Edinburgh is a theatre lover’s wet dream…” divulges Rhiannon Williams, creative director of Bedlam Theatre’s original writing company, Candlewasters. She’s right: it’s been a particularly juicy season for student theatre in Edinburgh, featuring an eclectic variety of especially high quality shows, from sold-out show-choirs and original dramas to Shakespeare and site-specific promenades.
The secret to student stage success: freedom. “You don’t have to do it for anyone. You’re so free,” reflects Georgiana Day, lead actress in the recent Edinburgh University Theatre Company production of When The Rain Stops Falling. “It’s not your job that’s at risk, you don’t have to create box office hits.” This notion of the the shackles of profitability
and what could go wrong is shared by Edinburgh’s student thespians. “Student theatre has been shown to be aplatform where creatives can experiment without fear of bankruptcy!” declares Hannah Robinson, eponymous lead of Bedlam’s Pippin. She draws a contrast to professional theatre: “So much rests on professional shows and it seems that, unless one is at the top of their game or, perhaps, very very rich, many creative risks aren’t taken.” Risk is at the heart of all creative processes. Student theatre, adds Georgiana, has “a lot of room for trial and error which I think is a massive part of art and expression.”
Creativity is nothing without those to embody it. Central to Edinburgh’s student theatre scene is its community, fostered both by a shared ethos and keen enthusiasm.As Rhiannon puts it, “There is a camaraderie, a pride in what is created as young theatre makers together”. What’s more, student theatre “is more fun”, according to Auriol Reddaway, director of new company TattleTale. “There are so many people who’ll make theatre as a student and never do it again but that’s okay because they’ve had fun, and learnt lots of things that they can put into practice in other aspects of life.” It may seem obvious, but in the ‘real’ world of theatre, competitive auditions and stuffy traditions interfere with the theatrical process by lacking this light-heartedness. “You don’t have to be as fixed in a role,” muses Auriol. “Personally I’ve done writing, directing, tech stuff and producing. You have the chance to try it all out, and even to fail at it.”
Student theatre is not without its own unique challenges. The stereotype of the perpetually impoverished student extends to the stage as well. “I think the biggest challenge I can recognise is that of funding,” diagnoses Kate Clancy, member of Edinburgh’s Footlights. “There is always a massive vision which sometimes just can’t be supported which is so sad especially when these students are so talented.” Where there’s a will there’s a way, however, and what students lack in finances they make up for in “passion and coffee”, as Rhiannon puts it. Auriol confides that their debut production of The Queen of Spades “had such a dedicated and amazing cast who would — don’t tell their PTs — happily skip lectures for us because everyone was so committed to making the best show possible.” This isn’t to say student theatre isn’t hard work. “Between all the rehearsals, admin, marketing, fundraising and socials needed, it can be a challenge to remember that you’re doing this for fun,” considers Rhiannon. “The week before each show is hectic as hell, but once the house lights go down the creative satisfaction that follows the facilitation of staging people’s fledgling plays is worth everything”.
Edinburgh is undoubtedly a special case: theatre lies at the heart of the city. “With the Edinburgh Fringe attracting talented actors and creatives from around the world,” suggests Hannah, “there seems to be an intangible confidence that seeps into the student theatre sphere here.” It’s a legacy inherited and embraced by students in Edinburgh — the standard has already been set high and students aren’t about to let it slip; there’s a sense of duty involved. Hannah sums it up well: “It’s as if there is an unsaid belief that this is the place to do theatre.”
Illustrations: Hazel Laing