All elements of University life were represented in an evening of entertainment and performanceMay Week Mega Event Committee

With no physical May Balls to liven up the Cambridge Colleges as they have done for generations, Sunday evening (28/06) saw the first ever ‘May Week Mega Event’ streamed entirely online.

The event, organised as a result of lockdown measures which have made a physical May Week impossible, sought to bring together musicians and performers from across Cambridge and beyond. A total of 515 staff, student and alumni performers were involved in the livestream. 

“May Week is a highlight of the Cambridge calendar, and with a whole term taken away from us, we wanted to give students the chance to reconnect - albeit virtually - and have a taste of the May Week atmosphere from their homes”, George Rosenfeld, President of the Mega Event, said in a press release

The event aimed to bring “together a Cambridge community which had been scattered by the pandemic”, Rosenfeld told Varsity, giving the Cambridge community “the opportunity to reconnect with a little piece of Cambridge which we’ve been missing this term”.

The event, which ran from 8pm until 12.45am, was an all-night fundraiser in partnership with the Big MAC campaign, a Cambridge-based charity campaign which has raised £28,000 in under a month through students’ donation of a portion of their May Ball refunds.

Viewers were encouraged to donate through the website to The Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT) and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER), two Cambridge-based charities working to fight coronavirus and future pandemics. 

By the end of the 5 hour livestream, a total of almost £7,000 had been raised from a target of £7,500. Donations can still be made here, and will be split between the two charities to help support both frontline workers as well as those working to mitigate the risks of future pandemics. 

Co-Founder of the BigMAC, Jade Charles, celebrated the achievements of the campaign, stating that the Mega Event was “about coming together as a Cambridge community and doing our bit to prevent against future pandemics”. 

“It was an amazing celebration, and we’re so glad to have been able to make a real difference, both in bringing our whole university community together and in the money we’ve raised,” Joe Benton, President of May Week Alternative, said in a press release.

The online celebration of May Week was organised by the May Week Alternative (MWA), Raising and Giving Cambridge (RAG) and the May Ball Presidents’ Committee.

In what marked the first ever cooperation of all May Ball and June Event Committees across the Colleges, Rosenfeld described the resulting collective effort as “a perfect reflection of our broader aims of bringing together all sorts of groups from around Cambridge to create a really special moment for the whole community to share”.

He furthered that “more than 10,000 people tuned in from all around the world, some dressed up in black tie, others in pyjamas”. Viewers were encouraged to send in photos of themselves watching using the hashtags #ComeWhatMayWeek and #MayWeekMegaEvent.

“We’ve also received lots of pictures of socially distanced viewing parties – I think people just wanted the opportunity to reconnect with the university experience we’ve all been missing”, Rosenfeld told Varsity

“RAG was thrilled to have helped host the May Week Mega Event, working with everyone at MWA and the MBPC was truly a pleasure and the evening was credit to the hard work everyone put in. Not only did we raise an impressive amount for two incredible charities but it was such a fantastic display of the array of Cambridge talent”, Ashlan Richards, RAG representative, said in a press release.

The event was hosted by YouTubers PaigeY and IbzMo, Footlights president Jade Franks, Cambrovision creator and host Tom McGachie, film-maker and playwright Fred Kelly and ‘BNOCs’ Areeg Ashraf Emarah and Manraj Dhanda. 

The night featured performances by student bands and choirs, who performed together despite being miles apart. Soft Crunchy Landing opened the event with a rendition of “...Baby One More Time”, and Nigel from Slough performed “Castle on the Hill”. The CU Ceilidh Band and acapella groups Cadenza and Desinance were also featured. 

Students also showcased their talents through performances of original songs, including Pocket Jam’s performance of “Love Ain’t Easy” and Shaimerdon Aberkov’s “Graham and Stephen” (a parody of the Phineas and Ferb theme song). Susie Dobson also performed her Crushbridge-inspired song “From the Girl in the Red Dungarees”. 

Other entertainment included sketches by The Footlights and performances by The King’s Men, a cocktail competition (with cocktail names such as “A Tryst in the UL” and “Thursday Lola’s Tiki Mocktail”) as well as monologues by the Impronauts.

The celebration also included a “Heroes of Cambridge” segment in which both staff and students were nominated for having gone above and beyond in their commitment to fight the pandemic and support those affected.

Some of the 'heroes' included Senior Tutors of Pembroke Mark Wormald and Dr Dan Tucker, nominated for their leadership in maintaining education for students. Covid-19 Testing Centre UIS Team leader Jon Holgate was also nominated for his work in setting up new testing infrastructure within days.

Dr Jack Manley was nominated for his establishment of the charity Deliveraid to deliver hundreds of healthy meals to frontline workers in London.

Students were also nominated, including Christ’s undergraduate Charissa Cheong for her work to raise £500 for the Cambridge Community Fund and leadership in the Christ’s College community as JCR Ents Officer.

The livestream also included other features such as “When Life Gives You Lockdown” with videos from societies such as the CU Volleyball Club and CU Taekwondo Club and lockdown highlights like the Cambridge Minecraft Server and Cambrovision, ending with the recommendation that “when life gives you lockdown, keep kicking.”

The Mega Event also showcased the many cultures celebrated in Cambridge. Representatives from several cultural and national societies across the University were featured, including the CU Israel Society, in which members challenged themselves to eat whole tubs of hummus. 


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Five alumni were also featured at different points in the night. Newnham alumna Dame Emma Thompson was featured first digging a hole in her garden as she congratulated students on getting through such turbulent times. She explained that holes are full of potential, and planted a tree in it to represent endurance and growth, commemorating this generation with the sign placed next to the hole reading “Newnham Class of 2020”. 

Newnhamite Clare Balding was also featured later in the night, where she highlighted the importance of a virtual May Week as she praised students for finishing their course and reminded them to look out for each other. Other alumni featured included comedians, Emmanuel alum Griff Rhys Jones and Christ’s alumni Matt Green and Andy Parsons.

The event ended with a finale in which 70 staff, students and local businesses from across the Cambridge community came together to sing “Lean on Me” together despite being miles apart, highlighting the strength of the University community. The night ended with a show of fireworks from previous May Balls.

Although the Mega Event was a singular occurrence in response to the pandemic, Rosenfeld hopes that “the fact that so many people were able to come together at the same time, that it was open for anybody to join, that so many societies and groups were putting aside what they usually do to build something special” will be taken forward in future Cambridge events.

“There aren’t many times when the University comes together as one, across different Colleges, different departments, different roles,” Rosenfeld told Varsity, “But that’s exactly what this has been about”.

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