For the last six months, an entirely student-lead production team and I have been planning, pitching, budgeting, organising, casting, rehearsing and marketing this year’s Music Theatre Warwick (MTW) Theatre Show – ‘FAME: The Musical’. This is one of only two student theatre productions that get to perform in the iconic Warwick Arts Centre (WAC) theatre. It is a highly competitive production slot and the biggest show of the year within the MTW calendar. My role as co-producer; I am jointly responsible for all the organisational aspects of the production, along with supervising rehearsals, marketing, technology, and the band – all made up entirely of Warwick students. After having a conversation with a friend’s mum who attended Warwick in the early 90s, I thought it would be interesting to explore how the student theatre scene at Warwick has changed over time, and how technology might impact elements of the production process that remain today.
As time passed, the drama scene at Warwick expanded with more, smaller societies.
Back in the 90s, Warwick’s drama scene consisted of only two societies: Warwick University Drama Society (WUDS), and Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Given that the latter only created productions of Gilbert and Sullivan shows, most student theatre productions were part of WUDS, including mainstream musicals, as well as plays. As time passed, the drama scene at Warwick expanded with more, smaller societies dedicated to specific types of theatre. Today, the Drama Collective is made up of four different societies: WUDS, which only uses existing plays, Freshblood New Writing (the clue is in the name, but it is all student-written plays), Codpiece, which specialise in devised theatre, and Tech Crew, who provide all of the technical designs (again made up entirely of students). Music Theatre Warwick, however, is not part of the Drama Collective but operates independently.
Many of the central elements of creating a show remain unchanged.
One of the main changes to student productions over the last 50 years is the rise of modern technology. When speaking with Warwick Drama alumni, it never occurred to me just how much I have relied on technology for organising FAME. We use computer software daily to produce publicity materials, organise cast availability, as well as create spreadsheets and the digital “pack” for our application. Social media is our best friend, used for organising everyone in the cast and crew, sharing schedules, and liaising with the company and the WAC. I cannot begin to comprehend the difficulty of organising a large group of people without the convenience of Calltime or Facebook. Many of the central elements of creating a show remain unchanged, but we approach them differently based on the luxuries afforded us by social media.
The “pack” is a crucial aspect of the production process. In a nutshell, it’s a document with all the information needed to prove the show is viable during the application process – we used Microsoft Word. My friend’s mum – who organised the 1989 WUDS production of Cabaret – presented us with a scrapbook: their show’s pack. She had included letters written to the team, funding application letters, personal notes between production team members, and even a letter written to Judi Dench asking her to support the show, as she had been the original Sally Bowles. As the process continued, she documented photographs of costume fittings, rehearsals, and ticket stubs. This “pack”, which is nowadays hardly used after a successful application, had become a time capsule for the entire production. Although I am immensely grateful for the ease afforded me by the digital world, I couldn’t help but wish I had created a physical scrapbook of the show to keep as a memento.
Regardless of the impact of modern media, what hasn’t changed is the collective love for producing musicals that, each year, brings together a group of students to organise and create an entirely student-led production. This love for the arts lives on regardless of the decade, and it is great to be bringing back such an iconic musical with FAME. Although the show has been time-consuming, it is greatly rewarding, and I couldn’t be more proud of the whole cast and crew who have dedicated so much time to this production.