Smorgasbord Preview: A Space for Emerging New Writers to Develop their Craft

Anna Trowby 15 March 2021
Image Credits: Camdram

I remember the exact moment when I realised that I wanted to explore Cambridge’s exciting theatre scene. I was talking to someone who I recognised from a show that I had seen the week before. We did the same course at college, and we shared a mutual interest in theatre and acting. When she told me about all the productions she had been involved in and the adventures she had in theatre, I knew I had to get involved in some way.

And so began a perilous term of auditioning for numerous plays and failing to get any roles. I initially persuaded myself that this was just part of the acting cycle – you get rejected 5 times, you sink into a pit of self-loathing for a while and then redeem yourself when you get that one acceptance email to join a wonderful new production at the ADC. I tried to stay optimistic about my acting endeavours with this motivation in mind, but after many embarrassing auditions where I didn’t know what I was doing, I fell out of love with theatre for a while. After so many rejections, I nearly convinced myself that theatre was not worth pursuing. And then Smorgasbord came along.

I wasn’t sure what Smorgasbord was, and what it was for, but when I was offered my first theatrical role by the organisers, I was beyond ecstatic. I couldn’t care less what the show was about, as long as I had a starring role in it! (Little did I know that I would later be hosting and running Smorgasbord two years later as the Fletcher Writer’s Representative.) But when I began to interact with the directors and my fellow castmates, I gradually realised what a special night Smorgasbord is in the Cambridge Theatre Calendar.

Formed several years ago by the Fletcher Players Society as a biannual celebration of new student writing, Smorgasbord has become THE place for emerging actors, writers and directors to enter Cambridge theatre and begin to develop their craft. Several students got their start by getting involved with Smorgasbord plays, and I am very proud to count myself as one of these people. Not only does Smorgasbord allow for creatives to interact with one another and get a taste of student theatre, but it also provides a welcoming environment where people feel comfortable sharing their exciting new ideas. We offer student creatives the opportunity to engage with new writing, to find themes that resonate with them and to be inspired to create their own work.

Smorgasbord is also an endlessly unique production – for each production, we accept submissions from a variety of genres, about a range of topics: comedy and tragedy, the profound and the profane, the experimental and the traditional. As long as the plays contain a unique and engaging voice, that’s all we care about. Each Smorgasbord night contains carefully selected short plays by student writers, and we encourage newcomers to theatre and directing to apply to be part of the show. Although the atmosphere of each production will vary depending on the plays that are submitted, each night remains true to its core ethos of promoting student theatre and the talented people within it. Student writers test out bold and often challenging material in front of an engaged audience. Actors experiment with their portrayal of complex and unique characters, directed sensitively and creatively by first-time directors. To top it all off, at the end of each play, we host a Q+A with the creatives behind the show, allowing for the audience to get an insight into what it was like to write, direct and act in a new play.

When I got involved in my first Smorgasbord production, I was not aware of the intricacies of the Smorgasbord tradition – I wouldn’t have been able to define Smorgasbord’s ethos and I don’t think I even realised it was a small festival dedicated to showcasing student writing. However, I did see how committed the hosts were to cultivating a creative and fun atmosphere for us all. I also felt welcomed by the creative team, and it was a wonderful experience to befriend people who were similarly new to Cambridge theatre. Everyone’s enthusiasm for the show manifested in the vibrant and original performances that we gave that night. I enjoyed Smorgasbord so much that I appeared in another production during my second year. And then I enjoyed that Smorgasbord night so much that I decided to apply for the role of the Fletcher Players’ Writers’ Representative, so that I could carry on Smorgasbord’s wonderful traditions whilst staying true to its purpose of finding innovative new writing.

Hosting Smorgasbord has not been without its challenges during this turbulent year. The closure of our usual venue, Corpus Playroom, marked a transition to virtual theatre, something that had never been done in Smorgasbord’s history. However, this difficulty presented new opportunities for Smorgasbord. Because we were hosting a virtual night, were able to include actors who were self-isolating and wanted to get involved in theatre from the comfort of their rooms. We also set up our YouTube page, Smorgasbord New Writing (please do subscribe!), and we were able to put on a wonderful production despite the technical obstacles we faced.

This term, we explore new terrain for Smorgasbord by hosting our first-ever audio production, featuring plays specifically written for radio. This presented a new challenge for our prospective student writers, who had to conceive of setting, character and narrative in an audio format. Student writers were more than up for the challenge, and as a result, we now have an excellent set of shows that we are so excited to share with you. We hope that they inspire you, captivate you, make you laugh, make you cry, confuse you – whatever you’re feeling, we welcome it. As long as you’re having some kind of reaction to the show, we are doing our jobs by engaging you with the best that student writing has to offer.

Smorgasbord will premiere Tuesday 16th March at 8pm on CUADC Online. A virtual Q+A on Zoom will follow the event.