Why is ‘amateur’ such a dirty word?

Why is ‘amateur’ such a dirty word? Especially when associated with the arts?

The term ‘amateur theatre’ or ‘amdram’ often conjures up images of badly acted productions in poorly designed sets stuck together with gaffer tape* in chilly village halls, when in fact, it’s where most of us started out.

I owe my current career to amateur theatre. Acreative band of individuals called Wymondham Players who were willing to invest time and energy and give a teenager a chance. My first appearance was in a Willis Hall comedy, my second was as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. Promotion came quickly – especially for someone the right age who could learn lines and was willing to learn!

The people you meet there are varied – electricians, plumbers, accountants, teachers, farmers, retired. Some are ex-theatre professionals who want to continue to practise their art, but not for money, and therefore ideal mentors for young enthusiasts starting their theatre careers.

I’ve worked with some professional companies where the behaviour and attitudes of the cast and crew have made me yearn for the commitment, passion and determination of the amateur company.

So I think it’s time to celebrate the ‘amateur’, that person who makes time for their hobby despite working long hours in their dayjob, who takes pride in their work (be it acting, directing, lighting, sfx, set design and building or stewarding), who wants to learn and develop, who finds joy in the company of like-minded others.

*It’s true that I have sat in the audience – as director – and watched in horror as a mic pack dangled lower and lower over the stage, because the lights warmed the tape that was ‘securing’ it, until the stretch gave out and the unit dropped the last few feet to the ground. No-one was hurt as the process took at least 25 minutes and, towards the end, EVERYONE was aware. 

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‘Getting On’ by Alan Bennett

cropped-getting-on-wp-header.pngSo, my new project is ‘Getting On’ by Alan Bennett for the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich. Not my usual style, but its good to experiment!

We had our readthrough on Monday night, and early rehearsals are going well.

The date is 1972, the set will be a cluttered basement flat in Highgate, London, the story…well, that would be telling!

The Thrill of Love by Amanda Whittington

The story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. A fascinating and moving story. 

We’re currently performing it at the Sewell Barn Theatre, Constitution Hill, Norwich, Norfolk, UK.

I have the pleasure of playing Sylvia Shaw, doyenne of the fifties club scene, manageress of a the Court Club where Ruth once worked. From my research I can say that she was not a real person but rather a creation based on the type of women in those positions at the time. 

She has been a joy to develop – to the extent that I don’t want to let her go when the show ends!

For more information and tickets follow the link   http://www.sewellbarn.org.uk 

And it’s opening night!

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It has been wonderful watching this production come together.

I get excited enough rehearsing with the actors, watching the characters and their relationships take form, but when we get onto the stage and the set grows around us, the costumes and props appear, then the lights and music…I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though I know how the magic works, it still gets me every time!
My heartfelt thanks to the generous people of the Sewell Barn who have given their time and talents to this production. 

Sewell Barn ‘Mint’

‘You probably had to be there…’ or ‘The Power of Laughter’

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   So, last night’s rehearsal was a hoot. Our actors all have a ‘day jobs’ at the moment, life seems somewhat stressful for most of them. On top of that, one of my 3 cast members was unwell, so I ran relevant scenes with the two who were present. 

We began with a vocal warm-up focusing on resonators. Many of the scenes feel very intimate, set at a table in a prison visiting room. I wanted them to experience greater volume without losing that sense of two people talking. Working on the resonators makes the voice richer in timbre, and has the added bonus of improving projection. 

One of the exercises involved placing hands in front of the ears; it prevents the speaker hearing themselves properly, meaning they speak louder and more clearly, making more intense eye contact. This was quickly (& for the first time in the 17 years I’ve been teaching/directing- what was wrong with my previous students and actors?!) turned into a lizard/Jurassic park impression that left us crying with laughter. It never got old. It’s making me laugh now as I write.

The next exercise inspired a Chris Eubanks impression, which when added to the Jurassic park lizard nearly floored us.

Then, suddenly we were in the middle of a very moving scene, all jokes were dropped but new qualities suddenly appeared in the characters that left a wonderful silence in the room. 

I live for those changes of energy. Those moments that tell you your actors were so involved in the moment that they took themselves by surprise.
It probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had time to laugh earlier in the rehearsal. 

http://www.sewellbarn.org.uk/newseason.html

Stupid Fears

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Sitting downstairs on a double-decker bus, trying to make myself as heavy as possible because I know there are more people upstairs than down here and the driver is going like the clappers.

Part of me knows the bus would only be on the road if it was safe, regardless of where people sit.

Another part of me believes that million to one chances do come up, and one day this bus is gonna tip cos there are too many people upstairs and not enough down here.

How ridiculous!