Why you should join a (Drama) Society

[Forgive a President a brief plug of her own society]

Drama Society – we’re one of UEA’s biggest (and best) societies, as well as being one of its most active.

We are an entirely student run group who put on up to six shows a year, including a musical, plus a short plays festival in the spring. On top of this regular programming we also run workshops with some of the industry’s top professionals as well as our own socials – e.g. pub crawls, BBQ’s, and a Winter Ball.

Sound good?

Over the next few days we’ll be running various taster sessions so you can come and see what we’re about. This includes our Big Meet on Friday where your’s truly will be giving a presentation about what we have planned this term, as well as our first Give It A Go session which will consist of drama games (to help break the ice) and a discussion about audition technique.

There will also be a BBQ on Saturday afternoon and a Recovery Breakfast (for those who go to the LCR on Saturday) on the Sunday morning. If any of this sounds interesting to you please go to our Facebook page to find out more.

Auditions are also open for our first show of the year, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.

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On a slightly more personal note, I can still hardly believe that I’m the Drama Society President 2016/17. Had you asked me a year ago I would have told you absolutely not, I was petrified enough being the Equality and Diversity Officer on the previous committee.

However, I do remember wondering what it would be like to be president, and whether I could do it. I think it’s but one example of how much you grow at uni – I didn’t see myself as a leader or as someone who was qualified enough to run such a big and active society.

I love my degree so much, UEA is an extraordinary place to study and I have learned so much from my tutors – however, my greatest personal development has come from my extracurricular stuff, namely Drama Society. It’s shaped my social life, how I see myself as a person, and even my career goals.

Obviously Drama Society won’t be for everyone, but I would encourage all students to go out and find their Drama Society equivalent. Who knows where it could take you.

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The Drama Society committee 2015-16

Let’s Talk: Sometimes University is Hard

Something I have noticed that many student bloggers do, and I am very much including myself in this, is to write short and snappy articles outlining how you solve ‘x’ problem; ’10 Tips for X’ etc etc.

Now, I’m certainly not about to advocate the doing away with such content. It’s quick and easy to read, digest, and from personal experience I know that it can often be quite helpful – before starting university I read a lot of ‘Top Tips for Freshers’ guides and they helped me feel a little less nervous.

However, today I want to address something which can’t be solved in a round 400 words, something which I wish people had said to me before I started uni.

And that is that university is hard. Like, really hard sometimes.

Perhaps you think this shouldn’t come as a surprise, we all know that universities are places of academic rigor (or at least they should be) and so we can’t expect it to be plain sailing all the time. However, the problem is that we are sold an image of university which is something like this:

[Picture] “A sunny field under a blue sky, groups of students laughing and carefree – more often than not, not looking at the books which lie open in middle of their circle of friends.”

Or perhaps:

[Picture again if you will] “A serious looking student sitting in a well-lit library. They are clearly working hard but their face is a picture of health – no bags under the eyes here”.

And sometimes university is like this. Often it is fun and you are surrounded by your friends for much of the time, and studying a subject you love is fulfilling.

But-

Sometimes it is stressful and can feel like you’re knocking your head against a wall. Sometimes despite your hard work you don’t do as well as you wanted to in a class. Sometimes things going on at home or in your social life can take over and distract you from your goals.

I’m writing this because this is what happened to me last year. There were things going on at home, one of my parents was very ill, I was making poor decisions when trying to balance my social life and studies – all of which was compounded by the fact that I had high academic expectations of myself and felt that others did too.

This is not to say that I didn’t have any good times second year. I had some really amazing experiences and memories I will treasure for a life time, but I was also stressed and unhappy for a lot of it. Being home for the summer has allowed me to take a step back, catch my breath and reflect on what went on.

I can see now that a lot of the time I was making myself stressed… because I was stressed? Whenever anything became difficult or didn’t turn out as I hoped, I turned it into a reason that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t a good student, rather than just seeing it as a natural setback that happens to everyone.

Talking to other people I have heard lots of similar stories. We all imagine that everyone else is finding things easier than us. That we are somehow uniquely deficient when it comes to the things that we want to be good at.

So, in summary, there is no easy answer to this. I’m still working it out for myself. But I think it’s good for students to know that it’s ok for things to not always be ok. Sometimes uni will be difficult and you will be stressed, but everyone else is feeling the same.

University is hard sometimes, but also, sometimes it’s bloomin’ amazing – and at the end of the day I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

(Here’s a really great video by the vlogger, Lucy Moon, addressing similar issues)

My Summer Work Experience 2016

Well we are now well and truly into the summer break and although the Autumn term doesn’t start until late September it doesn’t seem that long until uni begins again.

