You’ve got the tightly-buttoned shirt, and the black-rimmed glasses. You do an arts subject. You are so close. But if you really want to make it as a thesp, we’ve got a few simple pointers to help. Let us present our beginners’ guide to the curious world of Oxford theatre…
1. Find your niche. Obviously, “doing drama” doesn’t mean you’ve got to tread the boards. Behind every brilliant actor stands a phalanx of producers, directors, marketing managers, lighting designers, costume designers, sound engineers, etc., etc. What do you enjoy? Do you want to be creative? Or do your talents lie with organising a team and arranging props? The best thing to do here is get involved with Cuppers, and keep your eyes peeled for any shows who are on the lookout for a team. Don’t be afraid to email relentlessly. Word of mouth is really important in theatre, especially in somewhere as enclosed as Oxford – so be friendly, be completely committed to any roles you take on, and we can assure you it’ll pay off.
2. Audition. For everything. It all counts as experience! When you’re starting out, don’t ever neglect or refuse a role because it’s too small – that role might be the one which introduces you to the best director you’ve ever met, or teaches you skills you’d never have found if you’d gone for Hamlet instead. And don’t be shy when it comes to strutting your stuff in front of the directors: no matter what happens they will have seen worse, we promise. It’s completely natural to get nervous, but don’t let it put you off going for something fantastic. And auditions are usually advertised on Facebook, so now your essay procrastination is sort-of justified. Yay for you.
3. Pick your theatre. Let’s not pretend that there’s no hierarchy. There is. Whether you’re inclined to direct, produce or perform, it’s important to know what kind of level you want to work at. The order, as here decreed by OxStu Stage, is approximately as follows. Ascending: basic college theatre/JCR, Burton Taylor Studio, small college theatre, large college theatre (Keble’s O’Reilly is the best-known), Oxford Playhouse. It’s important to remember, however, that the Playhouse might be the holy grail in terms of scale and prestige, but some of the best experimental theatre and new writing début at the Burton Taylor or college theatres. You have to put in a bid for your chosen theatre, so prepare yourself to defend your production! And don’t shy away from getting creative with space, either: think cafés, college lawns/quads (even in Michaelmas, honestly), churches, the Oxford Union, Worcester’s legendary lake…
4. Societies. Work with them. There’s a huge diversity of production companies desperate to put on something exciting, and University societies ready to help aspiring thespians weave their masterpieces, so getting involved with one is one of the easiest platforms from which to make a name for yourself. Some are smaller, some are huge (think OUDS). If you choose a larger society or production company to be involved with, you’ll probably also find yourself connected to the world of Oxford drama well beyond your own production – and it’s always good to check out the competition.
5. Find your funding. Ok, boring but important. If you want to produce a show, you’re going to need people to give you money. If you want to act, you’re going to need people who like you enough to give your producers money. There are a plethora of obscure funding bodies out there, as well as the big financiers: it’s worth remembering that almost every college has some kind of subsidy or arts pool from which theatre funds can, with the right tools, be carefully mined. Be fearless. Loads of JCRs are also happy to put funds into theatre if there’s a demonstrable college interest.
6. Never give up. Actually no, just kidding: if you’re on your fifth show of the term and being threatened with imminent rustication, maybe taking a break would be good. But it is pretty important not to be discouraged. A show selling badly is not the end of the world; a bad review will not kill you (though we apologise in advance). If you enjoy it, keep at it! Prepare to abandon sleep/your friends/sanity, but don’t take no for an answer. Remember us when you’re famous.
7. And, finally… worst case scenario, you’re still allowed to heave your best dramatic sigh, give it all up and become a theatre critic. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTO/ Ed Schipul