For a lot of student societies, the switch to online events has been frustrating, but ultimately doable. However, University of Edinburgh’s theatre societies have found this new situation very challenging. That being said, theatre kids are nothing if not creative, and chatting (virtually) to the presidents of five of Edinburgh’s biggest theatre societies, a theme of making-do in a bad situation is clear.
With in-person theatre in Scotland still not allowed, a return to the Edinburgh University Theatre Company’s home at Bedlam Theatre seems a long way off. But Sophie Lee, EUTC president, is optimistic. She says that some committee members now have access to the building to carry out essential maintenance, with in-person performances planned for Semester 2, but obviously this depends on the Covid situation after Christmas. The biggest challenge, she says, has been keeping people motivated and engaged with the theatre company whilst not being able to provide any actual theatre.
Many of Edinburgh’s theatre societies have tried to keep members engaged through online workshops. Mick Zijdel, secretary of experimental theatre company Theatre Paradok, draws attention to the society’s fortnightly ‘Movement in Theatre’ workshops that allow participants to try something different and meet other members of the society.
External guests and alumni are also set to host upcoming workshops for the Shakespeare Company and the Footlights on a range of different topics for directors and performers. The Savoy Opera Group (EUSOG) have done things a little differently. Working with EUTV, they have just wrapped filming on their original musical comedy Click to Connect, which will feature “vignettes of socially distant love and self-discovery told through video calls”, Ewan Bruce, the society’s president, explains. The show will be released in early December, replacing the society’s annual musical, which was planned to be A Chorus Line. Both the EUTC and Theatre Paradok are offering radio plays this semester. Theatre Paradok currently have two online monologue shows in the works, but in the meanwhile are collaborating with FreshAir Radio to release three radio plays based on The Yellow Wallpaper and other selected writings, beginning in Week 8. This side of Christmas, the EUTC are releasing a radio play Lights Out, and are planning to release their second annual primary school-style nativity online, raising funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
The Shakespeare Company is remaining cautiously optimistic about a return to in-person theatre in 2021, although as their president, MJ Harman, tells me, plans have been made in case their March production of Measure for Measure needs to be moved online.
This optimism is shared by the Footlights, where there is still hope that both their February production of The Addams Family and March Showchoir will be able to proceed in person, president Mizra Kara explains.
A key theme throughout all five interviews has been praise for the extraordinary work of production teams and committees. There’s also been a refreshed emphasis on making sure everyone is having fun, as MJ puts it – “people are stressed enough, we don’t want theatre to become a burden”. To keep both new and old members engaged, all five societies continue to host social events online whilst they all wait to return in earnest to the thing that they love.
Student theatre, especially at Edinburgh, has a reputation for producing excellent work, but also sometimes for taking itself too seriously. It’s clear that the ongoing pandemic has forced all five theatre societies to change tack in a way few could have foreseen, forcing them to reassess how theatre at the University of Edinburgh can continue without any in-person theatrical opportunities to engage people with.
Image: Click to Connect