Freshers' Guide to Cambridge Theatre

29 September 2007

It’s a small place, Cambridge; half an hour from side to side. Cambridge theatre, on the other foot, is pretty big, but in a good way.

This term, the TCS Theatre Section Team is launching a new guide on a new website for new people to Cambridge (or to theatre in Cambridge). This Guide is a sort of drama portal, a one-stop-thesp-til-you-drop area. It will bring together all the info about theatre from all the different venues and societies and puts it in one place. Convenient. There will be sections for (in alphabetical order, so as not to upset anyone): Actors, Critics, Designers (costume and set), Directors, Musical Directors, Publicists, Stage Managers, Techies (Lighting and Sound) and Writers. Find out what each of these entails, how you can get involved and read a few comments from some of the people involved. It doesn’t matter if you’re an old hand or more like a new pair of squeaky shoes, there will be lots of links, plenty of pictures and even some extra reading lists to keep you entertained.

Cambridge theatre can be exciting, hilarious, experimental and just plain enjoyable but one thing it shouldn’t be is intimidating. It’s really not hard to find out about and to get immersed in; it’s down to you to do as much or as little as you choose. All we’re doing is giving you the knowledge and there’s no harm in that.

It says somewhere in Brecht on Theatre: “If you want to talk about the theatre it will be rather a one-sided picture” but luckily Brecht is not in charge of the TCS Theatre Section this term…

Hannah, Marsha and Cat.

Keep checking this page for updates throughout Michaelmas, and don’t forget to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below!

Scroll down for the following guides below (in alphabetical order):

Actor

Director

Designer

Musical Director

Producer

Publicist

Stage Manager

Technician

Actor

With more venues than you can wave a script at and from melodrama to tragedy, slapstick to farce, Cambridge – at some time, somewhere -has it all. As such acting opportunities are many and diverse.

How to get involved:

– Get on a mailing list: Check out ACTS, the Central Cambridge Theatre database and add your name to the ADC Actors’ List. This goes out twice weekly, giving all details of forthcoming auditions. Camdram also has details of all current productions, who’s in them and lots of other theatrical information:www.camdram.net

– Audition: There are usually 2 rounds of auditions. The first round is, on the whole, 5-10 minutes and consists of reading a speech or two you’ll find outside the audition room. Be confident and open: directors might ask you to play about with a scene and try the character another way. Take your time preparing before you go in: think about how you can show off your strengths and pick a speech that you like or understand or think you can do well (or all three). There’s really no rush; inevitably there’s quite a queue of people muttering lines under their breath and sporting interesting expressions. It’s a good opportunity, also, to write something funny/witty/ flirtatious on your information form; directors often try to come up with amusing questions to find out about you. They’ll also probably take your mug shot so make sure you smile. The second round or recalls are usually held soon after the first round and the director will notify you by email if they want you to attend. These are usually half an hour or longer and involve some group work and games. Again, be open; don’t block people but work with them. Although there is an element of competition, you’ll bring the best out in yourself if you’re being generous and working with the rest of the group, as opposed to showing off individually. Auditions are often at the start and end of term, so keep your eye on the mailing list. Other opportunities do come up through term but don’t miss out at the start.

– Rehearsals, Rehearsals, Rehearsals: If you’re selected for the cast of a production, next comes the play itself! Commitment varies based on size of role, type of show, style of director but make sure you understand what is expected of you before you begin. Some things are very hard to mix with drama, like a serious sport commitment so think carefully and try not to wind your director up; they do, after all, have the power to make you play daft games.

– The Performance

– The Cast Party

– Go back to the beginning.

As Michael Chekhov said: ‘Many of the questions that may arise in your mind during or after the reading of each chapter can best be answered through the practical application of the exercises prescribed herein. Unfortunately, there is no other way to co-operate: the technique of acting can never be properly understood without practicing it.’ Break a Leg!

Viewpoints: Coming Soon!

