Student Drama - Oxford University
Getting involved in student drama is pretty easy. Your college probably has a drama society, though some colleges are more active than others. As you might expect colleges with a theatre often have the busiest drama societies. College groups are a good way to start out, and all colleges can enter teams into Cuppers (which are inter-collegiate competitions) and these are a very good way to meet other actors and crew. These take place in 5th week of Michaelmas term, so you need to start thinking about them pretty soon after you arrive at Oxford! There's loads more information about Cuppers on the Oxford University Dramatic Society website.
After your first tentative steps in cuppers, the next level would be plays in college theatres. There are now lots of theatres, and while some are glorified lecture rooms, some are really nice spaces. The Moser Theatre at Wadham, O'Reilly at Keble, Magdalen Auditorium, Simpkins Lee Theatre at LMH, and the snappily titled MBI Al-Jaber Auditorium in Corpus often host plays. In addition there's the Frewin Undercroft (next to the Union down St Michael's St), Merton Chapel, a whole host of rooms in other colleges, and of course in the summer term every college lawn is pressed into service for the garden plays (nearly always Importance of Being Earnest or Shakespeare). Most plays end up involving a mix of people from totally different colleges (and subjects).
Graduates from college-level drama move into the more central spaces. The Burton Taylor is the favoured Studio Theatre, and throughout term stages two plays most weeks - an early at 7.30pm and a late at 9.30pm, both Tue - Sat. This of course means being inventive with scenery and minimalist with props. It might seem like a harsh discipline but it leads to some of the best and most innovative student theatre I've seen.
And the biggie is Oxford Playhouse. They stage one or two student productions per term, and you have to prove yourself before you take on this kind of size space. Productions run Wed - Sat. No student groups get to play the New Theatre except Out Of The Blue! And The Old Fire Station is mostly a town venue these days. I don't think student drama groups are banned, but terms are probably more favourable in the college theatres.
Very occasionally, student productions take place at the North Wall Arts Centre or the Pegasus Theatre. Though this is much rarer than the usual college theatres, if you're looking for an interesting new space or a different clientele for your play, these venues may be worth looking into.
OUDS is the Oxford University Drama Group, and runs an overview of the university drama scene. It has costume stores, and the Oxford University Drama Officer newsletter (emailed weekly) is very useful. It's a digest of performances, auditions, workshops and deadlines for applications each week. Definitely sign up if you'd like to keep abreast of the thespian scene. OUDS run the Cuppers competition, and also the New Writing Festival (for budding script writers) which takes place in Hilary term. TAFF is the society for Tech crew.
Student Drama - Brookes University
As ever, Daily Info is not so well informed about goings on at Brookes but since there are specific Drama and Theatre courses there may be a more organised system for putting on plays. It is certainly true that there are links between Brookes and Oxford Unis - Brookes students can join OUDS as associate members, for instance. So some of the above applies to Brookes students too.
Without a collegiate system, student societies in Brookes are centrally run, so the best bet is to sign up at Freshers' Fair. As well as straight drama there are societies for musical theatre and opera. The drama scene at Brookes seems to be better organised, but a little locked-down compared with Oxford Uni. But even if the official societies are fairly small in number and tightly organised, university is all about groups of people getting together to do unlikely things, and I have no doubt the spirit of adventure flourishes in Brookes. If the club you want to join doesn't exist, why not start it?
Take a look here at the page about official performance-related societies from Brookes Student Union.
If you're at Brookes and know about the drama scene do get in touch and tell us what dramatic Freshers should know.
Getting to see lots of theatre for little money
OPTin is a fantastic scheme run at the Oxford Playhouse which gives 16-25 year olds access to free, £5 and £10 tickets and some extra discounts at several other venues and businesses across the city. You simply need £5, a passport sized photo of your beautiful face and an ID document to confirm your youthful age. Once you've brought all those bits along to the Playhouse Box Office you get given a personal OPT in! card and added to the mailing list. From then on you'll look forward to the monthly OPT in! emails with offers for free or discounted theatre tickets. There are a limited number of OPT in! tickets so once you find out what's on offer, you'll want to book your free or cheap tickets in advance.
Alternatively, you can see shows for free by becoming a Daily Info Reviewer. To join our official reviewers list send us an example of your writing. Once you've proven you know how to string along some convincing and witty sentences we then send you our weekly circular with all the events looking for reviewers and you can let us know what you might be interested in. you'll often get 2 tickets to the opening night of a show, and your review will have to be sent to us by 10am the following morning.
Volunteering Front of House is a final suggestion which will let you see lots of theatre but not spend lofs of money. The Old Fire Station, Oxford Playhouse, North Wall Arts Centre, Pegasus Theatre and Creation Theatre all regularly recruit volunteer Front of House Ushers. You might have to sell some programmes and point out the loos to a few people, but you then also get to watch the show you're working on for free!
If you're putting on a play Daily Info can help it succeed!
We have options to suit all budgets, even if you don't want to spend anything at all:
Free Promotional Options
First off, list your play/performance/extravaganza on the Daily Info website. You'll find the List Event button at the top of every page. Facebook is very good for inviting people to things, but you want the general public to see details of your event. Daily Info is widely read by town and gown(s) and listings last until the event is over. It's free and appears instantly. (NB Please check whether we already have you listed! We do delete duplicate events. If we have a listing but it's missing some vital info, email us.)
