From school halls, to curtain calls
I stumbled into the Cambridge theatre scene as a fresher with a naivete that now seems utterly bemusing to me. I hadn’t realised that the theatre scene here is essentially a mini-industry, churning out a frankly bewildering amount of shows each term, the fever dream of my younger self, the cause of much weeping and gnashing of teeth for my current self. Okay, that’s partially down to my degree.
I bumbled along to auditions in my first week. In the queues, I would natter away in an inappropriately blasé manner that wasn’t from a Kanye level of self-confidence but rather an ignorance to the fact that a musical in Cambridge wouldn’t be performed in a dilapidated sports hall with a sign that read ‘Hairpray’ because someone hadn’t been paying attention in one of our signmaking sessions (to top off this saga, my drama teacher had the fun job of sandwiching in a tiny ‘s’ to avoid people thinking that we’d decided to do a merger of ‘Hair’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’).
The theatre scene was even more intimidating as it was, much like Cambridge in general, an overwhelmingly white space. As my first year wore on, I would stand in queues for auditions, my Kanye confidence replaced by the realisation that I was often the only BME person there before walking into a room with an entirely white panel. In most cases, a lot of effort was made to make me feel comfortable, whether through the provision of race blind casting or dedicated BME audition slots. Still, I couldn’t help but feel like maybe I wouldn’t fit the ‘aesthetic’ of the scene as a working class biracial woman (the real triple threat). The BME theatre group, set up by Saskia Ross, was such an important space for reminding me that I wasn’t alone in my sense of alienation and helped connect me with fellow BME thesps.
I don’t want to make it seem like it’s all doom and gloom though. As intimidating and strange as the Cambridge theatre scene can seem it’s also pretty wonderful that we have access to the venues, funding and resources that we do. I met so many amazing people in my first year through doing theatre and it’s a really awesome way of finding people with mutual interests whether that be in comedy, musicals, improv or, well, pretty much anything.
Here are some useful things that I learnt from my first year:
AUDITION! AUDITION! AUDITION!: You really do have to be in it to win it and if you get rejected then, in the words of a wise popstar: SO WHAT?! Getting into the motions of auditioning alone is extremely useful for experience and there are so many shows constantly looking for people that you’re guaranteed to get a part eventually.
ASK FOR FEEDBACK: Do not be afraid to ask why you’ve been rejected for a role. People are generally very much up for giving constructive feedback and it can really help for preparing for your next audition.
ATTEND WORKSHOPS: There are loads of really useful skillshare workshops throughout term so make sure to sign up for these. They are also a GREAT way of meeting people
PERFORM AT OPEN MIC NIGHTS: This is a really great way of trying out new material and these tend to be audition-free so remove that added stress.
PITCH: If you feel a sense of inertia from the constant deluge of Shakespeare and kitchen sink dramas being performed then pitch a play that you love or write something new! For instance, I pitched a sketch-show last year that specifically focused on BME narratives as I found I wasn’t connecting with a lot of the sketch comedy that I was seeing. One thing to bear in mind is that pitching for ADC and Corpus Playroom tends to happen quite early in term so it’s worth prepping your pitch in the vacation before. If you miss these deadlines or your idea is rejected, just apply elsewhere!