REGINA CO talks to Stage Crew president, LEWIS MURPHY (he/him), about where the society is heading from here and his aspirations for what the artsUCL community could be.
Era Journal’s Theatre section is featuring the societies that make up the UCL theatre scene. It therefore is apt that the first of this series is dedicated to Stage Crew, the society that handles everything from lighting, sound and set design for nearly every event at UCL. Winners of Arts Society of the Year in 2022, they are the backbone of the artsUCL community.
What would you say is the best thing about Stage Crew?
Everyone looks after everyone and we’re all friends. It’s such an easygoing bunch. I’ve really never felt more welcomed into a group of people; I only joined in October last year and now I’m president. With so many events constantly going on, we don’t have the time to be fighting!
On a similar note, what would you say to people who think that Stage Crew isn’t for them?
There’s really no concept of being an “outsider.” I like to think there’s a niche for everyone in Stage Crew. Design sets, build sets, paint sets, rig sets, control the show, manage the stage, light the stage or fill the theatre with earth-shaking bass. There are roles where you work very closely with the director and the producer, and roles where you never even see them. Like some peace and quiet? Sit up in the soundproof followspot booth. Like the noise? Sit at the sound desk. There are so many different things you can get involved in backstage that you might not even think about!
Lewis, having worked with you, it is very clear you are a very capable lighting designer. But as we all know in the performing arts, things are bound to go wrong. Can you tell us of a moment when things didn’t necessarily go your way?
Thank you very much! That honour would definitely have to go to the rainbow lights sequence I triggered during a funeral scene in My Land’s Shore last year. I made a last minute change to one scene and didn’t think to check if it would impact any others… safe to say it did! I was so embarrassed, I nearly sank under the desk.
What are you looking forward to most this year?
We acquired a lot of new equipment last year, thanks to the generosity of the Students’ Union, and are finalising the remaining purchases at the moment. We’ve upgraded our entire core kit with 12 new lights, new speakers, new sound desks and new power distribution, with a new lighting desk and rigging equipment on order. I’m really excited to put these to use this year, especially for our smaller shows. We can really take them to a whole new level now. UCL won’t know what hit it!
Is there anything that you would fight for to give to the artsUCL community?
artsUCL desperately needs more performance spaces! We’re very lucky to have the Bloomsbury Theatre on campus. However, with it being primarily used as a commercial touring venue, our access as students is somewhat limited.
I agree! Despite this, the calibre of your professionalism to make incredible work around these restrictions always astounds me.
Thank you! We’ve really had to choose our kit carefully to work in the spaces we’re given, since most performances take place in classrooms or lecture theatres. While these spaces can be used effectively, it’s very different to having a dedicated performance space, especially from a technical perspective.
What we really need is real investment into these spaces from the university itself. Based on last year’s financial summary, UCL made a profit of £146.7m in 2021. With just a small fraction of that, the possibilities for the performing arts community would be endless.
And on top of that, there is the issue of access to these spaces, isn’t there?
Absolutely. The lack of a dedicated, full-time student theatre on campus means we’re always fighting for time in the spaces we do have access to. Not too long ago, Stage Crew had their own black box theatre on campus: The Garage. Every part of it was operated by and for students, with no commercial interests to compete with and no restrictions on what we could do with it. We lost this space in 2014 as it was taken for teaching use. Its “replacement” was the Bloomsbury Studio, which we can only use for 5 weeks each year.
Working in the Studio or the Bloomsbury Theatre is great for equipment. But a handful of very strictly supervised weeks each year (that societies have to pay a lot for) is completely different to year-round unrestricted access. In addition, unlike the old Garage Theatre, the Studio currently doesn’t offer the same level of creative freedom — for instance, students used to be able to paint The Garage whatever colour they wanted for a show.
We need to fight for more spaces like The Garage, as its promise of creative freedom fades further with each year that passes.
With that said, what is your favourite thing about the artsUCL community?
Stage Crew is unique in that we get to work very closely with so many societies in artsUCL. I really enjoy seeing how the societies differ in their approach to putting on a show, but they all create something great at the end. There’s such a strong camaraderie between everyone involved and it’s a community that gives everyone the opportunities to both fit in and stand out.
What events will you be running for freshers this year?
First, we’ll be with Musical Theatre Society for their Freshers’ Musical on Saturday the 1st of October. We’ll also be on the Main Quad on Sunday, the 2nd, for the Welcome Fair with cool lights and big speakers! If you’re unsure about whether Stage Crew is for you, pop along to our Bloomsbury Theatre training sessions from the 7th of November and get a real taste of the theatre!
Featured image courtesy of Xinyu Sia.