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A Beginner’s Guide to the Mad World of Cambridge Theatre

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When people think of theatre in Cambridge they immediately think of The Footlights: a romping comedy group who have churned out British superstars like Olivia Colman, Hugh Dennis and Stephen Fry. In fact, this group is so infamous that there are a number of students who apply to Cambridge with the sole idea of getting involved with it at the front of their mind.


That includes me. I once had this idea, and I chose to apply for Linguistics at Cambridge so that I could have a great opportunity to do theatre and comedy on the side. That was years ago now, and I have since had the opportunity to stick my teeth into what this wonderful place really has to offer. I have not been disappointed. I have found so many wonderful experiences and friends in Cambridge Theatre just as I had hoped. However, it hasn’t been exactly what I had expected it to be when I first arrived. So, with that in mind, my aim with this blog is to talk potential newcomers through what they really need to know when getting involved in the mad world of Cambridge Theatre.


The first thing I would say about Cambridge Theatre is that it can be described in three very specific words: insanity, productivity and amazement. In that order. The ‘insanity’ comes from the fact that there are four university-wide shows on PER WEEK, and that doesn’t even include the college-specific shows (CADS and Brickhouse are basically university-wide anyway). This can feel a bit dizzying at first, as it’s hard to know where to start when trying to get involved. My only advice for this is to follow this Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/537078162977094/?ref=bookmarks because it’s where all the posts about auditions and production team applications are put up for people to get involved. After that, it’s simple: pick a few, and go for it.


The ‘productivity’ and ‘amazement’ parts come from just how outstanding so many of the shows end up being. You would expect that – with four shows a week, each with a four(ish) week rehearsal time – there would be quite a few shows that turned out to be duds, but no! I have seen and been in so many wonderful shows that are done to almost a professional standard, and I expect to see many more in the future.


The next thing to say about Cambridge is that the Footlights – as amazing as they still are – are not the main event in the Cambridge Theatre Calendar. When I arrived, I was shocked by just how many other societies were putting out shows on a regular basis that involved some of the best performers I’ve ever seen. For me, the most notable was CUMTS (Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society, we know it’s a nasty acronym), who put on ‘A Chorus Line’ in my first term. Seeing that show was an absolute blast, and some of the people involved knocked my socks off with their talent and ability. I couldn’t believe how amazing they were, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to get involved at first because I wasn’t good enough. I was wrong, and everyone has since been extremely accepting. I’m now the Junior Treasurer for CUMTS and am best friends with a bunch of the people I admired on stage way back in my first term.


The final – and most vital – thing to say about Cambridge Theatre is that it’s not just for the performers. Prior to going to University, every show that I had been in had adults on hand for the lighting, sound, set designing, publicity, choreography, directing, writing etc. etc. etc. but in Cambridge it’s all done by students. All of it. So, if you have stage fright, then you shouldn’t feel like the theatre scene isn’t for you! There is always something for you to get involved and fall in love with. For instance, I have taken on a number of crazy roles I never thought I would do during my time in Cambridge (my Camdram: https://www.camdram.net/people/arthur-roadnight), and have ultimately found that I have an absolute passion for script and music writing. In fact, this passion is so strong that I am applying for a masters in “Writing in Performance” after I graduate. I have Cambridge Theatre to thank for that.

Finally – if after reading this you’re looking to get involved with Theatre in Cambridge – here are three tips for you that I wish I’d known when I first got involved:

  • Don’t be disheartened by rejection, it doesn’t mean that you’re not cut out for something! Just keep trying!
  • Everyone already involved in theatre seems very intimidating, but they’re almost all extremely lovely and have been in the position that you’ve been in before! If you have a question about anything, don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Finally (and this is THE MOST IMPORTANT), don’t take on too much. It can be so tempting to get involved in every show you possibly can, particularly when FOMO sets in, but don’t do it. Stress ensues. Take it from me, I’ve been there.
Author
About Arthur Roadnight
Arthur is in his third year studying Linguistics at Christ's College, Cambridge. Having taken the 'Psychology of Language Learning and Processing' paper in his second year, Arthur has now found a particular love for how syntax is processed in the brain. In particular, he has discovered a strong interest in the comparative study of structural music processing and structural linguistic processing: a topic which has become the basis for his dissertation. Outside of his studies, Arthur is very active in the theatre community, having performed in a number of plays, musicals, and sketch shows. Through this, he has found a passion for scriptwriting and he plans to apply for a masters in 'Writing for Performance' after his degree is done.

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