However, I am currently very much enjoying my break from academia. Over the last few weeks I’ve been filling my time by doing work experience at my local museum and reading a real mixture of stuff – importantly, the stuff I really want to read.

My time with the museum has been great in many ways, I’ve really enjoyed my work with the Development Officer which has allowed me to make use of and expand the admin skills I have gained (all through my work with the Drama Society) over the last year, and it has opened my eyes to career possibilities beyond graduation. Whilst I’m planning to do a MA in Medieval Studies/Literature I’m still having to start to imagine what life will look like after graduation.

Not only do I enjoy the work I have been doing (and the opportunities I have been given to come up with and implement my own ideas) but the setting is gorgeous as well. The museum is housed in a building known as The King’s Manor and sits directly opposite Salisbury Cathedral. Of course, this means that my walks to work are beautiful and it often strikes me how lucky I am to have lived so much of my life in the shadow of this amazing monument. The school I went to for my last two years of primary school is only a few doors down and one half of the sixth form college I went to is on the other side of the Cathedral close, so I really have lived a good chunk of my life in its shadow.

The work experience I have been doing this summer has been interesting but also very helpful in giving me a better understanding of the kind of work I would like to get into. But importantly, this wasn’t a placement organised by my uni but one I went out and found myself.

I researched and wrote a cover letter explaining why I thought I was a good fit for the museum and found the most relevant person to send it to. I then had an interview in which I had to justify the things I had written and pitch why they should take me on. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that being proactive and making opportunities for yourself is so important and, in my experience, very rewarding.

I’m now off on a short break to Wales and then to produce a play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before coming back to do a few more weeks of work at the museum. No rest for the wicked and all that.

Best of luck for those still waiting for exam results – not long now!

To any UEA LGBT+ freshers

I know that the events of the last few days have been heart-breaking and scary, I know that for young people wanting to come out it might seem more impossible than ever, but I want to tell you now that at UEA there is a community ready and waiting to welcome you with open arms.

Over the last year I have been too caught up with my work on the Drama Society committee to be involved in many of the Pride (our LGBT+ society) events, but as a fresher they were somewhere I knew I could go and make friends and feel safe. It is an incredibly open and supportive community and I would really recommend you coming along to at least the welcome social at the beginning of the year.

This week their commitment to solidarity and activism was sorely needed following the events in Orlando, and a vigil was held in the campus square to remember the victims.

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Photo: Eastern Daily Press

Things seem awful at the moment but I just want you to know that uni can be the time when you learn to express yourself, your identity and your truth in the most supportive and loving environment imaginable. So please don’t feel when you arrive in September that you need to hide anything about who you are or who you love.

Enough words have been said by more eloquent people than me, trying to describe a tragedy for which there are no words, and therefore I would like to leave this post with a poem which I came across recently and which has stuck with me:

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Pimp My Barrow – 2k16

Last weekend saw the tenth anniversary of the one true UEA tradition – ‘Pimp My Barrow’.

‘Pimp My Barrow’ is an event really unlike any other and until you have seen it with your own eyes it is hard to really convey just how ridiculous and beloved it is.

However, I shall try and give a rough guide to the day’s proceedings:

It all begins with thousands of students in fancy dress, sporting decorated wheelbarrows, descending on the UEA campus square. The students are usually in teams of around 6 people and each team will pick a theme for their costumes and their wheelbarrow. Recent great designs have included ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ teams.

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They even had smoke pellets to put in his funnel!

Somehow every year the weather is beautiful and this first part of the event is a chance to party in the sun with your friends and celebrate the end of another academic year.

The teams are then set off on their journeys in three separate waves to take part in a wheelbarrow race across Earlham Park and then on to a pub crawl through Norwich. What the locals make of the sight of all the students in their costumes I don’t know, but it is certainly a very interesting and ‘unique’ parade.

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Whilst it is all lots of fun the main purpose of the event is to raise money for the local cancer charity, the Big C. This year ‘Pimp My Barrow’ raised over £9000 (or the cost of one year of university tuition) which I’m sure we can all agree is a fantastic achievement.

I had a great time again this year but it was strange to be doing it all again. Last year this was of course all new and exciting, now it feels like a strange count down to the inevitable day when I have to wave UEA goodbye. I suppose it just means we’ll have to put a special effort into ‘PMB 2K17’ and see it out in style.

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Side note: We bumped into campus celebrity, ‘Cloud Dog’ aka Beau

More thoughts on the end of second year to follow, until then enjoy the good weather whilst it lasts!

‘Reading Matters’ Conference 2016

One of the many benefits of being an English literature student at UEA is the absence of end of year exams. By the end of second semester all of our essays are handed in and summer stretches ahead of you – however, this does leave the question of how you can go about filling the final few weeks of the academic year.

