Strange as it may sound, I actually enjoy auditioning for things. Reading new scripts and monologues and finding shows advertised on Facebook is thrilling. I’ve even recently started developing a happy dependency on the vacancy page of Camdram... shout out to the second year who showed me how to use it - you are an absolute legend. It’s not that I don’t get nervous for auditions; on the contrary, I usually come out shaking. But there is something about bringing your whole self to a room, about having three minutes to encapsulate someone else’s life which gives me an irreplicable rush.

However, last week, I made my first taped audition. I can safely say I would rather have endured the spine-chilling terror of impassive and expressionless judges than the pain of having to perform to a camera. (I now understand how students can take whole degrees in film; the grey October cloud and the incredibly unflattering lighting of my college room gave my video an amateurish feel.)

It was a challenge to resist the years of Mrs Thornton’s drama training while recording. I was haunted by the image of her gesticulating at the back of the hall and telling me to ‘project’ as I delivered a subdued dramatic monologue to camera… my housemate would probably not have appreciated a speech about Zeus at 11 at night. Perhaps the most difficult part of this novel mode of auditioning was the fact that whilst filming on my phone, I could always see my own face. The amount of eyebrow movement I incorporate into performance has been a revelation.

This self-taped audition experience made me extremely self-conscious. How is an actor supposed to lose themselves in a character whilst seeing themselves act? It’s easy when watching the video back to defer to the critical voice that tells you that it isn’t good enough; the voice that means you never send it in.

This hyper-critical aspect to auditioning is exacerbated by the frankly intimidating nature of the Cambridge theatre scene. I can’t count the number of times I have told friends I am auditioning for something and hear, 'Oh, I could never do that'. Although meant as a compliment, it really does speak to the dominant idea that being able to act is some kind of inherent gift.

How experienced people are in performance, by the time they audition for a show at Cambridge, varies enormously and much of it depends on the resources that were available at school. This often means that talented, passionate actors rule themselves out because (in comparison to the other people they see auditioning) they don’t feel that they’ve ‘done much theatre’, ‘done this type of theatre’ or are simply 'not as good'. The competitive streak in most Cambridge students is not limited to the realm of academia, and the result can be a deep-set feeling of insecurity about your talent and skill.

Auditions make no distinction between those who’ve had a more extensive dramatic background at school and those who’ve never even had the opportunity to see live theatre. There remains an inequality of access from a very young age, on which false meritocracy is being built when it comes to theatre. More needs to be done to expand workshopping skills, build people’s confidence and develop non-competitive spaces for people to explore what is becoming an increasingly rarefied and inaccessible art form. It is perfectly possible to have had no exposure to theatre before coming to Cambridge and this needs to be accommodated for.

“There remains an inequality of access from a very young age, on which false meritocracy is being built when it comes to theatre”

Nothing about trying to organise theatre in 2020 is ideal, but it will force us to innovate. Why not take advantage of what the situation can offer? We can utilise Zoom to engage people with theatre who otherwise might have been too shy or self-conscious to come to in-person workshops. We can use group-chats to discuss free live-streamed productions and in doing so, increase both people’s exposure to theatre and their ability to meet others during lockdown. Why not make use of the empty theatres: do a behind-the-scenes, live-streamed tour of lighting and sound - production elements many people will have had no exposure to prior to Cambridge? I love the theatre’s sense of closeness and community, but while we face a barrier to this, let’s reach out and make the most of levelling the playing field in terms of auditions.

I love theatre. I love the slightly mad competitive element, I love how intense it is, I love how it is simultaneously very relaxed and has absolutely no chill. But we have to stop running auditions off of confidence rather than talent, and we have to accept that we’re not all starting from the same place.