A Week in the Life of a Second Year Theatre WDP Student

Hello and welcome to my second blog! My name is Roxanne, I’m a second year Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance student here at York. For those of you who are interested in the department and this course, I thought I’d take you through one of the key weeks of my Uni life thus far.

I’m currently in Week 7 of Spring Term, second year. This is the wonderful time of the year where everything suddenly becomes real and all the deadlines are rushing up to meet you across the department. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes way more fun and manageable, and this week has definitely been one of the most interesting at Uni.

Before this week

Two weeks ago we found out that we would be doing two mini plays Mark Ravenhill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/ Repeat for our second year political project in a thirty minute performance. For this project, our year group is split into three groups, and within these groups we pick what plays and what roles each person will be doing, which will take over our lives in my last term of second year, going from rehearsals and design to a full on public production in just four week!

One week ago, we were given out Comedy: Genres and Sub-Genres assessment for the end of this term, where each seminar group has been split into mini group of five to pick a Peter Cooke sketch for a ten minute performance at the end of term. I also had to submit a formative essay for my political module using Brechtian Theatre techniques.

And in my personal life, it was my birthday where I became old, and my one-year anniversary with my bae where instead of a candle-lit dinner, we went on a Ghost Bus tour of the city. It was a very romantic evening.

This week, we have pitches, lectures, seminars, essays and banter! Here’s a breakdown of how it all went.

Monday

I woke up at 8am to get to the 9am pitching meeting! I stopped off at Greggs for breakfast having spent the night watching the BAFTAs with my partner and we part ways at the Law and Management Building five minutes before my meeting starts. Me and my coursemates go into the room, expecting to see four pitches for the role of Director, three for Producer and a double-team pitch for our Head Dramaturgs, in that order. I’ve signed myself down to be either an Actor, Set Designer or Stage Manager, so my auditions will happen Friday and pitching Monday. The room is set up, everyone is singing along to Sugababes About You Now, because we all need some energy. The first to pitch are our directors, all of whom are excellent, unique and surprisingly funny. The pitches lasted until 12:00 and then we go onto debate what mini plays we want to do. We’ve already voted on a google spreadsheet and those with no votes are removed, leaving us to debate the final six.

That afternoon I had two lectures, the first about the preparation required for our performance assessments later this term and the second lecture on Post-Brechtian Theatre. By the time I left uni, it was nearly 17:00. It was around this time my housemate messaged to ask what time the performance that we were meant to see was at, something that we’d been told about at the start of term. So after a quick dinner, I headed back to the department and saw Joan, Babs and Shelagh Too by Conscious Theatre.

Joan, Babs and Shelagh Too was a brilliant one woman, biographical performance about Joan Littlewood, from her youth to her final years. The revolutionary way she changed theatre was presented fantastically, but also didn’t hold back on criticising Littlewood. At the Q+A after, one of the things Gemskii left us with were the words “It’s Ok not to be liked, Joan wasn’t…. You can’t just rely on being brilliant, loads of people are. You have to work too.” Which is inspirational in its own way. Me and my housemate got home at around 11:30, debating the political nature of what we’d just seen, before crashing into our beds.

Tuesday

7:30 start. My first class in a comedy workshop at 10:30, so I spend the the hours before finishing the reading for my seminar later in the day, and start on my essay plan for Thursday. Now that we’ve officially begun rehearsing for our assessment, we have our group meeting to discuss what sketches to start looking at before entering a half hour workshop with our lecture looking at our chosen sketch. Our one is called Ornithologist, about a man who is obsessed with ducks and has been training them. Sadly the sketch is one of the ones not available via YouTube, but it’s fairly funny, and we have my mates Nick and Alice performing the scene. We get our feedback having looked at entrances, exits and the audience before we’re sent out to let the next group in the space. The next forty minutes are spent discussing when we’ll meet up next and what we need to look at, even debating another scene before we all part ways for lunch.

At midday the results of yesterday’s pitches and votes come in. We now have two fantastic directors, two brilliant producers and two wonderful Head Dramaturgs. I think we’re all quite surprised at the number of doubling up we’ve done, as the other groups have less, be it one dramaturg or one producer. We’ve also decided on The Mother and Paradise Lost for our Second Year show. These are two of my favourite mini plays, so I’m quite happy about it. However, I know the lack of direction in the text for these scenes is going to be a nightmare when I start trying to think of a set design.