Well for the first year literature students this conundrum is answered in the form of the ‘Reading Matters’ Conference, a few weeks long project in which small groups of students research and write a presentation on why their book should be on next year’s first year syllabus. At the end there is a vote and the winner is added to either the Literature in History or the Reading Texts modules.

‘But Hannah, you’re not a first year!’ I hear you cry. Sadly this is true, however, having had a great time working with my team and our tutors last year I was delighted to be asked back to help out as part of a student run social media team.

Niamh and Dougie, the wonderful duo who I worked with on this, did fantastic work creating graphics and setting up a twitter account for the event. This meant that on the day we largely spent our time tweeting coverage of the event and making memes to share with the participating students and tutors – the twitter battles are one of the best parts of the conference.

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The books being put forward this year were:

  • The poetry of Sappho
  • Antigone by Sophocles
  • Paradise by Toni Morrison
  • Metamorphoses by Ovid
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
  • Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
  • The Play Boy of the Western World by John Synge
  • Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

All of the teams gave well-argued reasons for why their book should be chosen, and the choice was very hard indeed, but ultimately ‘Citizen’ won.

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It’s not a book I have read yet but I will certainly now make an effort to track down a copy and I’m delighted that we are gradually seeing a diversification from the usual white male writers who take up so much room on our syllabuses.

I hope this year’s first years enjoyed the conference as much as I did, I hope they made new friends and got to know their tutors at least a little bit more, and if nothing else I hope they enjoyed the free wine and nibbles at the after party.

Beyond the Seminar: Shakespeare Week

A belated Happy Easter to you all!

The Easter break is slipping past us at a shockingly fast pace, but with so much to look forward to over the next few months that isn’t an entirely bad thing.

Although we have the final mountain of essays to surmount in the next few weeks, English Literature students can look forward to an exam free third semester. This means that we have plenty of time for end of year shenanigans such as the annual ‘Pimp My Barrow’ Day (more on that closer to the time) – although sadly, unlike last year, we don’t have Radio 1’s Big Weekend on our doorstep.

Before we reach the promised land of third semester however, there are a few exciting things on the calendar…

As some of you may know, next month will be the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (and his 452nd birthday). To celebrate this the Drama Society (whose committee I am on) are organising a whole week of activities – including lectures, film screenings, a monologue slam, and a very special production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.

I’m very much looking forward to the week (18th-24th April), but I have also surprised myself with how much I have enjoyed helping to organise the different events. All of the week’s activities have been dreamed up and organised by students for students. There have been meetings upon meetings and numerous emails, phone calls and brain storming sessions, all of which culminates in something tangible that is enjoyed by hundreds of students. Watching something that was once just an inkling of an idea in your head become a campus wide campaign is so rewarding – it shows how with work and effort you can have a real effect on the world around you.

A shorter way of putting it is simply that it’s amazing to be standing on this bridge between being somebody who things just happen to, and being a ‘proper adult’ who can make things happen. I’m beginning to realise that the things you learn at university aren’t just things you pick up in your seminars and lecture halls, but all of the extra opportunities it provides. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s true.

Anyway, for now I shall leave you with our exciting festival line-up. As always feel free to email me with any questions you may have.

line up

Students & Money: Never the twain shall meet?

Students and money, two things famous for rarely keeping company.

When you’re at uni money is something you will often find haemorrhaging out of your pockets, whether it be on an ill-advised night out or because you forgot to make a shopping list and so end up throwing whatever takes your fancy into the basket.

However, there are ways of saving your bank account from the dreaded £0.00.

I’ve spent the last few Saturdays working as a Student Guide on Applicant Days (Note: this is how I’m currently avoiding the dreaded overdraft) and questions about employment opportunities at uni come up very frequently, so today I’m going to try and cover all of the main options you have and include some thoughts from students about their jobs.

  1. Working for the University

Working for your uni is often one of the easiest and most student-friendly ways of earning some cash during term time.

There are quite a few options available (at least at UEA) which include working at the university run food outlets, giving guided tours to visitors, and helping raise money for the university by ringing alumni. UEA pays the new Living Wage (although I disagree with this government’s definition of the Living Wage, but that’s by-the-by) so it’s often a good way of getting a job that doesn’t require many hours and is flexible to fit around your studies.

  1. Working for the Student Union

Personally I have never done this so I shall have to defer to the opinion of my housemate Richard who currently works in the SU shop.

“I found the experience an interesting one as I get to meet new people and learn some new things along the lines of management and communication. It’s great to feel part of a community.”

The SU offers a range of jobs from baristas in their café to working as a crew member for LCR gigs (apparently you sometimes get to see big name bands for free…).

