Arts Editor, Bianca Serafini, meets with President of Sussex University Drama Society Anna Mould, Actor Alex Knapp and Director Elly Warboys.
Q: Tell me a little about what each of you do for SUDS and what you love most about your role in the society.
AM: I’m Anna, the President this year. I got involved with SUDS in the first year, I was actually in the Freshers’ Play and I fell in love with the society and met my closest friends through that, it shaped my university experience… without sounding too cliché. I got more involved with production, as well as performance and through that I met the committee and realized I wanted to be on it … talking to last year’s president [John McKenna-Hughes] I decided I wanted to run for it and loved every minute of it. It taught me so much so far, balancing it with Uni and being in performances as well, it really is a completely different ball game.
EW: I’m Elly, I did my first play [acting] last term, Crave [directed by Alice Hiller]. I’m a first year student so I really enjoyed getting involved with the society. And this term I’ve decided to direct, I pitched my idea last year and I got it. I’m now directing East by Steven Berkoff. I like being parts of SUDS, it’s so much fun and it reinforces my degree since I’m a Theatre student.
AK: I’m Alex, I’m an actor and I’m here for a year abroad from University of Pittsburgh, double major Theatre and Psychology. I’ve acted for a long time and I really enjoy it, I was very lucky to find the society as soon as I got here. I auditioned right away for Crave and got in, with Elly, and we had a really great time.
Q: How long does it usually take to prepare for a performance? Each of you has had different experiences from this perspective, tell me a little bit about that.
AM: From a committee point of view we’ll start taking pitches for autumn term plays later this term, in April, and throughout the summer we chat with some directors just to make sure everything is running smoothly. A lot of it is up to the directors and we quite like to give a lot of creative freedom to them. The committee doesn’t dictate to the directors what they should do about the play they’ve chosen and love. It’s a constant process, a very lengthy process. We don’t wake up one morning and say “let’s put on six plays!’ [laughs] We are quite ambitious though, I think we surprise people a lot.
EW: I suppose it varies from play to play. For me, it’s the first time I’m actually directing a play, which will be on at the end of April. I started working on it in early December, so about five or six months of preparations. You work as hard as you can and try to be proactive, you dedicate at the start a couple hours a day and then during rehearsals it gets more intense. I’m still learning really, I’m a bit out of my comfort zone, which is the great thing about it. Casting was good… it was very strange though. Alex [laughs] auditioned actually, so it was quite informal.
Q: How does that work? With casting, I’m guessing a lot of people you know and are friends with audition…
EW: When it’s your friends it’s a good thing as well as a bad thing. From one point of view you know their strengths and weaknesses and it’s easier to work with them, but at the same time it’s a bad thing because if they’re not the right fit you have to break the news and it gets tricky. Yet, because two other girls helped me out from the production point of view, during casting we had two extra pairs of eyes so it was easier to make an objective decision.
Q: Is it unnerving to you, Alex, to audition in front of your friends?
AK: mmmh… [laughs] not really. It varies, I find it much more comforting. But yet again when you don’t know the director, it’s easier because you can focus more on your acting and not so much on the fact that you’re buddies. As to preparing for performances, it varies from show to show. Last term when Elly and I were preparing for Crave, the show was very contemporary so we were working heavily with Alice Hiller, our director, on making it a collaborate experience. Whilst the show I’m doing this term, by Bertolt Brecht, has a bit more room for “true directing.” It’s all subjective.
Q: SUDS are a bit infamous for being difficult to get involved with –– in other words it’s hard to get casted. How do you feel about this reputation?
AM: It’s something, when I got elected president, that I really wanted to fight … what’s been so fabulous about this year is the diverse amounts of people. Not everyone knew each other as they joined or before they joined so there’s been so much room for growth as a society. When I got elected I wanted it to be a lot more inclusive, unfortunately what people do is audition for one thing but then if they don’t get casted they never show up again. And it’s a shame because it’s only because we have an x amount of parts and it’s quite difficult especially for female parts because, like with all theatre, male parts always outweigh female roles. Yet, I think we try really hard to discredit that here at Sussex. We try to break out of this gender mold by casting females as males and vice versa, Elly is actually doing that with her play this term. We’re trying to break down these gender barriers. I’ve seen great retention of members, and I love that I don’t recognize many faces. We’ve worked so hard on that. Everyone tells us how friendly we are! I mean, we’re not the X-factor, no one is Simon Cowell. I try to organize workshops and socials and events, so please do show! Slowly by surely people are starting to be interested in the society as a whole.
EW: I didn’t even know about that reputation…
Q: Do you find that people think if you don’t get the lead you should just drop it, annihilating that saying “No such thing as a small part only small actors”?
AM: I haven’t found that so much here then I have in other places, like when I was a member of Youth Theatre back in school. I remember there being some interesting characters. But here at Sussex it’s been quite good, we’re all just as committed and devoted to our parts. It really depends on the person, as society as whole we don’t think that way.
Q: What do SUDS have in store for us this term that you’re all looking forward to?
EW: Well, I’m directing East by Steven Berkoff. It’s very violent and wild, a strange comedy that talks a lot about violence. It’s quite crazy. It’s written from his own experience living in East End (London). All the characters are pretty ridiculous, outlandish and over the top. It’s written in cockney slang and the characters are so unrealistic and larger than life — so much fun. Also, the gender issue meant a lot to me because, like Anna said, there are so many more male parts than female parts… Amy Lubach, the Vice President, gave me such a good idea at the pitch saying wouldn’t it be so funny to have the most boisterous male leads — which talk about crass sex and woman in a not so particularly flattering manner — be played by women. I now actually have two male leads played by females, Flossi Cameron and Ayesha Shaheen!
AK: We got The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which is a very political play. It’s Brecht and he liked to deal with this ideas about having people think about theatre rather than watching it purely for entertainment. It personifies and characterizes Hitler in Nazi Germany in the character Arturo Ui in 1930 Chicago. The whole point of it is to show that Arturo Ui isn’t really this grandiose figure but makes himself that and makes people believe that he is, much like Hitler did, but it becomes very evident that the real reason for his rise is that people around him refused to stop him. It’s a really interesting play, it’ll be fun.
AM: For the society as a whole we have lots coming up. We have four long plays and two short plays, all the short plays will be performing the same day, whilst the long plays have a whole three to four days of performance. We’re doing this mostly because of timetables issues; it would have been a problem for people doing dissertations and as a committee we try to accommodate everyone. Four long shows this term, East directed Elly, Arturo Ui: co-directed by Tooba Kahn and Solomon Curtis, Stabs in the Dark directed by Ka Wei Chan and Sunset Limited directed by Greg Bushell. The shorts will be in week seven, Century 16, which is written and directed by Joe Egan, Platform is written by Gabriel Owen and directed by Lucy Gray. Although we are still hoping to run many more events, it gives everyone many opportunities to go on.
Q: Talk about the Showcase event happening later this month. What performances should we be expecting? Anything out of the ordinary?
AM: The showcase is run by the committee and we don’t require any auditions. Anyone can come and perform, we’ve invited other societies like SMuTs, Polesoc and Ukalele society… come get a beer and watch some live performances, it’ll be a great night. Hopefully there will be around 15 shows all limited to about five minutes but obviously some of the societies will need longer, like the Ukulele society.
Q: Can you give one piece of advice for the performers going onstage for Showcase?
AK: Just don’t be nervous, man! Enjoy it. Everyone is there to have a good time.
AM: Be yourself, it’s fun and chill.
EW: It’s like a big social! It’s a lot of fun, it’s nothing anyone should be nervous about.