Health and happiness vs. the ADC: A Showdown
The cult of Camdram perfectionism
When I first arrived in Cambridge, I was absolutely amazed by the standard of theatre. I stalked a ridiculous amount of Camdram profiles, trying to find my way around the complicated hierarchies of the ADC and Corpus Playroom and Pembroke New Cellars and wherever, jealously wondering at how crazily talented all these students could be. I started to beat myself up because I could never be that impressive -and I should never have dared to think I could be.
By Lent term, I had basically given up on my degree and so I tried to throw myself into theatre. But however many shows I did, I couldn’t seem to keep up with anyone else. The way that others seemed to juggle endless shows as well as getting a First drove me crazy, and I grew obsessed with keeping up with everyone else, no matter the triviality of the Camdram credit.
So I pushed myself harder and harder, wracked with jealousy, competition, and a need for self-validation. But instead of succeeding in the Camdram scene, I just got tired. I got so, so tired. I slept through classes and rehearsals, or turned up half an hour late, exhausted, with a disgusting black coffee cradled in my hands. And I was no where near where everyone else seemed to be.
Now I know this kind of exhaustion at Cambridge and at university in general is often deemed normal, and so when I told people how intensely tired I was, most people brushed it off – and soon, so did I. But by Easter term, I stopped sleeping through classes and started sleeping through whole days. My body felt like a wreck, my skin was a mess, I felt depressed. I went to the doctors and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue.
When I went home for summer, I met up with home friends and they commented and joked about the stupid amount of Facebook headshots. But then one friend said that jokes aside, I must be really loving it. I said I wasn’t. And then I realised how ridiculous this was.
I had spent a year, essentially, ignoring my degree, doing some really questionable plays (and some lovely ones to be fair), exhausting myself, and neglecting some of my best friends. The thing that really got to me was the fact that a lot of this theatre hadn’t felt meaningful or beneficial in any way. If I had exhausted myself doing something I absolutely loved, this would have been kind of okay. But I had spent a year obsessing over nothing.
So, let’s really talk about Cambridge theatre. Because it has some serious flaws.
Firstly, there’s the treatment of mental and physical health. At the ADC Bar, every conversation seems to be the same- one person says how exhausted and sad they are, then tags in a fellow actor a morbid meme, or makes a morbid joke, and then somebody else says “same”. This seems so odd for a group of people whose hobby is to portray deep emotions and relationships on stage on a daily basis.
Hand in hand with this treatment of mental health comes this cult of perfectionism and the intensive competition. We’ve created this kind of warped microcosm of some professional theatre scene. In reality, plays are done in three weeks or so. Nothing we produce should ever be treated as some West End, polished production. Not that we shouldn’t strive towards the best we can do- but when it starts to affect people’s mental health, that’s too far.
But at the end of the day, this isn’t just Cambridge theatre. The entirety of the Cambridge bubble has a weird, hierarchical, competitive, jealous, atmosphere. But then, what was I expecting- when you put the top students of every school into one town and then tell them they’re not the best anymore, weird shit happens.
Everyone tells you this, but the importance of it has only dawned upon me now- step out of the bubble. Know your priorities, try to keep grounded, do things you actually value, realise that being the Assistant Producer for one more Camdram credit means absolutely fuck all. Cambridge is really not the be all and end all.
Your mental and physical health is so much more important than everything else, and no number of Camdram credits can give you the self-validation and contentment you are looking for.