Links:

This is a list of the different venues and societies. One of the largest – in terms of productions – is the ADC, which puts on a mainshow at 7.45pm for 1 ½ to 2 hours and a lateshow at 11pm for 1 hour, every week. There are also additional slots for One Night Stands and comedy events. http://www.cuadc.org/

If comedy is your tipple, Footlights is for you. They hold comedy Smokers (involving singing, sketches and stand up) every other Tuesday at 11pm at the ADC, with a Virgin Smoker for people who have never done one before (usually the 2nd Smoker of Michaelmas term). Besides this they do a Christmas Panto and Spring Revue, as well as a Tour Show which pitches up, in August, in Edinburgh: http://www.footlights.org/

There are also a number of other opportunities, like May Week Shows and touring groups, such as: ETG which goes to Europe over Christmas; CAST which goes to America over the summer holiday; and the Pembroke Players Japan Tour to, well, Japan, also over the summer. Alternatively there are always a plethora of shows going up to Edinburgh. Just the thing to keep you going through your exams. http://www.etg.org.uk/ http://www.castonline.org/ http://www.srcf.ucam.org/pemplayers/japantour/index.php?title=Main_Page

Below are the main college societies/venues in Cambridge. Although most have some sort of drama society, which usually puts on a freshers show, below are the more active ones:

Corpus Christi College Playroom/ The Fletcher Players, President Miranda Barty-Taylor (president@fletcherplayers.co.uk): http://www.srcf.ucam.org/fps/

Queens College/ BATS, President Mark Maughan (mjm91): http://www.srcf.ucam.org/bats/ Pembroke College/The

Pembroke Players, President Hannah Baker (president@pembrokeplayers.org): http://www.srcf.ucam.org/pemplayers/

Emmanuel College/REDS, Presidents Emily Taylor/David Ralfe (president@reds.me.uk): http://www.srcf.ucam.org/reds/index.html But productions are not the be all and end all.

There are also a number of workshopping opportunities. Keep your eye on the student press in the listings and Theatre/Review sections for upcoming events.

Also check out the following: Judith E. Wilson Studio, Jeremy Hardingham (jh580): http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/dramastudio/index.htm The Marlowe Society: http://www.themarlowe.org/

Some Reading: Just in case you have a spare half hour to devote to something other than work –

Michael Chekhov, To the Actor

Jacques LeCoq, The Moving Body

Keith Johnstone, Impro and Impro for Storytellers

Brecht, On Theatre trans. John Willett

Designer

Designing covers a huge remit but technie stuff (lighting and sound) is covered elsewhere. In this guide we’ll look at costume and set.

How to get involved:

– Get on a mailing list: Check out ACTS, the Central Cambridge Theatre database and add your name to the Designers’ List. This goes out at intervals through term, giving details of opportunities and how to get involved. Camdram also has details of all current productions, who’s in them and lots of other theatrical information, including a good section on suppliers of materials and all sorts:www.camdram.net

– Interview: Most directors will want to interview you to discuss your ideas for the production. It’s important to read the play; directors won’t be very impressed if you’re forthright with ideas but have no idea what’s going on. There are different work dynamics with different directors; some are much more lenient than others and let you get on with your own thing. Staying in regular communication is important as rehearsals continue and design ideas change.

Viewpoints:

Megan Prosser was the Designer for ETG’s Macbeth Tour over Christmas 2006. Here are her top tips for designing:

– Don’t worry about practicalities so soon that it stops you being creative. If you’re designing and making costumes, then you probably know your own limitations. But if you’re set designing, you probably won’t be making it yourself. So be adventurous!

– It’s not cheating to turn to magazines, exhibitions, artists, photographs and even other plays you have seen for inspiration and current fashions. Chances are, even if you have an idea which strikes you like a bolt of lightening and you think is brand new, it’s come out of your subconscious from something you’ve seen before anyway.

– Costumes and set are meant to help, never hinder performances. Comfort of costumes and ease of using the set are paramount.

– Start early, so that when the director/ technical director asks how it’s coming along, you’re well ahead of the game.

– Draw up preliminary budgets early. The internet is a top place to look for prices.

– Get yourself an artists colour wheel. Most people know that a primary and a secondary colour will go together, but by adding black or white to colours you can come up with something completely fresh and a wheel will help this.

– Always be prepared to back down, or at least to redraft your ideas over and over. Some directors have very clear visions, but the skill of realizing something you have been set to do is just as important as full artistic license.

Links: Coming Soon!

Director

A director is the person who actually puts the play together, he or she is in charge of all the artistic aspects of the show. A director will have an overall vision and interpretation of the play which will be communicated to the cast and design team in rehearsals. Rehearsals will be led by the director and he or she will need to come up with innovative ways of helping actors explore their characters.

Although a director is clearly the boss of the show, dictatorial directors who don’t acknowledge ideas of the cast will find it hard to work with university peers. Directing a college or society production usually requires openness, flexibility and sensitivity to your cast. After all, your actors will probably have more than one priority apart from your production, not least academic commitments.

