Students Saving Our Theatres: Shoreline’s Summer Project
By Sam Binnie
On March 12, 2020, Broadway shut down. Slowly, theatre by theatre, London’s West End followed. Since the beginning of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on live theatre around the world, from the biggest theatres in New York and London right through to the small local theatres that amateur drama groups rely on for many performances. Here in the UK, government funding for the arts wasn’t announced until July, and many small venues found themselves on the brink of collapse. As more and more shows were postponed, and then cancelled, the UK’s university drama societies decided to find a way they could help.
Warwick University’s drama society came up with a plan: a scheme they titled Students Saving Our Theatres (SSOT). They reached out to twenty-two uni drama societies, from Scotland to London and through to us, in Swansea. Their idea was a five-week campaign focused on a different challenge every week, culminating in a scratch night of pre-recorded performances by society members across the country. They had more than one motive: they note that ‘as all the theatres were closed, there were very few opportunities for young people to network and meet new collaborators. SSOT therefore also succeeded in bringing theatre-makers across the country together in the hopes that some may want to work together in the future.’
The first week’s challenge was deceptively simple: go viral on TikTok. This started, of course, with making a Shoreline Theatre ‘official’ TikTok, and using it to introduce our committee. This week got a lot of our members involved – from our original ‘put a finger down’ challenge right through to TikTok musical auditions! We didn’t quite succeed in going viral, but we did have a lot of fun, and TikTok was used throughout the campaign by many of our members. Besides, the TikTok account is still up and waiting for us to return!
In week 2, we were dared to get up and get active – run or walk 5 kilometres every day. Each day, a different mix of members sent us pictures of their journeys – during one of the hottest weeks of the summer, we saw stops for iced coffees, a trip to see the cows in the fields a mile away, and a few treadmill runs when going outside really was just far too unbearable. Some of us even managed to walk or run every day for the whole week.
Alongside getting fit, we also found some interesting ways to interpret this challenge. Secretary Bridget, who said that ‘SSOT helped me stay connected with the community I had found within theatre and gave me a sense of purpose over lockdown,’ spent most of week two writing a 5000-word essay on the importance of live theatre, which we posted to Shoreline’s Facebook page. We were certainly impressed that she finished it within a week! Meanwhile, Publicist Charley was busy working out how many laps of her Animal Crossing village was equal to 5 kilometres, before spending her day sending her characters on a 5k trek. Charley says it was a highlight of the campaign for her, and that ‘it totally counts.’ Charley also edited everyone’s 5k photos for a master post every day, which she says also greatly enjoyed as she found it a great way to showcase everyone’s hard work.
The challenge this week was to create an outfit – either from scratch or by upcycling an existing garment. Again, we found some fun ways to go about this: one member painted a shirt to create a cosplay outfit; others broke out the sewing machine and dress patterns. I made a dress, and enjoyed it so much that I went on to make a second one for our virtual Oscars event in July!
Learn as much of one language as you can in a week! As the only welsh uni involved, a lot of us naturally focused on Welsh, but we did also have an interesting mix including Arabic, Hebrew, British Sign Language, Latin, Mandarin, and Japanese. Bridget once again provided an exciting interpretation of the challenge by deciding to learn “It’s A Small World” in six different languages; her video of this was actually included as part of the Scratch Night as well.
Our final challenge: help your local community. Across the campaign, this included spending time with elderly family members who had been feeling particularly isolated (within Covid guidelines, of course), bringing the campaign to wider attention through local radio stations, and using specialised search engines online to help the environment. This was, to many of us, the most important week of the campaign, and we really enjoyed being able to take part in something so fulfilling. Conor, who ran every day during week two, told me that his work ‘generated a lot of interest for people who lived in my area, which many wishing to get involved and donate.’
After five weeks of running, sewing, and learning, the campaign ended with a scratch night. Throughout the campaign, we had been asked to record ourselves performing – monologues, songs, dances, and anything else we could come up with. These were broadcast in a YouTube livestream on the last night of the challenge, and it was certainly a fantastic send-off. While an unfortunate technical issue led to some of Shoreline’s submissions not being shown during the premiere, our Social Media Rep, Cass, decided to create a video for our own Facebook page. This video featured every scratch night performance by a Shoreline member, and we’re really proud to be able to showcase it on our own forum.
Warwick has told us that they hope to make SSOT an “annual celebration of arts and what they can achieve,” and we really hope that we will be able to return to this in a year’s time. We had so much fun, and the campaign raised over £6000 in total, which was split between 22 local theatres. Shoreline chose to support the Savoy Theatre in Monmouth, as one of our members has close links to the theatre, and we’re very happy that we were able to support them in this way.
Shoreline is now looking ahead: with the recent developments with regards to the pandemic, we’re spending a lot of time on contingency plans, but we’re not giving up! We’ve just won the Students Union’s September Society of the Month, due in part to our work over the summer and with SSOT. Our first set of shows are two one act plays that we are, with the help of SUTV, turning into short films to be premiered before Christmas. Social Sec Saul is working hard to bring us Covid-safe socials over zoom, and we’ve already hosted our own scratch night to show off the talent of the members who have joined us for the first time this year. Things won’t be the same this year, but Shoreline isn’t giving up!