Reviews: we invite our freelance reviewers to the events listed in our theatre column, and sometimes in other categories. You're welcome to send us a press invite too. We ask for two tickets for opening night, and we tell you the name of the reviewer who's coming. We aim to have the review up by midday the next day. We can't always send reviewers - our team are freelance, and some weeks there's just too much going on to get to everything. For this reason we don't usually send anyone to press previews. But we have a good set of writers who are interested in the bizarre and experimental as well as the classics.
When there's space we print reviews in our Printed Sheet. All reviews go online, and can have promotional photos with them. So if you have production shots, publicity shots, or dress rehearsal shots, do send us some (or a link if they're online).
Social Media: we use Twitter, Facebook, our own Daily Info Podcast (The Oxcast) and our slot on BBC Radio Oxford to highlight what’s going on in Oxford. If you think your event would be a good thing to highlight let us know. We can even organises interviews on the Oxcast to help promote your event.
Inexpensive Promotional Tools if You Do Have a Budget
Poster Delivery Service: We make poster deliveries around town, on Monday and Thursday nights, when we deliver our printed sheet. We divide the city into 8 routes, each of which cost £5 + VAT. So for a full run it’s £48 and we’d need 350 posters. We can’t guarantee how long they’re displayed for - that’s up to the locations which host the noticeboards. But we can get your posters out there. You don't have to go for all 8 routes: eg if you have lots of people in central Oxford and Headington but no scientists in your play, you could go for the Iffley-Cowley and Science routes, at a total cost of £12.
See here for more information on routes or email us and ask. Occasionally we get booked up for a delivery date, so it's worth leaving a little time to sort this out, but we do try and accommodate urgent requests!
Adverts: to enhance your free listing you could go for a display box ad. These start at £36, and we can design the ad at no extra charge. Just send us your artwork, logo, text and so on. Not many student drama groups go for this option, but it can certainly make your production stand out from the crowd. And it's worth weighing up how many extra tickets you'd need to sell to make the advertising worthwhile.
General advice about the blurb or strapline when marketing
It sounds obvious, but your blurb should make people want to see your show. There are various different ways of doing this, including but not limited to:
Beginning the plot and intriguing your reader:
Set during WWII in a quiet suburban cul-de-sac Stephen and his friend Keith play detectives. But the game changes gear when Keith announces that his own mother is a German spy.
Two men in a lifeboat in northern Canada, 1848.
Four students have a night out in Chicago. But who is following them?
Numbering and listing. It's short, snappy and currently fashionable:
A country mansion, a series of mad multiple murders, an invisible dog - what could go wrong?
Three couples. Two tables. Too much Valpolicella.
Five Friends. One Night. They'll never be the same again.
Name dropping famous people (which it's only worth mentioning the writer/speaker if people have heard of them):
Without hesitation, repetition or much deviation, Sir Clement Freud talks about his life.
Glittering comedy from Noel Coward, the self-styled master of witty theatre
La Traviata - The love story that gripped Paris
And now for some bad examples...
The Taming Of The Shrew: One of Shakespeare's finest comedies
Twelfth Night: by William Shakespeare
Even blander! But at least we know about Twelfth Night, or can look it up... if your play is rarer you're really in trouble:
New play featuring performers aged 11 to 25 years written by Witney-based author
This manages to tell us nothing at all about the plot or even genre, and is likely only to attract an audience of the friends of the unnamed author! This sort of blurb turns up surprisingly often among local theatre groups. Plenty of people already view student theatre as somewhat introspective. If that's how you bill the show you have to accept that you're limiting your audience to students.
It will always be possible to sum up your production in a whole host of ways. Think about your target audience. You want to attract the people who will enjoy your show. So describe it honestly, if dramatically. Play to your strengths. Taking a well-known example, here are some possible descriptions of Hamlet:
Murder in the Castle!
Shakespeare's famous play.
Shakespeare's exploration of troubled adolescence.
Contemporary/aggressive/fickle/frivolous adaptation of Shakespeare's tale of troubled adolescence set in Gangland London / in the style of traditional Javanese wayang.
Which of these productions would you want to see?
You'll always be faced with the problem of getting across a lot of info in a dramatic and noticeable way, it has been said that advertising is like trying to attract a deaf tortoise... Here's our best example of how to construct an eartrumpet.
Right to reply
It may happen that a reviewer is critical of one or more aspects of your production. This is normal - a review is an opinion, and as such may differ from your own; and criticism is a risk you run whenever you put something into the public domain. You have the right to reply (reasonably!) in the form of a statement which we can put on the review site, and we will credit it with your name and role. We try to put up / write reviews which are fair and balanced. If you disagree please try to make your disagreement fair and balanced too - after all you don't want to look like a raving lunatic to your readers! Some review pages turn into lively debates. While you might prefer undiluted praise, strongly divided opinions will be memorable and get you noticed. See Creation Theatre's Merchant of Venice (2006), and The Trout Inn review pages for examples.