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Put on your first show

Step 1: Choose your show


There are few things more important than your choice of show. If your show is not new writing and still under copyright, it is imperative to check whether the rights are available before you put the show on. Most rights can be secured through Nick Hern Books, Samuel French or MTI International (for musicals). Sometimes you will have to contact individual writers' agents to find out whether the rights are available. Click here to see our note on rights. 

Step 2: Choose your venue

Once you know what show you want to put on, you should then start thinking about where you want to perform it. 

Oxford has four main theatre spaces available for student shows. The Oxford Playhouse is the largest with a capacity of 663 seats (recent shows have included The Great Gatsby and The Tempest). Keble O'Reilly is smaller, but also suitable for larger scale shows (recently Bare: A Pop Opera, and The History Boys). The Michael Pilch Studio and the Burton Taylor Studio are perfect for smaller scale shows that lend themselves to more intimate staging. The Old Fire Station is sometimes available for student shows, and many production companies choose college spaces (such as college chapels or gardens) or unconventional theatre spaces to stage their show. We recommend that first time directors or producers start with smaller venues to 'learn the ropes'. 

If you need more information on how to pick a venue and example bids, see our venue advice here.

Step 3: Build your team


The team you should build will depend on the requirements of the show itself, and the venue you are planning to bid for. At a minimum, however, you will  need a director, a producer, a marketing manager, and a number of designers (lighting, sound, set) depending on the technical requirements of the production. Large-scale productions might require contributions from a team of 50 or more, whereas smaller shows may only need 5 or 6 in the production team, so it is important to only build your team after you have decided what type of venue you will be applying for.


If you need more information on which roles are necessary for your team, have a look at our role advice here.

Step 4: Have a production meeting


This involves producing and distributing an agenda ahead of time, gathering your team, and discussing the individual elements of the bid. The general outline of a bid, as well as a number of example bids, can be found here

Step 5: Submit your venue bid


Once the bid has been compiled you should circulate it within the team for comment and final review. You should then submit your bid in the format requested by the venue, which usually as a minimum involves statements from heads of department, and a budget created using the OUDS budget template. The application process for the most frequently used student spaces in Oxford can be found on our Venues page here.

Step 6: Source funding


OUDS funding opens in 5th week each term, and will be advertised beforehand in the OUDS Newsletter. You will be required to submit a bid via the OUDS website that should be similar to a venue bid​, but designed to persuade the reader of a production's financial stability. Please note that OUDS typically offer pro-rata loans rather than grants. For further details on how to put together a funding application, have a look at our more detailed advice here.


Following on from this you will be invited to an interview; this will last between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the scale of your production. You will be asked to expand on the contents of your funding bid as well as answering any specific questions that the Executive committee (the OUDS President, Treasurer and Secretary) may have. Funding decisions will be circulated towards the end of term, with funds being released to successful companies over the course of the vacation.

Apart from OUDS Funding:

-There many other funding bodies across the university, generally based in colleges. A list of the funding bodies that are currently accepting applications can be found here

-You can apply for grant-based funding from bodies like the Cameron Mackintosh Drama Fund, details about which can be found here.

-Some production companies have had success obtaining grants from JCRs, although this should not be relied on as a source of funding, since JCRs can often promise lots and deliver little. 


Step 7: Pre-show


Auditions should be held almost as soon as the venue is secured, to give the director and cast enough time to rehearse. We strongly recommend that you run your auditions sign-ups through the OUDS Auditions Portal. Have a look at what actors will expect from an audition here, and be sure to consider the OUDS inclusivity guidelines when writing your call to auditions. 

You should aim to have done a full run of the show in front of all technical personnel about a week before the start of the get-in. This allows them to adjust their designs to the final form the show will take, and as such, the show must essentially be ready to put on stage, from the director's perspective, by this point. All scene transitions and blocking should be complete, and the full run should run from start to finish without stopping. On large scale shows, once technicians have been given a chance to adjust their designs, the Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) should run a 'paper tech', in which the technicians run through each of their cues with the director present, explaining exactly when the operators will need to be cued by the DSM. On shows without a DSM, the Production Manager (PM) should oversee the paper tech, and technicians should describe their cues to the director, to make sure their placement and content fits in with the director's vision of the show.

Step 8: Show week


Show week starts when you arrive at the venue for your get-in. Depending on the venue, your technical crew will require between a few hours and a few days to set up before rehearsals can begin in the space. ​This will often involve heading to OUTTS at 10AM in the morning to collect props and set pieces. If you are working on a small scale show, it may also be useful to have cast help with get-in. 

Once the get-in is complete, your technicians will then need time with the actors in the space to run through their lighting/sound cues (and any other technical elements of the show). . It should be noted that the cue-to-cue is not a rehearsal for cast. 

The dress rehearsal should be run like a show. Clearance should be given as if from Front of House, and the show should run after that point and stop for nothing short of a significant technical or cast mishap. 

It is useful to invite reviewers (from the Cherwell, the Oxford Blue and the Oxford Student) to opening night so that your reviews can be used as marketing for the rest of the run. Many directors choose to sit in the audience for every show to take notes, and other members of your production team who are not involved in the show itself may also want to have 'comp' (free) tickets, which producers should remember when programming their budget. Depending on the venue, you may need to find individuals to help with Front of House on show nights, especially if you're running the bar. 

Your marketing for the production should not slow down until the end of the run. Especially given that student audiences tend to buy their tickets at the last minute, you may find that you will sell a large proportion of your tickets during show week itself, particularly in smaller venues. 

Step 9: Post-show


The work on a production doesn’t end the moment the last audience member leaves the building. On the final night, all members of cast and crew can reasonably be expected to stay and help pack away equipment and clear the auditorium before any post-show celebrations can occur, and may even need to be present over the following days, depending on the venue. For the producer, there is a great deal of administration that remains to be done post-show, including the reimbursement of any remaining expenses, and the closing of accounts and repayment of any loans. Depending on how long it takes for ticket revenues to be returned, this can take at least a month after the show itself has finished.


Step 10: Why not go again?


Why not use these new-found skills on another production and help others who haven’t had the same experiences as you? Oxford drama is so successful primarily because so many people do multiple shows in their time here, and it is really beneficial for beginners to work alongside those who have done a number of shows already.

'Macbeth',  Happier Year Productions, TT23

Photo by Freddie Houlahan

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