Lucy Adkin on how the social side of theatre can be saved.
If you live in Edinburgh you probably walk past Bedlam theatre most days. It’s that big church building opposite Greyfriars Bobby, with the posters from last year’s performance of The Importance of Being Earnest still hanging on the metal gates.
Without a doubt, the past year has been devastating to theatres and student theatre groups. Before Christmas, the EUTC was forced to cancel all semester two shows including the annual Bedfest, which has long been a highlight of the Bedlam calendar. Fortunately, a group of students have come together to make sure that student theatre survives even in these socially distanced times. Back in November Lois Zonnenberg, a second year English student, founded the Scottish Online Student Drama Festival (SOSDF). It has since grown into a UK wide festival with 27 University theatre groups signed up to take part in over 40 performances, socials and workshops, during the week beginning 8th March.
With less than a month to go before SOSDF’s opening night, I asked Lois how she got the idea for such a festival in the first place: “I knew Bedfest couldn’t happen in its usual form, and it would be both fun to connect to other theatre companies in the country and near impossible to create 20 online shows with just EUTC members, so I figured it would be fun to have a collaborative drama festival”. I asked if the EUTC had ever done anything like this, she said, “historically we would host collaborative festivals as well, and I’d been looking a lot at the history of that, so it sounded fun to bring something like that back”.
For those who are unfamiliar with Bedfest, it can perhaps be best described as a week of pure chaos, with back-to-back rehearsals and performances all taking place within the familial walls of that old church building. Notably most of the plays are original works penned by the students themselves, indeed some of the finest plays to come out of Bedlam made their debut at Bedfest, such as Stella Green’s Ezra and Amy Yeo’s Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot. According to SOSDF’s Marketing Director, Lewis Forman, “there’s constant events, and it feels so immersive because of the abundance of things to do and see. Many shows use Bedfest as a trial run for the Fringe so you end up with some really high quality stuff, but equally, a lot of experimental shows and one off passion projects.” The supportive environment of your friends and people who want you to succeed at your passion make the festival very accessible. Seasoned Bedlamites recall Bedfest as the source of many of their best memories of university but this year’s freshers are missing out on that unique experience.
It was important for SOSDF to give their associated companies the creative freedom that made Bedfest so special. Among the submissions you find some old favorites- students from the University of Plymouth will be performing a reading of The Importance of Being Earnest, meanwhile there are plenty of original plays too from the University of Manchester’s iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou, to STaG’s (Student Theatre at Glasgow’s) perfectly titled Not Another Lockdown Play. All shows are going to be streamed via the SOSDF YouTube channel and will likely stay up for a few days so no one misses out.
Student theatre societies are the perfect microcosm of the university experience. It is a mini community with a shared space where you see the same people everyday, a fair sprinkling of eccentric characters, friendly rivalries and maybe a good scandal too. As such these societies have worked hard to have regular online socials. Sadly, however, for every person who appreciates being able to attend socials from the comfort of their own bedroom, there are those who struggle to adapt to the new normal. Many find logging onto zoom calls with strangers really daunting or maybe they do decide to join but find it difficult to be part of the conversation. This was a key consideration when planning what kind of socials would take place- all would have to be accessible and interactive.
So far the list of events ranges from a games night to speed-friending and an open mic night with Theatre Paradok. In addition, theatre groups and industry professionals are running a series of workshops, the kind that might otherwise be difficult to find, such as a voice-acting workshop. Most recently it has been confirmed that Hazel Karooma-Brooker, cast member of the musical Six, will be running a workshop teaching official choreography from the show.
A safeguarding officer has been appointed to be present at every social to promote inclusivity. Accessibility has always been on the minds of the organizers as it is something members of the EUTC are used to considering when shows are put forward.
Members pride themselves on maintaining a safe space for everyone. It is common practice for every show to have a welfare officer appointed to support the wellbeing of the team, as well as there being an entire subcommittee of Liberation Representatives supporting women, those with disabilities, the LGBTQI/ Trans community, BAME, and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged.
You don’t need to buy membership for any of the societies to get tickets for the shows or any other events, however if you do decide to take part you are encouraged to donate to the fundraiser, which can be found on the SOSDF Facebook page.
To help out the thousands of people whose jobs are at risk because of the pandemic, the festival has partnered with Acting for Others, a charity that supports people who have less visible roles in the industry who deal with illness, disability or are caring for children with special needs. All money from ticket sales will be donated to the charity.
Already this semester is starting to feel overwhelming, so if you feel like you need something to look forward to, you can get updates from the festival by liking the SOSDF Facebook page and following their Instagram.
Whether you are passionate about theatre, want to see how people are adapting to Zoom theatre, or have never seen a play in your life, the Scottish Online Student Drama Festival is open to all.
image:Prawny via Pixabay