Wednesday 4 March 2020

Cambridge Footlights: Behind the scenes of the Spring Revue


With only a few days to go until Cambridge Footlights are on our stage, performer Harry Balden spills all on the creation of last month's Footlights Spring Revue: Crossed Wires! 

When I see a comedy show I personally wonder if it was as much fun to make as it was to watch, as I know of comedy shows whose production process had resembled a martial drill, and on the other hand shows where the inception has been akin to an episode of Are You Being Served? What side did ‘Footlights Spring Revue’ fall on?

First, the poor directors. Normally, members of Footlights are left to do their own thing, or the shows bearing the Footlights name are the product of a select few for creative coherence. Spring Revue is the only time of year where they are all in the same place at the same time, like fish migrating for feeding season. Bringing together the dozen-odd team for a single creative effort - using the best bits from the past year alongside new material - can sometimes feel like curating a gallery rather than writing a show.

Any new piece of content introduced or omitted is considered in how it factors into the wide variety of styles on offer, and trying to direct such a venture isn’t so much a series of leadership calls as engaging in a game of ten-dimensional chess, credit goes to the co-directors Jade Franks and Ella Burns for getting a show on the road.

A man in a boiler suit

Nonetheless, it was fun to work with people who one had always known socially but never been involved in a project with, and whose style could be very different from your own. Comedy is quite often about sanding the edges of your own persona and style and being thrown into a funfair of 15 people who haven’t developed in tandem requires reorientation and is, as they say in management consultancy, ‘a new challenge’.

Neither did the technicians get off the hook. Cambridge sketch shows are usually held in little venues or in lower-stakes ADC ‘late shows’, where bits of the show slot in and out from night to night and at points the script is only advisory. The difference in production effort and size between these and a flagship ADC main is the difference between a kitten and a tiger. Going up to a Stage Manager backstage and saying the punchline is going to be different for a sketch today, routine in a lot of comedy shows, receives the curt reply that this requires transmitting to the people on lighting that its different, the person in charge of the mics, the (completely different) set of people coming on after you, and so, no, it is staying as it is.

Around a hundred new sketches were put in, from which about thirty were picked up. This, mixed with the best stuff from the last year, covered exceptionally broad topics from a support group for Disney characters, to a surprise birthday party with assassins, to hardheaded satire of the news media, every kind of comedy and influence was on display. The process was, as a project of scale compounding comedian’s natural tendency towards lawlessness, sometimes chaotic, occasionally exasperating, and always presenting new problems as a result of it being very much a one-off (albeit a one-off that happens every year). It’s at this point that I would normally say that despite all this the project was ‘rewarding’ and ‘we all learnt a lot’ because of the ‘fresh challenges’, however this would be beside the point. It wasn’t rewarding, it was just fun. Fun to do, fun to put together. One hopes it was also fun to watch.

Cambridge Footlights will be on our stage Sunday 8 and Sunday 15 March. For more information and to book tickets please click here.