Leading the life of a busy student, most would think that a love of theatre would have to take a back seat to studying, attending classes, earning money, socialising and making crucial decisions that could change the trajectory of both career and personal life. As we all know though, theatre people are crazy, and this, of course, was not the thinking that led the cast of UMMTA’s Thoroughly Modern Millie or ICAC’s Book of Everything to audition to take part in a time consuming show.

Theatre People spoke to members of both productions, and questioned them about how they believe their shows have impacted their student life, and why they wouldn’t trade their theatre experience for anything – not even a much needed night of sleep.

According to Niamh O’Keeffe (principal cast member of Thoroughly Modern Millie), life would be average and possibly unbearable without student theatre. Why? Because people deserve icing on top of the cake that represents their life, apparently. “Everyone is there (at University) doing a degree, right? Everyone is also working away at some kind of a job. If you think of work as the signature vanilla tart fro yo flavour and Uni as the burnt caramel flavour, student theatre is the dozens of mini M&M’s and lychee pearls sprinkled on top bringing light, joy and hope to the white and brown frozen swirl below. I left a drama filled school life and did the whole international gap year thing… I returned, and I knew there was something missing. That thing was student theatre.”

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Above: Niamh O’Keeffe in Thoroughly Modern Millie, photography credit to Ben Fon.

For Christian Sullivan, Assistant Director of Melbourne University’s Intercollegiate Activities Councils production of The Book of Everything, the opportunity to develop friendships with like-minded people is a main contender for the best reason to become involved in student theatre. “There is a sense of camaraderie in student theatre that you don’t really see anywhere else, it’s almost an expectation that if you are involved in a student theatre company, you should do your best not only to see other shows, but to also help promote the performances put on by other companies. I think it’s so fantastic that everyone wants to support one another, it’s something that makes student theatre so unique!” Mr. Sullivan is himself an example of this supportive attitude, as in addition to his role with the ICAC production, he was also executing the role of Head of Publicity and Sponsorship for Melbourne University Shakespeare Company’s recent production of Antony & Cleopatra.

Mr. Sullivan’s situation is not an uncommon one, as many of Theatre People’s interviewees told us that they have been pulling double duty with different theatre companies at the University of Melbourne – and some have been doing that since their first year of study. Telling us that the stresses of being involved in student theatre often result in more pleasure than pain, all involved would rather spend their time in a rehearsal room rather than a lecture theatre. In the case of student theatre, the challenges involved allow participants to take a break from educational challenges. By taking part in something that they love, cast and crew are able to approach their education in a healthy way, rather than committing all of their time to worrying about exams and tests.

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Above: A production image from The Book of Everything.

For Taylen Furness, a co-Musical Director on Thoroughly Modern Millie, finding balance between a creative role in a production and study has been difficult, but not impossible. “I haven’t been to a lecture in a couple of weeks. Between runs of the show with the cast and rehearsals with the band I have six rehearsals to attend a week, leaving me one day to catch up on sleep, eating, study, and most importantly, Game of Thrones.”

Alexandre Guerin, working as the Head of Publicity and Sponsorship for The Book of Everything and as the Production Manager of Antony & Cleopatra, believes the support given to theatre companies at Melbourne University plays a major role in fostering the theatrically oriented culture of the students. “Melbourne is called the cultural capital of Australia for a reason! The performing arts play a major role in Melbourne’s culture and Melbourne University offers amazing facilities for young, aspiring actors and theatre-inclined people to perform in not just one, but three different venues on campus. Union House Theatre gives the opportunity to pretty much anyone to have a go at it, through workshops, discussions and weekly productions.”

Theatre People hope to continue to bring you features regarding student theatre. If you wish to support the multiple student theatre companies working from Melbourne University, please keep up to date by liking the Union House Theatre Facebook page. Tickets for the Book of Everything can be found here, and tickets for Thoroughly Modern Millie can be purchased here. Both shows run through this weekend.

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