Oliver Oxley

Students & Alumni. Acting.

Oliver Oxley is one of the first cohort of students on our BA (Hons) Acting degree, which started in 2022-3. He also performs with various theatre troops around Cambridge.

How has it been for you, studying on the first year of a brand new course?

We've effectively been the pioneers, as we like to call it, for this new course, giving feedback on what we think is going well, and what we think could improved on. They've just introduced the new first years so we're hopefully going to get time to talk to them as well, tell them our experiences and how we think they can progress in the course.

It's been enjoyable and good fun. It's been really good for getting yourself out there and more used to working in acting as a whole, to actually have it be a focus for you. You not only get to do things inside the university, but they also send you emails and messages about different opportunities you can find outside, so it's been particularly good for broadening your horizons.

Did you always know that you would go to university and, if not, what changed your mind?

For a long while I was quite convinced I wouldn't. I wasn't sure if it was the right call for me, if it was something that I'd enjoy or would want to really go into.

I was born in England, but at three years old moved to Scotland. I went to secondary school there for six years, and in the sixth form mostly focused on music - the drama courses weren't able to run because of low numbers - alongside some media studies and some general admin work, to get a good idea of what I could do in life. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do. I knew I loved acting and performing, but it wasn't quite the certainty of “I'm going to be doing that”.

When I was 18 I moved to Cambridge with my sister and worked for Five Guys. Having spent a few years getting my finances sorted a little bit and feeling more secure, I had almost like a Hail Mary moment and thought “Why not give it a go?”.  It was just the realisation that this is what I enjoy, so why shouldn't I go forward and learn more about it? And the more I've done that, the more I’ve realised it was the right decision to make - to work on something you truly enjoy rather than just working for the sake of it.

Oliver performing onstage in jazzy suit with two other actors

Have you found opportunities to further your music interests too?

On the Acting course, we take part in a wide range of different performance styles, but we don't particularly do musicals because there's a musical theatre course specifically for that. But because I've always loved singing, and I've been in a few musicals when I was younger, I went to this karaoke event at the Town and Gown pub for a little bit of fun.  My friend who worked there offered me the chance to perform, and from that one night out, I ended up being asked to join a musical theatre group, Pied Pipers, to do Carousel.

From then on I've just been continuing to do musicals outside of university, so I get more opportunities to practise my singing and also my dancing, to try and get all three areas furthered. It's been amazing fun. There are four big names in Cambridge for amateur theatre, Pied Pipers being one, alongside Festival Players, Cambridge Theatre Company and Cambridge Operatic Society. All of those do two to three shows a year.

What do you hope to do when you graduate from ARU?

Knowing what I would want to completely focus on is still quite difficult, which is why I went for this course on generalised acting, rather than going specifically into film or into drama - where you're doing the background work as well - or specialising in musical theatre. It's about developing yourself as an actor so you can discover this sort of thing.

It's definite that I want to perform. I had this full-on realisation in my last show that this is what I want to do and I want to progress in it. But I don't know which part of the field I'd want to go into exactly. I've been in a good amount of musicals and I clearly like working on those, but straight acting gives you a different feeling, and I've even started branching more into dance. To work on all three of them would be amazing. People always ask “Are you wanting to go into television, film, or stage?” It's a very difficult question to answer and of course, when you're in the amateur scene, you take what you can get!

Oliver Oxley

What inspired you to get involved with acting?

I've enjoyed performing since the end of primary school. What made me realise this was doing the school play, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I auditioned just for fun. I thought “I'll give it a go. I'll go in. I'll sing.” Everyone had to sing. So I actually tried, and then I was suddenly Joseph, the lead! I was very surprised by this and my music teacher ended up coaching me and helping me through it. She was very enthusiastic about it, and the whole experience of being on stage and performing really helped me understand that this was what I wanted to do. I think the same can be said about every performance you do -  it only reinforces that, and each one changes you. All the hard work you do truly feels rewarding and inspires you to push further.

I also love the work of Edgar Wright. I find his use of camera work and his script writing, his comedy, fantastic. And from that, Simon Pegg is amazing too. I love watching his work. We've been learning about practitioners here and there on the course too, particularly TchaikowskyLecoq and Laban, and I've been enjoying those as well.

What's the most valuable thing you’ll take away from your course?

Definitely the different types of acting that you can work on, but there’s a good focus on things that you can do in the rehearsal process to get yourself more in line with the characters too. Particularly the “before time” improvisations, where we would make a scene based on something that happened before the events of the the play that we're doing. We found that very, very useful and we've used it going forward to get a more detailed understanding of our characters.

