The beginning of university life is a firestorm of information, nervousness and excitement; you’ll enrol as a student, register with the Health Centre, attend introductory meetings for your degree, make your module choices, finish your unpacking, find out what Top Banana is and spend your first night socialising with people you’ve only just met. It’s a veritable whirlwind. If you get a moment’s freedom you may take it upon yourself to visit the Societies’ Fair, scheduled for the beginning of Week Two, and an opportunity to take up anything from Ultimate Frisbee to Ballroom Dancing. Amongst this jungle of possibilities, many of you will gravitate towards the drama and theatre sections of the exhibition, and probably be greeted with a degree of confusion; it takes time to fully understand how this particular area of university life functions, let alone how you can make the most of it. The aim of this article, I hope, is to shine a warm glow of clarity over the opportunities available to those interested in the world of student theatre.
There are four drama societies at Warwick: Warwick University Drama Society (WUDS), Freshblood Theatre, Codpiece Theatre and Music Theatre Warwick (MTW), each of equal importance and each having their own distinctions and personalities. WUDS’ remit is that of published plays, from Sophocles’ Antigone to Sarah Kane’s Blasted – quite simply, you can take any published play and produce it any way you like. Freshblood deals with new writing, or to be more specific, your writing. If somebody feels that they have a script within them then Freshblood is the vehicle on which it can ride. Additionally, the society holds regular cabaret events in Leamington Spa, at which anything you have written (play excerpt, song, comedy sketch, poem, social commentary) can be performed in front of a faithful audience. The next society is Codpiece, and it’s the one people have trouble defining. Broadly speaking, it exists to bring stories to life and ideas to the stage, with the definition of ‘stage’ very much undefined. If, for example, you wanted to turn a novel, a short story, a song, even a political statement into a piece of performance, then Codpiece would be your home; in the most general sense it covers the realm of adaptation, whatever that means is up to those involved in its creative output. Finally, there is MTW, the home of Warwick’s thriving Musical Theatre scene, whose sphere of activity stretches from biannual productions in the Warwick Arts Centre to an array of small scale events across campus and beyond. It has forged strong links with the Warwick’s various orchestral societies and deals with all things musical, from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party to Sondheim’s Into the Woods.
Whilst emphasising that these societies are distinct and autonomous beings, I hope I haven’t presented them as oppositional and disconnected from one another. Their independence is not a result of rampant tribalism, but an illustration of the range of possibilities available in Warwick Drama and a means by which those possibilities can be streamlined. With the exception of MTW, these societies are bound together by the Drama Collective, the United Nations of Warwick Drama. It is not a society in the conventional sense but exists in order to create communication and cooperation between the drama societies, acting as the drama community’s democratic nucleus. Membership of the Collective is free and with it you will receive regular emails on opportunities available within Warwick Drama, regardless of society. The Drama Collective also counts Tech Crew amongst its members, a society ensuring excellence in all things technical, which, as you can imagine, makes an invaluable contribution to theatre at the University.
So, who runs these societies and how do you get involved? I recommend that you attend the Societies’ Fair, it’s not essential, but it’s a good opportunity to talk about all of this with the students who actually run the societies. They are called the Executive and every society at Warwick has one, consisting of President, Treasurer, Secretary, Social Secretary, Technical Manager, and Publicity Manager. They make sure that members are kept up to date with regular emails, ensure the society maintains financial viability, organise socials, help publicise shows and answer any questions you may have about directing, acting, designing etc.
