Cuppers is a drama festival for undergraduate and postgraduate freshers organised jointly by OUDS and TAFF. Teams from the different colleges each put on a short play in the Burton Taylor Studio which are judged over the course of the week by the two drama committees. A shortlist is then put through to the final where they compete for various awards, including ‘Best Sound’, ‘Best Lighting’, ‘Best Design’.
All abilities are welcome, and beginners are encouraged - the OUDS and TAFF committees will be available to help you throughout the whole process, making it a fun environment in which to stage your first Oxford show.
Get in touch with your college drama rep, who’ll be able to give you more info on how to enter, tips for your show, and can help you find other freshers who’d be interested in joining your team.
Gather together a team from your college and start thinking about what you want your play to be: you can do extracts from an existing play, but many teams decide to write their own.
Enter by filling out and submitting the entry form (available to download here, MT19) accompanied by the £35 entry fee, which you will be able to obtain from your college’s JCR/arts society/funding body.
Organise rehearsals and design your show! You are allowed to spend up to £50 (your college should also give you this) on your show which many shows will find they don’t need. Do as much preparation as you can, because you have a very limited amount of time in the venue.
You will have a 20 minute tech session in the BT with two TAFF duty technicians at the beginning of Cuppers week. This is not a time for rehearsal, but for the teams to make sure they have the right props and furniture and for the cuppers technicians to programme in the lighting cues and test the sound with the duty technician.
You will have been assigned a performance slot which involves a 10 minute get in, the performance, and a very quick get out. It is important that you do not run over, since the cuppers schedule needs to accommodate a large number of teams. The BT seats an audience of 50, so make sure to invite plenty of people from college to come support the team!
If you are shortlisted for the final, you will perform again on the Saturday. Awards will be given out at a social following the performances.
Designing for Cuppers
Designing on such a small budget for a show for which you have only 20 minutes to tech and 10 minutes to set up can be very challenging, but simplicity is key. In the weeks leading up to cuppers, try to see at least one student production in the Burton Taylor Studio so you can see what the venue is like and how other student designers have handled it.
Many cuppers shows will choose to set their plays in contemporary Britain, in which case the casual clothes of the cuppers team will be sufficient to costume the whole cast, but nevertheless, remember to think about how your costumes can be selected to suit your characters’ personalities, ages, and relationships. It would be extremely difficult to create period dress on a cuppers budget, so in most cases it is best to have a contemporary design even if you have an older text (think of the way most professional Shakespeares are designed) or to have simple costumes with a few period accessories. If your play is non-naturalistic, you can have fun with more schematic costume designs, such as having everyone wearing the same colour in a variety of bold styles. Also consider how a character’s behaviour and dress can be indicative of setting: if a character is outdoors they may choose to wear a coat, or if they are in somewhere fancy they might seem tense.
Don’t limit yourself to only using sound for diegetic ‘sound effects’, such as a phone ringing or a dog barking, but consider how you might use ‘soundscapes’ and music in your play. Soundscapes (such as the subtle sound of leaves rustling and birds chirping for an outdoors scene, or people chatting and dishes clinking in a cafe) can create a vivid sense of place, which can be extremely useful given the confines of physical set design in the BT. Music can be used to put the audience in an appropriate frame of mind for the play as they enter the studio, and can be used to set the mood/distract them during any scene transitions. You can run the sound through the studio’s audio system from your laptop but you might find it helpful to download playback software such as Qlab to create a cue stack for the show.
Since you will only have ten minutes to set up and you are not allowed to bring furniture into the studio beyond the tables, chairs, and stage blocks we provide, you need to be strategic in how you create a sense of place. Think about how you can customise the BT tables and chairs with table cloths or seat cushions (which will need to be flame checked in your tech session!). You are somewhat limited by the black walls of the BT, but remember you are allowed to hang things from the bars provided you can easily remove them and they do not obstruct the lights or pose a hazard. Hand props can also be useful in hinting things about the setting and the characters, and the TAFF props store has a large collection of things that are hired out for free or for minimal cost to cuppers teams.
We will design a generic rig for all the cuppers teams to use, including both warm and cold washes, profiles, and LED fixtures based on the requests outlined in the technical forms filled in by the cuppers teams. There might also be the option of having some specials, such as particular gels or gobos, in your design. Before show week, you should read through the play carefully and discuss with the director how they want each scene to look. Then you should create a list of all the lighting cues you need so you can programme them quickly with the TAFF technician in your brief tech session. Don’t be tempted to only have cues where the stage is fully lit broken up by blackouts between scenes! Consider whether there are moments where only some of the stage needs to be lit, how you can embody the mood of the scene using colour and light intensity, and how you can use light to give the impression of changing locations. After your tech session, all your cues will be stored in the desk (the BT has an ETC Element), ready for you to simply press ‘GO’ during your performance.