I know a lot of students who work with the SU and by all accounts it’s a great gig – if you can get it that is. There are a lot of students and only a limited number of jobs so there is a fair amount of competition.

  1. And lastly – Finding a job in Norwich

As most of my friends are drama students very few of them work in town as it can be hard to find places that are flexible enough to work around rehearsals. However, if you’re willing to set aside a certain amount of hours in your week on a regular basis then there are always places hiring.

This can also be the riskiest option as unlike the previous two employers, businesses in town are rarely geared or designed to work around student employees. But in the end it really depends on what work you can find.

Hopefully this post was helpful for anyone starting uni next year. I’m going to try and write my next few posts also around the questions that applicants frequently ask me on Open Days.

As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments section or email me.

How to House Hunt…

Now is the time of year when students across the country are scrabbling to secure their housing for next year. Some of them may be first years on the lookout for their first ever house, and some of them are second or third years who for whatever reason aren’t staying in their current accommodation.

Luckily for me, I’m staying right where I am. I lucked out both in terms of housing and housemates so aside from one change in the team line up, due to one of my housemates graduating this summer, we’re staying as we are.

However, one of my housemates and I were discussing just how unusual this is, to be happy with both your choice of housemates and your choice of accommodation one year on from that original contract signing.

I don’t pretend to have any particular wisdom on the subject, good fortune more than anything led to a situation where by the November of my first term at uni I had found who I was going to live with in second year (One of my housemates is the first person I met at the ice breaker on my first night at uni).

But I think there are a few pointers that I can give to help ease the house hunting horror.

  • Firstly, and this will seem like a very obvious one, work out what you can afford. You need to include not only the monthly rent but also the cost of bills if they are not included, the cost of transport if you are going to be travelling in every day, plus the basic costs of living such as food.
  • Decide how far you are happy to live from uni. I live right in the centre of the city and I love it. I’m very near the shops and clubs, and only a five minute walk from the main bus stop so I don’t have to worry about whether the next bus is a 25 or 26 (this is a problem all UEA students above second year will understand). Personally I think it’s best to either live very close to uni or to move right into town. A lot of student housing falls somewhere in between, leaving you too far away to walk to uni and too far away from town to walk home after a night out. Bite the bullet and pick a side.
  • When on the phone and looking around properties, remember to put your best foot forward. Nice houses go very quickly and the landlord will have plenty of offers to choose from, so make sure you’re the nice bunch who say things like, ‘we’re not much of a party house’, even if it’s not true…
  • Once you’ve found a place, don’t sign anything until a Student Union advisor has gone through the contract with you. This will protect you and the landlord from surprise costs or unreasonable demands. These things are legally binding, so make sure you fully understand what you’re getting in to.
  • And lastly, before looking around houses, have a discussion with your future flatmates about your expectations for the next year. Is one of you planning on bringing people round every weekend? Does one of you have a secret passion for the violin they’ve not mentioned before? These aren’t reasons not to live with someone, but they are things you should know about beforehand. It’s also worth checking whether any of you are very keen on having things like a bath or double beds which not all properties have.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to be thorough enough with your planning and house hunting that there no nasty surprises once you move in – or at least none that you can be held responsible for.

Best of luck to everyone looking, and don’t forget that there’s loads more info on the HomeRun website!

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Last year’s booklet – How time flies…

Reading Week, ‘Antigone’, and Accessible Theatre

Reading weeks are usually associated with rest and recuperation, they’re times to reflect on the first half of a term and get a head start on the next couple of week’s reading. Unless of course it’s the show week of the first play you’ve ever directed.

This Thursday (tomorrow night!) ‘Antigone’ opens at the UEA Drama Studio – please forgive the shameless plug.

As one of the directors of the show I am of course very excited, but with my Drama Society Equality and Diversity officer hat on, I am extra excited as we are having our Friday performance interpreted by the UEA BSL (British Sign Language) Society.

This is a great chance for UEA Drama Society to live up to our mission statement of making theatre accessible to everyone, and hopefully it’s only the start.

Antigone poster

Designed by Nancy Netherwood

The rehearsal process itself has been equal parts pleasure and pain. Sam (my co-director) and I have been truly blessed with a fantastic cast who have continuously impressed us with their talent and commitment, and for that we will be eternally grateful. But, what we hadn’t quite appreciated at the outset of this adventure, was just how much of your time directing a show takes up – the answer is, a lot.

Whilst I don’t regret taking on this challenge, I’m very aware of how much catching up awaits me once the show is over. Reading weeks are supposed to be used for reading, not directing.

Ah well, you live and you learn.

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Photo by Sydney Burges