The first production of the Footlights Dramatic Club was in May Week 1883, when a group of undergraduates put on a musical comedy - a burlesque - called 'Orlando Furioso' by William Barnes Rhodes. The early shows were productions of existing musical comedies and farces, but from 1892, the Club began the unbroken tradition of presenting an original show for May Week, composed thereafter of any combination of burlesque, comedy sketches, satire, songs and instrumental music. Since the mid 1980s, the Club has in addition produced a Spring revue. In between revues, Club members have experimented with new material at informal performances called Smokers. The May Week revue first transferred to London in 1910. Since the 1950s, it has been usual to follow the Cambridge run with performances in London, the South East and the Midlands, at the Edinburgh Festival and occasionally overseas, latterly known as 'the tour'. Revues have also been recorded for radio and television. In 1970 the Footlights put on the first of what has become the annual pantomime. Women first appeared in a production in 1932 and again in 1957. From 1959 they were regular players, and accorded full Club membership in 1964.
In Cambridge, May Week performances were given at the New Theatre from 1883 until the opening of the Arts Theatre in 1936. They continued at the Arts until 1992 when the ADC Theatre became their regular home. The Club has rented rooms at the following addresses: 62 Sidney Street, 1886-95; 68 Bridge Street, 1895-6; 8 Corn Exchange Street, 1896-1914; 17 Corn Exchange Street, 1919-39; Falcon Yard, off Petty Cury, 1960-72; Union Society cellars, Round Church Street, 1978-99.
A history of the Club is available online as part of its website (http://www.footlights.org/history.html). In addition, the following printed work is available: Robert Hewison, Footlights! One hundred years of Cambridge comedy (Methuen: London, 1983). The copies in the University Library have the following classmarks: Cam.b.983.2; 422.214.171.124.
The Footlights archives are extensive, thanks to the efforts of Dr H.C. Porter, Senior Treasurer, 1962-77, Senior Archivist, 1978-2003. Since his death in 2003, regular transfers of records are the responsibility of the Junior Archivist. Records of Club administration survive alongside material relating to productions and performances, such as scripts, photographs, posters and programmes. Dr Porter added to the primary sources with his own and others' historical research material. This ranges from photocopies and notes of related records elsewhere to newscuttings tracing celebrated members' careers after Cambridge.
The vast majority of the archives, 1883-2003, were presented to the University Archives as a gift in the will of Dr H.C. Porter, Senior Archivist, and were transferred to the University Library on 9 February 2004. Two programmes (catalogued as FOOT 2/8/36A, 37(addnl) were presented by E.R.L. Lewis, East Lothian, on 15 July 2004. Further records of Club activity were transferred by the Junior Archivist as follows: 2003-5 on 15 Feb. 2005; 2004-5 on 9 Dec. 2005; 2005-11 on 25 Feb. 2011. Dr Peter Raby of Homerton College, former Senior Treasurer, transferred the following material on 12 December 2007: FOOT 1/2/9A, 1/7 (addnl), 1/10 ((addnl), 1/17-18; 3/1/52-3 (addnl). Mr D'Arcy Orders, President in 1948, presented the following items on 17 April 2008: FOOT 2/1/6A; 2/1/8; 2/1/15A-16; 2/4/4 (addnl), 2/9/73/20-2, 3/1/10 (addnl). Dr Daniel Morgenstern, former Senior Treasurer, presented the following material on 10 January 2011: 1/6 (addnl), 1/2/9A, 1/7/2, 1/10 (addnl), 1/18 (addnl), 1/19-20; 2/1/39 (addnl), 39A, 40 (addnl), 40A, 44A; 2/5/80 (addnl); 2/8/130 (addnl), 132 (addnl), 134 (addnl), 134A, 135A, 138 (addnl), 141 (addnl), 143 (addnl), 156 (addnl).
Transfers of administrative and productions records are made intermittently by the Junior Archivist.