I had a funny journey to Oxford. Coming from a state-school where I never felt particularly academic (I was always the weird arty one instead) I originally didn’t apply to universities. First and foremost I’m an actor, and I planned on leaving school, working, and later auditioning for drama schools. However, as a result of surprising A-Level results, I was encouraged by a teacher and parents to go to the open day. Meeting Sos Eltis in her office at Brasenose, and realising the walls of her office were shelves stuffed with plays, made me realise this could be quite exciting…! Still, I applied unsure and unable to really see myself at Oxford. It just felt like something not quite for me.
I found interviews a fun experience – the chance to essentially get a free stay in a castle, and talk to real, fascinating, experts about plays, literature, culture; intricacies of Shakespeare’s stagecraft, contemporary feminist playwrights, even Aubrey Beardsley illustrations – niche passions of mine, with people who actually shared them and knew so much.
Getting the offer was such a plot-twist. I felt shocked and grateful, but was really unsure if this was what I wanted. Hearing about opportunities for student-drama played a big part in my decision in taking the offer rather than following my longing for drama school.
Now I think, appreciatively, that Oxford was the right choice, despite finding first year a real struggle. Turning 20 on Matriculation made me super aware of being two years older than many first-years, and I struggled with the insularity of academia and the difficulty and style of scholarly essays. I didn’t feel academic enough, and felt hopelessly under-read on canonical and classical texts. However, as I learnt how to navigate the rollercoaster of Oxford life, I’ve realised I love the way you are just thrown into learning; totally immersed in stories from all times and places - you can follow sparks of interest, and learn so much you’d never otherwise experience.
I dived into drama: cuppers (an intercollegiate drama competition) at the Burton Theatre, a brilliantly gender-bending production of The Roaring Girl in the Pilch Studio, even a big Greek tragedy at the Oxford Playhouse. Something unique Oxford has given me are invaluable opportunities to develop my director side, and devise and collaborate with incredible peers. Directing a tights-filled Twelfth Night for Brasenose Arts Week was a joyful highlight. Now I’m on the OUDS (Oxford University Dramatic Society) committee, and we’re using the sad covid-enforced pause in creating live theatre to focus on making drama more diversity-conscious, including designing new committee roles. Oxford drama needs to move towards becoming more representative, accessible and welcoming for people of all backgrounds, just as Oxford, and indeed the theatre industry, does. As OUDS events rep, I loved holding an online panel celebrating Black Women in Theatre & Film, hosting Joan Iyiola and Ethosheia Hylton; two incredible professionals I was lucky to work with during second-year vacation, on the short-film Dọlápọ̀ is Fine, which excitingly has just been released on Netflix.
As I write this, I’ve just handed in my paper 6 coursework, the first official submission of my degree! I absolutely loved Simon Palfrey’s Possibilities of Criticism course; I felt I could finally pair creativity with the rigorous academic training of the last two years. As a third-year, I’m only now for the first time feeling any sort of confidence in my work and ideas; I’m so grateful for that. I’ve felt academia stretch my brain - it’s exciting to feel myself become more eloquent, versatile, agile. Studying here has ridiculously and joyfully widened my frames of reference, taught me how to handle intense pressure and hard work, and how I can think more critically and articulately about language, learning and life.
Katie Friedli Walton is a 3rd year at Brasenose.