Artist of the Week: Lydia Free

by isised | June 12, 2023

Lydia is a second-year at Keble studying Italian and Linguistics. In MT22, she co-founded Peach Productions and had her directorial debut with Wishbone. In HT23, she went on to direct Every Brilliant Thing, and last week finished directing Hedda Gabler, which sold out two days before opening night. A jack of all trades, she has also acted in This HouseTwo Gentlemen of VeronaThe Taming of the Shrew, and Quartet, and she has also worked in various capacities on By ProxyCruelty, Scenes with Girls, Mojo, Mosquito Bite – the list goes on.

How does your acting background affect the way you direct a play? 

I suppose I have a better understanding of what it is useful for an actor to hear. I’m still working on being a bit less specific as a director because sometimes I can be a bit too bossy (I’m an Aries to be fair). I want to be a director that works quite conceptually with actors, trying to figure out motivations for the character or the scene and allowing that to drive the action. I think that’s what would work for me as an actor, so I do think about direction with an actor’s hat on sometimes. 

Is the stage your format of choice, or just the most convenient thing to do at Oxford?

Until I joined Oxford, I acted in theatre, but film was always the main medium I worked with when directing and creating. Since being at Oxford, I have happened to do a lot more theatre because I find it a more rewarding process. I love that with each new play you do, you spend about six weeks having arranged hangout rehearsal friend time with people you don’t know, who you then become friends with. I love making friends in drama. In the process, I’ve started to truly love theatre as a medium. It’s so collaborative – it’s all about working as a unit and creating these unique little pockets of joy and art for five nights and then it’s done. It’s so special and joyous and intimate, I just love it. 

What’s the wackiest or strangest thing you’ve done in a rehearsal?

Sadly, I don’t have any crazy rehearsal experiences. I am partial to a moo-off every now and then. It’s where two people moo at each other until one of them laughs. I discovered it when I was in This House. So funny. A great group. 

What attracts you to a project?

I don’t think I really look for anything specific thematically. I like projects that are holistic in their nature – a lot of different creative energies need to come together to make it work. Good acting, but also a set that is a piece of logistic art, with cool sound and lighting opportunities. I like projects that mean a lot of creative people throw all their stuff into a big melting pot and we create something that’s an amalgamation of tons of different little artistic pursuits together. 

What are your plans for the next two years? 

Just razz about really. I’ll continue doing theatre bobs while I’m here and hopefully continue after uni too! But I don’t have any crazy plans. I just want to enjoy uni life and love life and everyone…

Is your year abroad getting in the way of your drama career? 

My year abroad is only sad because it means Coco [Cottam] and I have to pursue our artistic ventures less side-by-side. I love making art with Coco – she’s a creative light bulb and is just so incredible and inspiring, so I’m really sad that we are going to have to stop our teamwork for the year. Her new play Bedbugs is the coolest idea ever, so I’m upset to be missing out on the project. I am studying film in Bologna though, so I’m hoping to try and get involved with the Italian uni drama scene, which would be kind of crazy.

I also want to make lots of little films when I’m in Italy and just super-romanticise the dolce vita and crystallise the whole experience in little rubbish films on my phone or a bad camera or something. 

Is there anything wrong with the Oxford drama scene? Anything you would change?

There are always things to do, some of which are easily fixable and other things that are more systemic problems. I suppose on a logistical, rather than systemic, level, the idea of having to create a production company just to put on one play is definitely a flaw in the structure. It doesn’t make sense and it makes putting on plays more inaccessible than it should be. 

What’s your dream play, or dream project? Any musicals on the cards?

Into The Woods is my favourite musical of all time and I have always had a secret wish to put that on. Also, Duncan MacMillan’s People, Places and Things. I tried to put it on in Hilary before I landed on Every Brilliant Thing but the rights weren’t available. But yeah, putting on a musical is the dream. I love musicals: they’re just so joy-filled and everyone is there to have a good time. I might try in the fourth year, maybe.

Anything to plug while we’re here?

Don’t think so! Audition for Bedbugs!

Photography by Coco Cottam.