On Sunday morning I set two alarms. Not because I’m bad at waking up but because I don’t trust the first alarm. For Christmas I got an old-school digital alarm clock but I threw away the manual while packing so I don’t know how it works. It turned out to be a good thing that I set a supplementary phone alarm because the clock alarm didn’t go off until 7:50pm (and then at 7:50pm for the next three days until we worked out how to turn it off).
The reason for getting up so early on a Sunday was this – I was headed into town to read NYWF submissions. The city is eerily quiet on a Sunday morning. Perhaps more so because it was a Sunday in the middle of a public holiday weekend. I wore a blocky coloured jumper and felt too colourful for Melbourne’s cold. It was chilly and I couldn’t escape the feeling that everyone else on my tram was a nurse or a doctor or something equally important, heading in to work to do important things. The Melbourne based members of Team NYWF congregated in a cafe in Fed Square, drinking tea and trawling our way through submissions. When two of the laptops lost power, we moved to Thousand Pound Bend, taking the change left over from the first split bill and spending it all on hot chocolates.
The non-Melbourne team members read from home (from their beds, I think). We missed them. It’s strange being such a disparate team. A lot of the strength of NYWF comes from the national focus and allowing people to work on the festival from wherever they are is a big part of that. But the opportunities to just sit around and talk books and drink wine together are few and far between. If teleportation was possible or our budget had room for infinite flights, we’d see each other all the time. As it is, most of our conversations happen as words on a screen.
Not for the first time I was struck by the intimacy of Google docs. More than almost anything else online, a Google doc has always felt like a shared space to me. Watching the little coloured cursors flicking across the screen is oddly thrilling. Even when people are far away, being able to watch then work on a document in real time – typing and deleting and re-typing comments – makes them feel closer.
In case you’re wondering about how the reading process worked, here’s a run down. Each submission is being read by four people: the three co-directors and either our festival manger, assistant manager or coordinator (who read a third each). We each marked the submissions on a scale of one to five, leaving comments about our choices. That’s as far as we’ve got so far. The next stage of the process is gradually narrowing the list down, filtering submission out until we’ve reached the number our program (and budget) has dictated. We can only take a fraction of the people who submitted so there’s a lot of tough decisions ahead. The choices are based on a bunch of things: background, ideas, enthusiasm, where people would fit within our program. It’s hard because we want every single person to come to the festival and be involved. But not everyone can come as an “artist”.
The strangest part is that I now have to see people who’ve applied in real life. The other day I was having a conversation with two people whose I knew had applied and it was like their application were hovering over their heads. At one point I actually asked a question about a project one of them was doing before realising I only knew about the project from their submission. My brain is half spreadsheet now.
I finished reading yesterday. That’s not the end of the process but it still felt like an achievement. I’m overwhelmed by the range and breadth and talent of the people who want to come to our festival and it’s going to be so, so hard to say no, to anyone. I already want to take more people than we can. The next few weeks are likely to be agony.
One thing I didn’t expect when I took this job was the responsibility of it all. NYWF belongs to the community. The pressure of being in charge of something that means so much to so many people is strange and huge and intimidating. I know from experience how much that artist acceptance can mean, what it can lead to. Being one of the people who opens and closes that door is hard. I wish there was a way to tell definitively who are the people who would get the most out of coming to NYWF, especially if they’ve never been. NYWF changed my life. I owe a fairly significant portion of the person I am today to this festival. I want to help other people discover the things that I have – ideas and opportunities and so, so, so many wonderful people.
It isn’t going to be easy. We’ll just keeping building this festival one chilly Sunday morning at a time.