The term ‘cuppers’ refers to pretty much any inter-college competition, but with drama, it’s so much more. Drama Cuppers in your first term is one of myriad opportunities to reinvent yourself at university.
Were you always shit at drama at GCSE? Did you become rigid with
self-doubt as you performed before your peers? Don’t worry – you will have subconsciously developed the technique and poise of a young Olivier over the course of A-Levels. It will all seem so much simpler now.
And so, around second week, you join a raggedy group of aspiring thesps and try to create something resembling a play. The standard is varied and the cracks will quickly start to show, as those who are actually any good feel their stage presence being sapped by the chorus of uncharismatic lunks downstage.
You will squeeze rehearsals between first essays in the unforgiving social landscape that is first term. As the rush to impress friends and tutors alike takes centre stage, rehearsals can be shunted to the wings. Our director was summoned to a house party by ‘this guy who has a crush on me’ during a last-minute run-through in the college bar. The show went on.
During the festival each show is judged by a panel of judges who award prizes at the end. There is a variety: an individual can be awarded Best Actor and a performance can win Spirit of Cuppers (read: chaotic). The best shows will be given an extra performance slot on the Saturday and you’ll even be lucky enough to get a review in student publications.
Cuppers is supposed to test your initiative as well as talent, so the plays will be raw displays of adrenaline rather than the polished product of months of rehearsal. With run-time capped at 30 minutes and only four weeks to rehearse, most find themselves pressed for time to write something original and so cut great swathes out of great plays, with varying results.
Our production of Dario Fo’s two-act satire The Accidental Death of an Anarchist was unceremoniously cut to a single act. Confusing references to the ‘anarchist dancer’, who was never introduced, served to remind the audience that the play was not being performed exactly as Fo had envisaged.
The complicated denouement was pared down to a couple of hasty surprises, rounded off with the sound of a bomb exploding. However, in the gloomy recesses of the Burton Taylor Theatre, the ‘bomb’ sounded more like a burst crisp packet, and provoked an unsteady bout of clapping by the few audience members who had realised that this was the end.
And so Cuppers may be compared to a lot of things you will do in your first year at Oxford. Much like essays written while pissed at 3am, there will be aspects of the flabby and the ill-advised in this motley collection of plays, but there will also (hopefully) be flashes of brilliance.
Ultimately, Cuppers is not the most serious drama event of the year, nor should it be taken as such. Nonetheless, for that beautiful half hour on stage you are united in stardom. Those few unsteady claps will feel like champagne and confetti as they rain down on you and shower you in glory; you’ve made it. You got into Oxford and smashed the drama scene.
Soon you’ll probably become best mates with Emma Watson.
However, a passing nod will be all that remains of that once bright flare of friendship, ignited by mutual thespy ambition now quashed. But don’t let this false felicity put you off. If you’re keen on drama or just vaguely interested, signing up for Cuppers is definitely your first step.