Once you decide to get involved seriously, you’ll find that all drama societies have specific application processes for directors. Once you’ve decided on a play and an approach, you’ll need to submit an application to the society you want to work with. You may be required to describe your vision for the play, as well as some initial design ideas and often a projected budget. The society may want to interview you about your proposal. If your application is accepted, you’ll be allocated a budget, usually between £500 and £1500 and given run dates.

After this the extent of your responsibilities really depends on whether you have a producer or not. If you do, then your role will be purely artistic – preparing and running rehearsals, tossing and turning at night about cutting lines. Of course, you’ll also be responsible for auditions and you will need to know exactly what you’re looking for and how to find it, you may have to extract skills from an actor right at the audition. But you will have to create a comfortable atmosphere because a nervous actor will never demonstrate even half of his potential.

If, however, you are your own producer (which is often the case with college society productions) you’ll find yourself doing a lot of administration too – making rehearsal schedules and booking rooms, orchestrating get- ins and tech-runs, negotiating performance rights with publishers.

Either way, becoming a director is a huge responsibility and should never be taken on lightly. You have to be ready to accept that, at least during performance week, the rest of your life – social, academic, sex – will be placed on hold. Nothing can be worse for a production than a distracted director who can’t plan things carefully and way in advance. However, it is a real chance to be in a role that is creative, administrative and managerial at the same time, and it is immensely rewarding. If you find yourself visualising things you read, if you have a nack for articulating your vision, if you like organising people – or to be crude, if you like power – then directing is definitely for you.

How to get involved:

– A good way to get started is to apply to be an Assistant Director (AD) alongside a more experienced director. You’ll be able to observe them conducting rehearsals and may well be assigned some work with the actors yourself. You can find out if anyone is looking for ADs from camdram.net, which is any thesps’ Bible.

– If you’ve had directing experience before, why not apply to direct a Freshers’ play, which most college and university societies put on at the end of Michaelmas. Although this is quite a hectic experience, with usually about three weeks to rehearse once everyone gets settled in and actually applies, it’s really rewarding and very popular as your fellow first years will be keen to support you from the auditorium.

– Find out what venues are available to which society. You might like the state-of-the-art yet backstage-less Fitzpatrick Hall, administered by BATS or the quirky studio space of the Corpus Playroom might be better suited to you production.

– Why not read the endlessly informative, objective guide compiled by the CUADC gang? You can find it here: http://www.cuadc.org/?section=getinvolved&pg=director

– Finally, see as much diverse theatre as you can. A director needs lots of points of reference and, if you’re careful, it never hurts to adopt and adapt ideas that you liked.

Links:

Check out http://www.camdram.net/infobase/getting_involved/directing and http://www.cuadc.org/?section=getinvolved&pg=director for some useful advice.

Musical Director

A Musical Director is responsible for all live musical aspects of the show. Your role will vary depending on whether the production is a full scale musical or just has elements of music performance. Either way, you will be liaising with the director, choreographer and sound designer and in charge of making sure the musical performers are brilliant. Therefore, you will probably participate in auditions to make sure the director doesn’t acquire tone deaf performers. You may also be in charge of rehearsing musical numbers and leading singing practices. You’ll probably be in charge of organising the band, maybe conducting and even composing/arranging some of the score.

Needless to say, the job requires a good background in music and proficiency with scores. But you also need to be a good leader and patient teacher who’s ready to accept that things will not be perfect from day one. As far as university productions go, you’ll probably never achieve musical perfection, but you’ll have a lot of fun on the way and be able to apply your creativity as well as musical skill.

How to get involved:

– Apply as an Assistant MD: not all shows will require an MD, but those that do will probably be big enough to need an assistant as well. Working alongside a more experienced MD will help you learn about the job and let you try your hand at some of the responsibilities.

– Check camdram.net for ads seeking the musically-inclined

– Look out for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, and join their mailing list. They are the premiere musical theatre soc in Cambridge with termly productions, some of which tour outside Cambridge. You can find more information here: http://www.srcf.ucam.org/gands/

Viewpoints: Coming soon

Links:

Check out Cambridge’s premiere musical theatre societies

CUMTS: http://www.societies.cam.ac.uk/cumts/

Gilbert and Sullivan Society: www.srcf.ucam.org/gands/

And don’t forget to look out for MD vacancies on camdram.net

Producer

Being a producer can be one of the most challenging and least recognised roles in theatre. But having a good producer is crucial to every production, and can be a lot of fun. A producer’s main responsibility is to organise, manage and run the production practically and financially, with the director responsible for it artistically. Ideally the director and producer should be on good terms and have a close working relationship.

