Demystifying Bristol’s quirky societies – are these the ‘hidden gems’ of Bristol University?

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By Milan Perera, Second Year English and Community Engagement

Your time at university is without a doubt the most memorable years of your life, so why not make it even more memorable by joining one of the ‘hidden gems’ amongst the University’s 350+ societies? Many of us are not aware of the existence of the University’s more quirky societies, with such a variety to choose from, and some may not initially spark your interest. However, Epigram has dove deep into the heart of some of the University’s societies which go against the grain in a bid to demystify them. You never know, you might even find a new passion or interest to pursue!

Bristol Quidditch Club

Credit: Milan Perera

This society is a delightful juxtaposition between fiction and reality. It is the ultimate dream of those who have grown up reading the infamous Harry Potter books. You could catch a glimpse of the fantasy world of J.K. Rowling if you get yourself to the Downs on a Wednesday afternoon, as the society participates in the game of Quidditch which fills the pages of the Harry Potter series.

However, there is nothing “airy fairy” about this activity, as it is as physical as any contact sport can get: Quidditch is unique as the only full-contact, mixed-gender sport in the world, and is especially inclusive of those who identify as trans or non-binary. The “witches’ brooms” are replaced with pieces of PVC pipe that are placed between players’ legs; between the brooms and the hoops, the Quidditch team certainly attracts plenty of curious onlookers at the Downs.

Epigram had the opportunity to interview Corey Pearce (Social Secretary), Jasmine Poon (Treasurer) and the team captain, Sasha Akhtyrska during a training session. Unlike other SU Societies, Bristol Quidditch Club expands beyond just the University of Bristol, as it also associates with their counterparts at the University of the West of England (UWE). Accordingly, there is no room for snobbery either! They take part in inter-varsity competitions around the country, representing Bristol as a region.

The Quidditch Society also has a strong presence in charity fundraising for great causes, such as Breast Cancer UK. They enjoy an active online presence on all social media platforms too for those who are interested in keeping up to date with their current activity.

If meme creation is an art, Quidditch Club members certainly rank among Rembrandt and Picasso, and all of their activities can be accessed by paying a £20 annual membership fee.

Bristol Pantomime Society (PantoSoc)

Credit: Milan Perera/Panto Soc

Do you love theatre? Would you like to take part in theatre productions but always felt too nervous to take part in them? The world of theatre can seem daunting as it is the cream of performing arts but at the Bristol Pantomime Society (PantoSoc) you can do as much or little as you feel comfortable with. However much you contribute, you are treated the same as the ‘headline performers’.

Although Pantomime has its origin in ‘Commedia dell'Arte’, a 16th-century Italian entertainment which used dance, music, tumbling and acrobatics, the Victorians perfected it as a uniquely British theatrical spectacle. In a pantomime there is no pressure to have a flawless voice like Michael Ball – although singing is a constituent of pantomime, it remains just one element. There is an infinite variety of talent in a pantomime, ranging from acrobatics, puppetry, and clowning.

Credit: Milan Perera/Panto Soc

It is also one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly societies in the SU, where gender swapping of various theatre roles is done constantly to challenges societal norms. All scripts are also double checked to comply with the inclusive values of the society.

Epigram met with Pantosoc’s President (Ellie Allen), Secretary (Hannah Kemp) and the Equality Officer (Stephen Murphy) of the society during a hectic rehearsal session leading up to their largest show of the year, Panto Carol. There is a huge emphasis on mental health awareness in the society, and they host movie nights, pizza nights and most importantly, non-alcoholic pub nights to remain inclusive with everyone.

PantoSoc normally has at least two major productions a year, providing a great platform to display your panto skills!

Historical Reenactment Society

Credit: Harvey Neil

Are you a history buff? Do you binge watch ‘Tudors’ or ‘Vikings’ and make a beeline to YouTube’s comment section to express your passion for historical drama and medieval combat? Do you like the plethora of information surrounding medieval combat? At Historical Reenactment Society you have already found your niche, where a like-minded group of students from various courses will follow this pastime to their heart’s content.

Harvey Neil, the President of the society, told Epigram that ‘There are a few things that make Historical Reenactment Society unique. Our activities are wide-ranging, from making clothes, through to shield and weapon-making, and fighting each other with steel weapons on a weekly basis.’

‘We also attend shows across the country, staying overnight in castles and recreating the 12th century with hundreds of others from all other towns and universities.’

The society specialises in recreating Norman combat, but occasionally delves into the art of Roman warfare. Combat has often been described as ‘paintball but with swords’ and is a competitive sport with hit-zones and hit-point. It is safe to assume that there aren’t many other societies that can offer such a wide-ranging, immersive, and unique experience for no upfront membership fee! If you do take part in combat, it is £10 for insurance purposes. Can’t go wrong, can you?

Drag Society

Credit: Milan Perera/DragSoc

Are you fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race? Or have you ever wanted to try your hand at designing costumes or make-up looks for drag? Or are you a natural performer on the stage with a knack for enthralling a crowd? Even if you already have a Drag outfit that needs a platform, or you’re making the first tentative steps towards honing your skills, look no further. Bristol’s Drag Society is the go-to society for you.

This is one of the youngest SU societies at the University of Bristol, but there is no shortage of creative reserve in the Drag Society. Founded in 2019, it is without a doubt the most LGBTQ+ inclusive space at the University. Furthermore, it is also actively engaged in the burgeoning local drag scene, which features regular shows at eclectic venues such as The Slaughterhouse and Zed Alley.

The President, Lana Prest, and Secretary Anna Lambert have been instrumental in highlighting the Drag Society’s prominence in the student community, with an array of creative endeavours taking place for students to get involved in, ranging from Make-Up Mingles to on-campus drag shows.

Epigram caught up with Alex Tucholska, the Equality Officer, and Cassie Fenton, the Social Media Representative during a busy Wednesday Make-Up Mingle. Both were beaming with pride when they spoke of the success the Drag Society has enjoyed over the last two years, even during lockdown, as the society continued to provide a safe space for students who love to take part in the art of drag. Tucholska reiterated that, ‘Love and creativity are at the heart of everything we do.’

Credit: Milan Perera/DragSoc

While some of these societies may not offer your stereotypical subject-based pub-crawl each week, they each have something unique to bring to the table. With each society hosting a variety of weekly activities and an inclusive attitude, you have nothing to lose by taking part. Why not add a further feather to your hat to look back at after university with fondness and pride?

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