It is no secret that the University of Sheffield has so many societies that there is bound to be one to suit you. There is everything from the slightly strange and the slightly nerdy to the types you will expect to find in every university. It is also no secret that SUTCo (that is, Sheffield University Theatre Company) kind of encompasses all of these categories in the most wonderful way.
Despite my moments in the limelight a lifetime ago at primary school (including playing Miss Fotherington in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ at the Crucible), acting has never really been my forte. But I love the theatre. And, after an epiphany outside a London law firm earlier this semester, I realised that I was not ready to sacrifice my creativity for a career in corporate law.
After taking a chance and applying to direct one of SUTCo’s plays (‘Much Ado about Nothing’, which will be on in June), it meant that I made myself known to the society and, though unsuccessful, was offered an opportunity to direct one of the short plays of this year’s ‘Festival of New Writing’. The festival is a new concept allowing students the opportunity to write short plays with no other guidelines. The result? An eclectic mix of entirely different but equally engaging plays. One, consisting of three reflective monologues capturing a difficult time for a newly elected SU President, a social worker, and a woman whose marriage has had its ups and downs. Another, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which the four characters assume a damaged family dynamic with a dark ending that leaves the audience shocked and appalled in the best possible way. And, finally, as the director put it: ‘a circus on death row’.
The latter was the play that I was blessed to direct as my debut. As well as being so brilliantly written, with an excellent audience response to the humour (particularly Oliver Harnett’s portrayal of the naïve and loveable guard), it was such a pleasure to become a part of an inclusive society that really is full of so many characters – and incredibly talented ones at that. While a two week turnaround from the beginning of rehearsals to show night was, at times, stressful, it was also exciting and incredibly rewarding. I found myself unexpectedly shaking as Johnny Cash’s voice filled the Drama Studio signalling that our play was about to begin. I always thought that actors are the ones who are filled with nerves and adrenaline and excitement but I felt like I was up on stage with them that night – and I imagine that Will Side, the extremely gifted writer, probably felt similarly as he listened to the audience laugh at jokes and characters he had dreamed up all that time ago.
It is, of course, a time-consuming hobby to have (just ask Stephen Geller – who was in two plays, the sound designer and in charge of organising the tech team), and I had my moments thinking that I ought to be sat in Western Bank library instead of at rehearsals. But, just as I expected, by the time that the curtains closed and I was beaming from ear to ear with pride at everything that the cast and crew had achieved, staying away from the theatre for the sake of time will be challenging in future. I’m not sure I will be able to resist the charm of the stage and all those who create such amazing productions. It is the last major event of my first year (aside from exams, if you must count them) and I could not be happier that I did it.