Also just the ability to say yes to things, because the more you say yes to different opportunities and the more success you get out of them, the more confident you become. So I'd say that's definitely another big thing.

Oliver performing onstage with group of actors

Which aspects of your course have most helped your career development, and why?

We've had some talks on different websites, particularly a talk on Spotlight and how that we can use that in our future careers to get new work. And we touch on different types of acting - we've had modules on film acting, stage acting, we're doing physical theatre, some Shakespearean things, even working with more modern technologies. We've been told that we'll be doing motion capture with the gaming courses at ARU, so we can work alongside them and learn how that field works. So it's a good mix and range of things they're giving us, to make sure we can explore every avenue that we want.

I think we’ll also get chances to work with the Film Production students, but even outside the course they still give us opportunities to work with them. Usually when film students ask for actors, they send it to third year drama students so they can get their experience, but as we're focusing on acting, they’re also sending them directly to us.  I got to work with some who were quite far along in their course when they made an advert for a competition, and a few other classmates got to work on that as well.

So any sort of opportunities like these are pushed towards us, and we also make our own connections too. There was one from someone at Cambridge University who needed actors on a film for her Master's degree in children's psychology, essentially seeing how children can relate different words to actions. So it was very simple sentences, and one of us might be hoovering while the other cut triangles out of paper. Very simple things, but interesting acting challenges and different opportunities to work on, and for a good cause as well.  I think she got in touch with ARU, who then got in touch with my Course Leader, who passed it on to different students, and I put my name forward. So it's a good system of relaying information.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Probably to be less afraid to say yes to opportunities. It's been a huge thing to understand that there are definitely times to say no, and you've got to know your limits, but you can be surprised what you can actually achieve, especially over a few months. I would always be worried about working on more than one thing at once, or maybe getting into a project that I thought was a bit scary, like Carousel. But the second that you say yes and get yourself into it, it's the best thing you could have done for yourself, and it only leads to more and more things.

The struggle is to make sure that you can be there for everything. I've managed to get quite lucky because I do a lot of things: obviously my course; I still work part-time at Five Guys; I’m in a Festival Players musical at the moment we’re rehearsing for; I also take part in a Latin American dance team; and I go to a martial arts class. So I’m effectively doing something every day of the week, but thankfully they’re on at different times, and they’re flexible. My work particularly is quite flexible on what shifts I can work, so to be able to get everything slotted in is brilliant.  Even managing to slot in some time to just relax!

Oliver performing onstage with other actors

What’s your favourite thing about studying in Cambridge, and what have you learned about the city that you didn't know before?

I already had a general idea of Cambridge, but when I started studying I had to actually move into it, so I've got a deeper understanding of it now. It's wonderful to me. I've absolutely learned about myself that I am a city boy, and I love being in the big city. The different things that you can do on a daily basis; you can easily just walk around and find something.

To study here is amazing. The facilities that you get here, there's a wide range of them  - both in the university, but also in the different businesses that offer things as well. You can get quite a few discounts and opportunities for students that are amazing. I've just loved living here.

When it comes to acting work, I've loved working at the ADC Theatre. That's where pretty much all of my shows have been. It's rather small, but it's quaint in a lovely way. The only complaint I have was that there was no air conditioning when we did The Wedding Singer, and we did that during the heatwave! But it was an amazing venue to work at with some brilliant people behind the scenes.

As for Cambridge itself, there’s this one coffee shop that I loved going to directly next to ARU called Five Blends. I didn't go there for the coffee but the hot chocolate. It’s amazing, so I'd always be there between classes if I ever got the opportunity, and I imagine as it's getting colder I will start doing that again.

What projects are you currently working on, both on and off the course?

For the course, we’re working on the play Tartuffe at the moment, and we’re getting a professional director to teach and direct us for it. It's a French play, translated, and our director was in the ensemble of a London performance in, I think, 2019, so she's got a good understanding of it. It's quite a small cast, and we have roughly 19 people on the course, so we split it up into different people playing the same part in different acts.

Outside of the course, I’m working with Festival Players to do Lucky Stiff: The Musical. I play Harry. We've only just started rehearsals - we’re on the second week at the moment - and it's amazing fun. It's going to be a brilliant show. It's very wacky. If you've never heard of it, it's a musical farce about a guy, Harry, whose uncle dies and leaves in his will that Harry will get millions of dollars if he takes his uncle's stuffed corpse to Monte Carlo on a vacation.

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