That afternoon is my Political Theatres Seminar from 14:30-17:30. We’ve begun to look at post-Brechtian theatre, and the chosen script for this week is Dunsinane by David Gregg. It’s an awesome play about what happens after Macbeth is defeated. In this version Lady Macbeth survived and the English now try to establish some form of order in Scotland. We also had an essay to read about Epic and Everyday theatre and how Dunsinane combines the two. These seminars tend to be one of my favorite during the week. My school was too small to have a drama class, so these seminars really help to catch me up to speed with what political theatre is, gives examples and they’re highly interactive. They tend to be split into two parts, the first being a discussion on the readings, what we do and don’t understand then the second half is performing an extract of the script we’ve read that week using political (often Brechtian) techniques. By the time I get out and cycle away, it’s dark outside and very windy. Going uphill with the wind buffeting your bike is never fun.

Wednesday

My day off, but I still get up around 7:30, still got to finish this essay. I head to the library early enough to get a decent desk to spread my work onto, one of the ones in the Performing Arts section next to the window. The next five hours are spent working and rewording the essay until I think I’ve managed to write up a decent analysis of Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind (December Bee) and the information one would need to take into rehearsals based on the text and its original performance conditions. By 14:00, I’ve started on my pitch for Set Design this Friday. It’s not quite the nightmare I expected, but the challenge is certainly there. One of the motifs that keeps sticking out to me is in every play someone mentions a broken angel wing. I’m thinking of trying something with that or something with projections.

When I get home, my housemate has made a stew in the slow cooker and I’m attempting to make dumplings to go with it. The stew is fantastic, the dumplings a bit undercooked and doughy. I also make a  start on this blog post, and only as I’m writing it down do I realise how crushed this week really has been. I get some feedback from my mum on my essay later that evening, I’m really bad at grammar and need a hand on occasion. But once it’s all been sorted and she’s told me about her and dad’s yoga class, I submit my essay and go to bed watching Dead Like Me, hoping to have a lie in.

Thursday

Damn. I was hoping for a lie in. The plan today is to have a comedy meeting at 13:30 and then head to my final technical training session 16:30. This morning I worked on my pitch for Set Design and Stage Management roles for next terms project. I’m feeling quite confident about my Set pitch, I’ve done a little work on sets before. I’m using Es Devlin as my inspiration for it, at one point last term we watched a documentary on her work and I was blown away but what she does. Included in the pitch is some work I’ve done on Stage Management. I spend the rest of the morning talking through some costume ideas with my mate Thibs whose film project is around murdering clowns.

When we start our comedy meeting, its very casual. As one of my coursemates can’t attend the workshop on Friday, we’ve decided to experiment with a new scene. The meeting was concluded early as people had to attend meetings and votes for their project next term.

When our final Tech training session starts, its with a half-hour pop quiz on what the module has taught us. It’s one of the most entertaining quizzes I’ve done, with names like “Tony Blair”, “It’s pronounced Brescht”, “Fravs Fav” in the lead for the majority of it. I started to feel quite nostalgic at the end of it, it’s a sign that we’re all ready to move on with the degree, even our lives, and see what we can do next term. Independence is looming awfully close now, and it’s almost terrifying.

Friday

First thing in the morning is my comedy workshop. The first half hour we spent in rehearsals before heading into the Scenic Stage to have our work reviewed. Overall, Mike Cordner seemed very impressed with the decision to change and explore our options, enjoying what we have done with the unconventional scene. It’s called Builders of Xanadu, a sketch Cooke based on a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the sketch is very fun and takes Coleridge’s work in an entirely new direction. Immediately after we’re sent out so that the next group can come in, I’m straight into auditions for Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat. All in all, there’s twelve of us going for five roles. I know the people who I’m going into audition with, and we’re all a very talented group of young people. What takes me aback, which I enjoy, about the process is how thorough the director, producer and dramaturgs are about the pitch. It’s done very fairly, everyone has a lot of fun. Overall, it takes three hours to do solo and group auditions before we go and get a late lunch. I met up with my besties Gareth and Shannon at Glasshouse, the Campus East bar. We ended up staying until about 4pm, when the results of our auditions came in.

In the end, I didn’t get an acting role. So it’s a little gutting to not get the ‘ideal role’, but I have Gareth and Shan there to support me. And honestly, I’m not surprised. The people they’ve chosen are fantastic actors who are very well suited to the roles they’ve been assigned. At the end of the day, that how this course, and life, works. The lighter side is that I can now pursue two things I’ve had very limited experience in and have a crash course in one of them to see if that’s how I want to pursue my career outside of university.

When I get home, it’s time for dinner and an early night. I’ve read over my pitch, made some adjustments and ready for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, I’ve a full day ahead at a Frantic Assembly workshop in Manchester, I’m so excited.

If there’s anything to be taken away from my lengthy blog, I hope it’s this. Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance is a PACKED course, and we get a run for our money. But it’s fun, exciting and helpful in numerous ways. Having written this out, I did not realise how much happened in one week, and that’s me missing out the majority of my life outside the course! I’ll blog to you all again soon, with updates about my roles next term!!

Best wishes, chat to you all soon

Roxanne