In March 2020 I was high-kicking and jazz-handsing my way across the stage in Guys and Dolls, the annual Lent term musical at the ADC Theatre. When the two-week run was cut short by the introduction of a national lockdown, we all believed that we were being sent home to quarantine for two weeks at most. It is surreal looking back now at our rushed goodbye hugs in a packed dressing room, as we’ve experienced 18 months of lockdowns and closed theatres.
My time at Cambridge has been defined by the theatre and comedy scene, but my second and third years were not what I thought they would be. Easter term 2020 saw a plethora of online, radio and live-streamed shows: it was heartening to see the determination of the theatre community to continue creating and enjoying our shared passion.
I had just become a member of the Cambridge Footlights, one of the biggest personal goals I’ve achieved at university, but it was not quite the experience I had been working towards. Sitting alone in my bedroom performing stand-up (sit-down?) comedy to a Zoom call of blank screens was as harrowing as it sounds, and about as far as it gets from the enthusiastic and inebriated buzz of the Footlights Smokers on a Tuesday night. The hardest part of theatre during the pandemic was our complete inability to manage our expectations: we are an extremely hopeful and slightly naïve bunch, so every cancellation hit harder than the last.
We did not give up. We adapted the planned December 2020 pantomime to fit a Zoom call in the spring, pre-recorded all our songs and hoped for the best: the end product was makeshift and slightly bizarre, particularly with our Panto Horse dipping in and out of connection, but it was a lot of fun and certainly an outcome of the times.
As I sit and write this a few days from my second vaccination I am hopeful for the future. I feel extremely lucky that I will be in Emma for a fourth year and I will appreciate my final year even more, given the challenges we have experienced. I am very excited to be back within the community that has supported me so much at university, to return to the chaos of the ADC stage and, most importantly, never to joke about COVID-19 ever again.