The producer is in charge of arranging audition spaces and rehearsal spaces, and he or she will normally also be present in rehearsals and help the director cast the play. The producer is also the main link between the venue, the funding body and the production and will liaise between all three. He or she is in charge of recruiting crew and working closely with the production team and making sure everything is running smoothly. Producers also have financial control over the play; they are responsible for drawing up a budget (with input from the director and designers), making sure the budget is not overspent and reimbursing the production team members for anything they have spent on the show. If the performance is taking place outside of Cambridge or as part of a tour the producer is also responsible for finding accommodation for all of the company, acknowledging the company members’ various needs and sorting out travel arrangements. Publicity is also incredibly important. Depending on artistic ability the producer will either appoint a publicity designer or design the publicity themselves. The producer is responsible for sending out press releases, organises the printing of flyers and posters, marshalling the cast into distributing these posters and flyers, and building as big a profile for the production as possible. Nearing performance week, the producer is also responsible for writing and printing programmes and collecting cast and crew information to go in those programmes. If there are not sufficient front of house staff at the venue the producer will also be ripping tickets and selling programmes on the door. Producing can be a very varied task; if any member of cast or crew is having a practical problem with the production or needs some assistance it is the producer’s job to step in and sort it out.

Producers need to be committed, organised and show initiative. They need to be able to foresee potential complications and work around them. They need to be patient with everyone that they work with but also sometimes firm. They need to be able to stay relatively calm when others are not and be prepared to receive minimal open recognition of their efforts (until perhaps the after show party).

How to get involved:

– The best way to get involved is to apply to assistant produce or co-produce a show with a more experienced producer. This will give you a chance to learn a lot about producing, but won’t place too much responsibility on you individually. You can find out if any shows are looking for co-producers or assistant producers by subscribing to the production list by emailing soc-adc-production-subscribe@lists.cam.ac.uk .

– You could also try producing a freshers’ show, as most Cambridge drama societies include a producers’ rep who will help out and give guidance to fresher producers. Most college drama societies have an annual freshers’ play, as does the ADC Club. Links: http://www.cuadc.org/?section=getinvolved&pg=emaillists Here the relevant email list can also be found and subscribed to.

Publicist

Publicists are chiefly responsible for promoting a production. Often they are in charge of creating the overall publicity design which will feature on flyers, posters and promotional merchandise (“stash”) or sometimes they work in conjunction with a publicity designer. A publicist needs to build up as a big a profile for a show as possible through sending out press releases; flyering and putting up posters in colleges, faculties and around town; organising publicity stunts and trying to think up novel ways of marketing the show such as giving away promotional balloons and badges. Depending on the scale of the production, the publicist may begin work months in advance planning the production’s publicity campaign. The approach used will also depend on when and where the show is performed; obviously differently publicity tactics are needed for a term-time student show, an our-of-term show, an Edinburgh show or a touring show.

How to get involved:

– If mostly interested in the graphic design side of the role it’s useful to have artistic experience in other contexts which can be brought to publicity design. Therefore freelance illustration or illustrating a paper for example could provide excellent experience and help hone the skills needed.

– To find out which shows are seeking publicity managers/ publicists or publicity designers you should subscribe to the production and techie email lists run by camdram. This can be done by emailing soc-adc-production-subscribe@lists.cam.ac.uk and soc-adc-techies-subscribe@lists.cam.ac.uk .

– Not all shows will explicitly advertise for publicists but most would find them useful. Therefore if there is a show you would particularly like to be involved in it is a good idea to email the producer and put yourself forward as a potential publicity manager/ publicity assistant.

Viewpoints: Coming soon

Links:

http://www.cuadc.org/?section=getinvolved&pg=emaillists Here the relevant email lists can also be found and subscribed to.

Stage Manager

Stage Management can involve a huge range of jobs and responsibilities depending on the scale of the production. It can also be subdivided into a number of different roles; Stage Manager (SM), Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) and Assistant Stage Manager (ASM).

