Cambridge has a long and illustrious theatre history.Johannes Hjorth

The police car slowed to a halt on Jesus Lane, and the officer lowered the window. It was midnight and we were wheeling the set trolley from Corpus to the ADC, bedecked with desks, chairs, and a chaise longue which has seen everything there is to see.

“Where do you think you’re taking that, then?” he asked.

“To the theatre,” I replied.

The policeman turned to his partner with a raised eyebrow: “Ah, the theatre. Carry on, then.”

Cambridge theatre deserves its reputation. It’s a bewildering world where things happen very quickly and without explanation. For the fresher thesp, it can be quite overwhelming, but the most important thing is to get stuck in as early as possible. Whether you’re an actor, director, producer, designer or techy, here are a few essentials you’ll need to know:

The Website

Undoubtedly the most visited page for most Cambridge Thesps

Camdram (www.camdram.net) - here you can find and post your own adverts for actors’ auditions and behind-the-scenes positions on upcoming shows. It also serves as a database of past shows detailing where and when they where performed, who they were funded by and who was involved. Camdram also has some useful tips on how to get involved in and put on shows.

The Theatres

There are two main student theatres in Cambridge: the ADC theatre on Park Lane, and the Corpus Playroom in the centre of town. 

The ADC is the flagship, the undisputed hub of Cambridge drama and a fully operational theatre: a 220 seat proscenium arch space, where the biggest plays of the year get put on. It’s fully equipped, with hundreds of lights, an array of counterweights, trapdoors, and the ability to house just about any sort of set. Including a giant boat. 

Rehearsals in Corpus PlayroomJohannes Hjorth

The Corpus Playroom is much smaller than the ADC and tends to attract more experimental pieces, comedy sketch shows and lower budget productions. As of yet, no one has put a boat in it. Not to be confused with Corpus Christi College, it is actually run by the ADC.

Alternatively, many colleges have theatre spaces and drama societies. Pembroke and Queen’s have particularly well-established theatrical traditions, but you could put on a play in other colleges and spaces around the university or city: gardens and chapels are also regularly put to use. There is also the public Arts Theatre.

The Shows

Each week there is a mainshow and a lateshow at both the ADC and Corpus, alongside any shows being put on at colleges. These shows are run entirely by students and range from Greek tragedy to musical comedy. Mainstays include the Lent Term Musical and the ADC Footlights Pantomime, shows which run for two weeks and have casts and crews 50+ strong. 

Tour shows

CAST, Footlights and Japan are summer tours that return home in Michaelmas. Actors’ auditions and applications to direct or produce these shows next year will pop up on Camdram some time in Lent or early Easter. ETG is a winter tour around Europe and auditions for this are held in the first week of Michaelmas. With the exception of the Footlights tour show, the rest are invariably Shakespeare productions. It’s therefore unusual for Shakespeare to be programmed by the ADC beyond the tour shows, except in Easter term.

The Roles

Where school drama tends to offer opportunities to act, act, or if you can’t act, paint set, Cambridge theatre is manned by students in every detail. If staying up till eight in the morning rigging stage lanterns is your thing, then there’s just as much opportunity to do so as if you want to design the poster for a sketch show, or produce an opera. And yes, there’s acting too. 

The Process

The ADC stage complete with boatDeclan Corr

Each term the ADC commissions four student productions a week (two of which are put on at its sister venue the Corpus Playroom). These slots are fiercely contested and selected through a written application that is usually followed by an interview a term in advance. You can apply with new writing as well as pre-existing scripts. The decision is made by a committee including the full-time manager of the ADC and the student president of CUADC. If your idea gets accepted, it’s then up to you to get a team together, to find funding, audition actors, design the set, and make sure you get an audience. Some colleges (mainly Pembroke and Queens’) will also open applications to put on a show in any of their slots that term, through a separate system.

Societies and Funding Bodies

If your play fits their brief, you can apply for funding to one of Cambridge’s funding bodies. CUADC, The Cambridge Footlights and The Marlowe Society are three of the most established drama societies not directly affiliated with any individual college. CUADC is the ADC’s resident society, The Footlights is strictly comedy and The Marlowe is looking for Elizabethan, verse, and non-realist plays, as well as high-quality new student playwriting. Most other societies are college based, but will often fund shows at a variety of venues. 

Comedy

Many of the shows put on at the ADC and Corpus are sketch shows or evenings of standup, and at the centre of this comedic web sits the Footlights. The Footlights are technically only the eight or so people who form that year’s committee, but the society is nothing if not inclusive. In between the Pantomime, Spring Review and Tour Show, the committee puts on Smokers: fortnightly variety shows at the ADC for which anyone can audition with their new writing. The auditions are tough, but their frequency forces you to keep writing and practising, and the Smokers themselves are unfailingly brilliant. Many colleges put on their own Smoker-style comedy nights (Pembroke being the big one), and these are a good place for a budding comedian to hone their skills.

The world famous Cambridge FootlightsChris Rowlands

The best way to get involved in Cambridge drama is to plunge straight in right from the start, and there are plenty of ways to do so. Get on Camdram and audition/apply like crazy! The ADC theatre hosts an introductory drinks evening at the beginning of Michaelmas term where you’ll hear about CUADC’s Freshers’ Plays - 3 pre-selected plays reserved exclusively for freshers and programmed this term. Besides these there is plenty of college drama to get involved with, or if you’re really keen to put on your own show, get creative and find an alternative space! 

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