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‘Thrill Me’: How to put on a show in Cambridge

An interview with the production team of ‘Thrill Me’

We spoke to the director, Louise Dai, and musical director, Daniel Quigley, about their experiences of putting on a play at the Corpus Playroom. From finding inspiration to scheduling rehearsals, they offer a fascinating insight into both the creative and logistical process.

Tell us about your upcoming musical, 'Thrill Me'

Louise: I first saw it three years ago and it quickly became my favourite show. I had the idea of wanting to put it on before I’d even applied to university. By last term, I’ve had a year to familiarise myself with Cambridge theatre, and it felt like the right time to give it ago. “Thrill Me” is a musical based on a true story that happened in Chicago in 1924. The two characters, Nathan and Richard, were two young gay lovers who had the idea to abduct and murder a child – just to prove that they could do it. The story is narrated by an older Nathan who is talking to a parole board in prison thirty years later. It follows their planning and execution of the crime, as well as how they were eventually apprehended.

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Photo Credit: Louise Dai

How do you put on a show in Cambridge?

Louise: I submitted a proposal to the ADC theatre when they opened applications in Easter term, and frankly, the process was easier than I thought. All I had to do was fill in a form with a synopsis, etc, and do a five-minute pitch, where I sat down in front of some members of theatre management, CUADC, CUMTS and talked about my ideas. There were some questions to lead you, such as why you want to put on the show, why you think it’d be good to perform it in Cambridge, and ideas regarding the staging. But really, I was free to talk about whatever I felt relevant, so I brought along the script and some photos from previous professional productions as well. The whole process was only a week or two and I heard back fairly soon.

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Photo Credit: Louise Dai

What are your top tips for putting on a show?

Louise: Firstly, check that licensing rights are available before you apply. A lot of shows, especially ones that are currently on tour or performing nearby, might not be available. For the application stage, I felt that knowing the show inside out really helped. Especially with something that’s not very well-known like “Thrill Me”, it was definitely a good thing when I brought a fully formed idea to the selection panel, with most details already thought out. At this point, you don’t have to worry about money at all – the selection panel doesn’t care at this stage and all you need to do is to convince them that it’s worth doing artistically.

What’s it like putting on a controversial play?

Louise: I filled in some content warnings during the application stage. There were around 7 or 8 to choose from and “Thrill Me” ticked 5 of them. Theatre management is quite relaxed about it in general, and you wouldn’t be censored for whatever goes on in the play. I think student theatre is perfect for trying out unconventional theatre. The tickets are so much cheaper that people can afford to be more adventurous in choosing what they see. Plus, I feel very strongly that songs in musicals should be there to serve the plot, rather than the other way around. To me, Cambridge is particularly suitable for “Thrill Me” as the show needs an open-minded audience. Much of the plot also focuses on the two men’s romantic relationship, and that is of interest to the large LGBTQ+ community here.

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Photo Credit: Em Jones

Talk us through the rehearsal process

Daniel: Because we had the luxury of a slot late in term, we were able to start rehearsals very early on, and since myself and our two actors are heavily involved in Cambridge’s theatre scene, we thought it best to rehearse little and often, instead of cramming everything into two weeks before the show. Due to the small number of people present at rehearsals, they tend to have a relaxed and intimate atmosphere, and we tend to have a lot of fun putting the show together. Our general method is to work through the songs, followed by the accompanying scene, and end with putting the two together. Of course, Louise and I come into each rehearsal with some idea of how the scene should look, but it is a collaboration between us and the cast, and everyone is open to ideas and suggestions. I always want to make rehearsals something you want to do rather than have to do, and this type of show has made that very easy.

"Thrill Me" will run from Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th November at Corpus Playroom, with the performances starting at 7pm