Before I go on, let me emphasise something, the Execs are not untouchable demigods or an elite aristocracy of autocratic thespians; they are students, who, like you, were once new to this university. In a year’s time you too could be in the position of helping to run a society, so please don’t be put off by the first signs of hierarchy, it is not like that, but a voluntary responsibility is essential to the survival of drama at Warwick. It may seem a strange point to emphasise, but I do it for good reason. One of the repeated criticisms levelled at societies is that they are cliques, impenetrable social circles that tend to serve each other and shun those ‘outsiders’ wishing to take part. This is a sentiment I fully appreciate, but one I wish to dispel. On first arriving at this university it’s easy to imagine an opaque established order, with membership depending on ‘knowing the right people’. These were fears I had on arriving at the university, but I sit here today able to reassess those first impressions. Like any organisation, it’s intimidating when you’re new and when everybody else seems to know one another and get along, but it couldn’t happen any other way. If you’re part of a production then you meet people and they become your friends, and because you had an enjoyable experience you maintain your involvement in Warwick Drama, there is nothing inherently nepotic about this. Remember, anyone who seems a ‘big shot’ this year was once a fresher, so there has to be an emphasis on individuals putting aside preconceptions before they become entrenched. The entire existence of these societies depends on a constant flow of newcomers, without which they’d stagnate and die.
In terms of actually making drama happen, it comes entirely from the students. The executives of each society are not there to put on shows, they are merely there to facilitate the society lend assistance to any ideas or projects you may have. If, for example, you wanted to put on a play you had written, then you’d approach the Freshblood Exec with your proposal. Before you’re given the all clear you’d be required to get a production team together, find a venue, draw up a sensible budget, plan auditions and have a reasonably thorough idea of how you’d go about achieving your ambition. The same principle applies for both WUDS and Codpiece, MTW has slight differences but just ask the Exec and they will enlighten you.
In terms of spaces, performances can happen anywhere, indoor or outdoor, so don’t feel limited. The most regular venue for performance at Warwick is the Warwick Arts Centre Studio, which is a professional space. The Drama Collective offers two Studio slots a term that can be applied for, depending on the nature of your project, as either WUDS, Freshblood or Codpiece submissions. Firstly, you should approach the relevant society who will then give you guidance in developing a viable submission pack. Each submission, usually midway through each term, goes before a panel of volunteers who will decide, on a range of logistical and practical factors, two projects to be performed in the studio the following term. Any further information on the submission procedure for the Studio slot is best discussed with the Drama Collective Secretary. This term’s Studio shows are both sponsored by Codpiece; Return to the Silence will be performed during Week Four and Wonderland in Week Eight, with auditions for the latter taking place during Week Two.
Last year, The Skriker, a WUDS’ studio show, won entry into the National Student Drama Festival (NSDF). It travelled to Scarborough where, along with eleven other shows, was performed in front of students from across the country and professionals from the world of theatre, winning several awards for acting and design along the way. Any show is permitted entry into NSDF and each one will receive professional feedback on their production. Another destination for a production could be the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for which, although hotly contested, there are various sources of funding available. It provides a cast and crew with the opportunity of attending one of the world’s most vibrant theatrical events, experiencing a diverse array shows from around the world, as well as showcasing their own production to a wider audience. Clockheart Boy, a Freshblood production from 2007, travelled to Edinburgh this August to critical acclaim, so much so that it has secured a Christmas run at a London theatre and the possibility of a tour next summer. It is important to remember that the opportunities available are not just limited to this corner of Warwickshire.
Back to the present, and to the first event of this term. Facilitated by the CAPITAL Centre, a University initiative seeking to “explore writing through performance”, comes a brand new translation of Lorca’s Play Without a Title. Warwick students will be led by Fail Better, a theatre company founded at Warwick in 2001, which has since gone on to work professionally in both London and Edinburgh. It has provided those involved with the production with a simulation of a professional experience and is an example of the extensive collaborative opportunities offered by the CAPITAL Centre. The performance itself takes place from 2nd-8th October in Milburn House, which is where the CAPITAL Centre is based. Fail Better will be working on various other projects throughout the year, so keep your eyes peeled.
Trying to tell you the story of Warwick Drama in a single article is, in some ways, a futile exercise. Up to this point, for example, I have not even mentioned One World Week or the Warwick Student Arts Festival (WSAF), hugely important events that will now be left to your own discovery. University is about more than just your course, so if you feel you have something, anything to contribute to a world of pushing boundaries, opening minds and having a lot of fun along the way, then joining a drama society next week is perhaps a good first step; and really, if I were you, I’d join every one of them.