The SM is responsible in some theatres, such as the ADC, for performing safety and fire checks, and making the cast aware of any potential hazards. If creatively inclined, the SM is also often responsible for sourcing or making props for the show. During the actual performance the SM is in charge of setting, collecting and looking after props and maybe also moving set and helping with complicated costume changes. If there is no DSM (see below) the SM may also be cueing the show from the SM desk. If the SM is working on a professional or semi-professional style production they might also be responsible for communicating rehearsal times to the cast and relaying set and costume information from the director to the production team, but this rarely occurs in Cambridge. If the production in question is particularly technically complicated, the SM may also design SM plots or wing plots. These essentially choreograph where all the members of the SM team will be at different moments in the play and which characters and props they will be dealing with when. Technical rehearsals are also often run by the SM, who is one of the few company members with the power to pause the technical rehearsal. Technical rehearsals are normally run from cue to cue and used to practise and sort out all technical aspects of the play. In this situation the SM needs to try and get through the play as speedily as possible, whilst making sure none of the technical intricacies are rushed.

The Deputy Stage Manager is in charge of the stage management desk and is responsible for cueing all the lighting, sound and counterweights cues throughout the production. It helps if they have a good sense of timing and, if doing a musical, if they can read music to a reasonable level. The DSM needs to be very familiar with the script and will have their own special copy of it, the Prompt copy, which will contain all the show’s cues. If it’s a production with a very large cast such as a dance show, the DSM may also be responsible for calling the performers to the stage from the dressing room throughout the show.

Assistant Stage Mangers are only involved in shows where the SM needs more than one pair of hands. They tend to help the SM with props, costume and set changes. Of the three roles it involves the least organisation and responsibility so can be the best position to start with.

How to get involved:

– Apply to Assistant Stage Manage a show. As an ASM its pretty easy to learn on the job and it also gives you a really good insight into how all the different aspects of backstage work. As an ASM you’re normally also welcome to attend rehearsals, so can even get more of an insight into acting and directing, if you’re also interested in those sides of theatre. To find out if there are any shows looking for stage managers make sure you’ve signed up to the technical and production lists, which advertise all the roles still available in upcoming productions. This can be done by emailing soc-adc-production-subscribe@lists.cam.ac.uk and soc-adc-techies-subscribe@lists.cam.ac.uk

– Take part in the ADC SM Shadowing Scheme. This is designed to give people who have never stage managed before an opportunity to see what it’s like. You will get a chance to ‘shadow’ a Stage Manager working on an ADC show. You’ll spend an evening watching them work and getting an idea of all the ins and outs of stage management. You can even apply to shadow a production from its initial stages until production week and therefore get an idea of what the overall process of stage management is like. To take part in the ADC SM Shadowing Scheme, get in contact with the wonderfully friendly ADC SM and Producers’ Rep Joe Hytner on sm@cuadc.org and find out which shows are available this term.

Viewpoints: Coming soon

Links:

http://www.cuadc.org/?section=getinvolved&pg=emaillists Here the relevant email lists can also be found and subscribed to.

Technician

Although actors may think they rule the Cambridge drama scene, secretly it’s all run by techies. Techies tend to have particular interests and fulfill specific technical roles. For example technical directors (TDs) are responsible for building (but not normally designing) sets, which vary hugely in their complexity, and can involve things such as bridges and multiple levels. The TD is also responsible for ensuring that the set is safe for cast members to use and for filling out the production’s risk assessment.

On the other hand, lighting designers (LDs) tend to be more visually creative and are charge of encapsulating the shifting mood of the show through the change in lighting states. Often LDs will not be the plotting the lights or operating the lights during production week themselves, but will leave that in the hands of electricians (LXs).

Sound Designers are responsible for the audio aspect of the show and therefore will need to be able to source appropriate sound effects, find the right balance if there is live music and manage any microphones.

How to get involved:

– If interested in lighting or sound design its good idea to start off as a lighting or sound operator working with a more experienced designer, who will normally be more than happy to show you the ropes.

– It can also be useful to come along and help at large scale get-ins which normally happen on Saturday nights and involve setting up the set and lights for the next week’s show. This gives you a chance to meet lots of more experienced technicians and gain some good practical experience.

– There are also lighting workshops held at the ADC a few times during this term, which are a great way of learning more about lighting design.

– Some productions, such as the annual European Touring Group production, have specific fresher techie positions for the enthusiastic but inexperienced. To find out what technical positions are available, make sure you sign up to the technical mailing list by emailing soc-adc-techies-subscribe@lists.cam.ac.uk

Viewpoints: Coming soon

Links: Links: http://www.cuadc.org/?section=getinvolved&pg=emaillists Here the relevant email list can also be found and subscribed to.