ELLIE – ON THE STAGE
Drama at Oxford is a vast, thriving scene with four main theatres putting on as many as two shows a week, garden plays in summer, tours to the Fringe, and short films too. There’s a wealth of productions to see or take part in; classics for your more serious dramaturges; devised comedies; large-scale musicals. OUDS – Oxford University Drama Society – provides funding for productions, advertises upcoming auditions and plays, and is there to answer all your questions about performing at Oxford.
It’s great to get involved with in first year because it provides a support network of friends. Performing in Anna Karenina last Michaelmas introduced me to second and third years who, as a nervous fresher, were invaluable helping me settle in during my first few months at Oxford. You can end up juggling plays, editing, sports, work – and thriving! Friends outside your college means you have people beyond your little bubble to go for a drink with – useful if you’re trying to escape any drama within college… Going to the Fringe this year with Redacted Arachnid was probably one of the best experiences of my life – seeing new, innovative theatre and performing every day in a gorgeous city is an amazing way to spend your summer.
So, how do you get involved? If you’re an actor, you can audition via the OUDS website – subscribe to their mailing list to hear about new auditions and then, if you see something you’d like to be involved in, sign up! Different shows have different ways of auditioning, but the most common is to prepare a short monologue. You can find monologues in most modern plays – although if you’re auditioning for Hamlet maybe stick with Shakespeare! Try to get friends to watch you perform it before you go – a bit of practice with an audience will boost your confidence (or be hilarious entertainment for non-thesp friends!).
This term I’m directing my first Oxford production – Things I Know to Be True in 4th Week, shameless plug – and it has definitely been a learning experience. Putting on a show requires assembling a production team, bidding for a theatre slot and then securing funding, marketing, hiring and designing set and lights – and that’s before even rehearsing your actors! If you’re keen to put on your own production, I’d recommend asking to shadow a producer or director first so you can see the process.
If you want to be involved in drama, go for it! There’s a really buzzing scene with absolutely loads to get involved in, but don’t be put off if you don’t manage to get in on your first try! It’s very normal to be nervous, but the majority of people are inclusive and lovely, and any bad experiences are few and far between. Keep pushing: if you work hard and are kind you will definitely find a way to be involved.
PIERCE – BEHIND THE SCENES
Oxford’s drama scene involves so much more than acting, although unfortunately often the wide range of opportunities available goes under the radar.
My experience lies within ‘behind-the-scenes’ production crew of a show – the team that make sure the actors have everything they need to put on a fantastic performance. If you’re a fan of theatre but have a bit of stage fright, have a passion for technical work or artistic design, or just love sending emails and making projects come to fruition, then perhaps this lesser known area of theatre could be exactly what you’re after.
Like most thespians, I began my journey with Drama Cuppers. Having already done a lot of acting at school and a bit of directing, Cuppers was such a great chance to work with a new group of friends and learn the ropes when putting on a show in student theatre, alongside getting my first taste of budgeting, ticket selling and marketing. It was great fun and would 100% recommend getting involved!
I then signed myself up to various mailing lists, including OUDS and TAFF, and liked Facebook pages advertising crew calls, such as the ‘OUDS Producers’ Network’ and ‘Graphic Designers of Oxford’. These are fantastic – anyone looking for a crew will begin here. If applying, try beginning with assistant roles to get some experience, but also to confirm you enjoy it. Some positions can be a large time commitment so it’s important to do something that excites you! Furthermore, some positions, like Sound or Costume Design, you might not have done before but are curious about. Assistant roles are a great way to experiment with new passions.
Once you gain more experience, you’ll probably find yourself in demand! Unfortunately, Oxford drama does suffer from nepotism. If you do well as part of a team, often a new director might pop up on Facebook with a job to save themselves the hassle of sifting through half-a-dozen application forms and interviews. It’s not ideal and can be elitist, but pages like OUDS are still frequently used- don’t be disheartened!
My first big role came as Marketing Director of Chicago, a fabulous and very famous musical set in crime-filled 1920s America, involving plenty of sex and scandal – watch out in 7th week! I bagged this after a good interview with minimal experience.
A friend heard and asked me to market Crave, at the Piltch in 3rd Week, an extremely engaging exploration of love, born in the radical 90s with a morbid tone refreshing in a typically unadventurous Oxford drama scene. With this came further opportunities. I’m now Producer of the company GOYA, marketing three shows and producing another two.
My advice: first, don’t wait for an opportunity to come your way. Hunt them. Second, hard work always goes noticed and will open doors. Third, although helpful, you don’t need lots of experience to do well, just good ideas and a lot of passion!
Oh – and try not to forget your degree.