve made it a festival now, which is great, people now know about us across the country, because we just hosted the biggest fucking festival ever, which felt like it as well. Now we want to prove to the public, and to the industry, that this is what student theatre is. It’s not shit. Well, some of it is shit. Some student theatre is shit and wank. That’s how it’s meant to be, because it’s a testing ground.

We’re babies!

Exactly, we’re meant to fuck up.

But we should also be given the opportunity to give it a go.

Exactly, and I think one night a year, we deserve to be on the West End.

Are you excited?

Yeah, I am excited. Kind of more nervous actually, about afterwards, when I have to find someone to take it all over. Need to think about that. But yeah, it’s really exciting. We’ve got ‘West End Producer’, now need to confirm more judges, and prizes.

So yeah, that’s what LSDF is up to at the moment. The move to the West End. Basically, we want to maximise the exposure, trying to get as big a story about it as possible. Because I think it’s a really big stand for students to be going to the West End. It’s not like there aren’t student shows on the West End, but I think for a festival that is purely pioneering and championing new writing in student theatre to be on the West End, literally in the title ‘Student Drama’, like in the very middle of the title, I think that’s a really big step. And I just want people to know that. And I also want people to give me a job. And I think that means I’m one of the youngest people producing on the West End at the moment, which is great, it’s a great line for the CV.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Come to all the events please, we need to sell tickets. No, in all seriousness, do though, do, because it’s probably the only opportunity you’ll have to mix with other students. If you do actually go and make the effort to talk to other people, you’ll be able to talk to other students at different universities which just isn’t something that happens! We are in such a bubble, even being in London, there’s like twenty universities within ten miles, all with their own drama societies.

And we don’t hang out with them!


SOAS is over the road, and we don’t hang out with them.

It literally is! So, you should come to this, and hang out with them. It’s a great thing, and I hope it keeps going. I’m proud of it. It’s vital, and it’s necessary, I think, to bring London students together, let alone bring students from around the UK together. I think it’s important to realise you’re not the only university in London. Everyone’s doing student theatre, so enjoy that. Don’t work against it. Which I have felt like is kind of people’s mentality sometimes. There are some universities that don’t want to get involved. They want to shelter their own students from it, which I think is fucking stupid.

We’re all just going to end up in the same world anyway,

Exactly. So yeah, I’m very proud of it. Come to our West End finals! That’s LSDF in a nutshell. A very large nutshell.

LSDF is hosting the New Writing Festival semi-finals on 13th and 15th March at the Pleasance Theatre, and the finals on 19th March at the Duchess. Find out about upcoming events here.

Featured image designed by James Cassir.