Lucy Thompson and Female Directing
Lucy is a postgrad studying for an MPhil in Geography, and she is also the director of one of the latest ADC productions ‘A Blown Job’, a fun Zoom-shot musical comedy that is available to watch online in full here.
Outside of the university environment, theatre direction has historically been a male dominated field. Indeed, a study conducted by the playwright Jennifer Tuckett and the Sphinx Theatre Company suggests that ‘British theatre has an institutional problem with sexism and gender inequality’ and that, in industry, the ratio of male directors to female directors is around 2:1 (the Guardian article can be found here). In this way, Lucy and other female directors like her suggest a challenge to this male domination. Hopefully, this peaks to a changing landscape where industries can become more equal and inclusive. Read on to discover about her experience of the role, why musical theatre is important to her, as well as her perception of what it takes to be a leader.
What subject do you study and what drew you to that subject?
“I’m a master’s student but I was also here for my undergrad where I did geography and now, I’m currently doing geographical research. I really enjoyed it at school and my master’s degree is carrying on from my undergraduate dissertation which was on the historical geographies of tap dance. It combines my interests in geography and theatre and dance.”
How did you start working on ‘A Blown Job’?
“It ended up quite long, it wasn’t meant to be that long! A couple of my friends who I’d met in show choir wrote the musical. We’d met about three years ago and when I heard they were doing it I applied to direct; the whole thing sounded really fun. Original theatre is a lot different to other sorts of theatre – I’ve also been involved in established stuff, like last year, for instance, I was involved in Chicago but it’s very different when you have a completely new script and new songs as we had with ‘A Blown Job’. You can make the production your own compared to something that’s already been established. I think that’s what kind of drew me to wanting to direct ‘A Blown Job’.”
What was your vision? What did you want to achieve?
“I would say that was quite changeable! When we started auditions, it was going ahead at the ADC. It was written during the first lockdown as something just to make people laugh and spread joy (although hopefully not in a not too cheesy way!). We had quite a big cast and we ended up taking on more people when we went online than we would’ve been able to in person because of social distancing restrictions. We took everyone who auditioned, and it was just really welcoming and positive that everyone who wanted to get involved could, including the prod team and the crew who had all applied for stage manager roles. When the production went online their original roles didn’t exist anymore, but we were able to offer them different responsibilities and it was nice to have that adaptability.”
Was this your first time directing?
“It was my first time actually directing. I’ve done quite a lot of choreography, which I did quite a bit of last year, and I’ve performed in show choir (it’s a bit like Pitch Perfect, Glee, that sort of thing). It was a very different experience on zoom I imagine than it would’ve been in person. We had a cast of fifteen people I think, and one of the hardest things was trying to get an hour in the day when fifteen people were free, as well as working around welfare. It was especially tough when everyone’s at home and their parents are in the house working – we had to be careful not to sing really loudly during someone’s parent’s business call or something like that. That was quite a challenge and recording over Zoom was quite a challenge at times. We had cast members in Spain, in Germany, and rural Scotland and the Wi-Fi connection was a bit variable at times, but we made do.”
What makes a good theatre director and how would you describe your own style of directing?
“My approach was just to try and get the most out of the actors and performers that we had: a lot of people had come from varying levels of experience. Some people had come from quite a musical theatre background and others came from quite a comedy background. I was really trying to draw out the best talents everyone had. Especially on Zoom one of the most important things was coordinating with the sound and video editors because otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to make the show as we did. They’ve been amazing so I would say organisation is key, especially for something online where we had a recording deadline. We had to give the editors enough time to put it all together into something cohesive and meet our final cut deadline.”
How did you find the responsibility?
“I had a lot of help! My assistant director was brilliant and turned up to every meeting. The nice thing about Zoom was that we didn’t have restrictions or the rule of six so lots of people, including the writers, could join the rehearsals and that definitely helped with the creative process. I had a really amazing producer, Cerian, who was just so organised and that was incredibly helpful. There is lots of support available. I would say if anyone wanted to get involved in directing it’s not something too daunting there’s loads of support, including the ADC management – they have permanent staff who help students do this because they are doing it alongside their degree.”
Generally, we might say that directing is a career typically dominated by men, have you found any sort of gender disparity or inequality doing drama at Cambridge?
“It’s not something I’ve noticed. I’ve worked with lots of different people – I would say I’ve actually worked with more female directors than male. I think in general in the theatre scene there is a bit of a gender imbalance, which is a shame but it’s not something I’ve seen here.”
What have been some of your highlights during your time at Cambridge? What have been some of your favourite leadership roles?
“A definite highlight was choreographing Chicago last year, it was just such an amazing show and so fun. This year I’ve been involved in Class Act (the SU’s Class Act Campaign one of the Liberation Campaigns) as the graduate student officer, trying to encourage postgraduate involvement. That’s been very new to me but eye-opening and interesting. Since the SU is no longer CUSU and the graduate union is now combined, every campaign and college have a JCR and an MCR, or an undergraduate and a postgraduate rep. I’m the only postgrad on the committee which means I have to go to all the postgrad meetings. I attend the postgrad exec meetings and vote at council, which is mostly fairly relaxed, just a commitment once a week. Recently we formed a working group to try and abolish the postgraduate application fee which is £70. The fee is very expensive and quite a barrier to access. We’re right at the start of the campaign but hopefully, it continues in the future.”
Is there anyone who inspires you, or any inspirational figures you look up to?
“I can’t think of any single person but certainly my mum and actors such as Emma Corrin who have gone on to go into the industry after leaving Cambridge. I also think a lot of the people who I’ve met over my four years in Cambridge theatre are just so talented and amazing and are definitely going to go on to be famous actors and comedians - they’re so cool.”
Do you think musical theatre is something you’re going to continue throughout your life?
“I hope so! I’ll probably get involved in a choir or dance classes on the side of whatever I do in the future. I think it’s been such a big part of my life from such a young age that I couldn’t just cut it out. I think it’s really really fun and the people you meet through the communities are just incredible. It’s not something I’ve thought about too much before! My research is on dance and I’ve applied to carry it on so fingers crossed as I need to get funding. I’m interested in performance and especially dance and how the history of it and how it’s been important for a lot of people’s lives kind of over history and presently.”
“My essay currently is on dance as a form of political protest – I’m looking at dancing on the streets; particularly recently when during the Black Lives Matter protests, there were hundreds of videos of protestors dancing on the street. I’ve been looking at American vernacular dance and how over history it’s been used as protest. I like uncovering where these cultural forms have come from as a geographical notion to analyse. I find it fascinating though I’m not how many other people would! Ultimately, I would love my research to come to a PhD, but we’ll see.”
Thanks so much for sharing, Lucy!