Last Saturday night brought an end to my latest theatrical adventure. The metaphorical curtain came down at 09:30pm GMT on what has been an extremely tiring, but fun week. It was very successful (for a small town Am Dram group), with a couple of shows nearly sold out. We had to strike the set immediately so, within a few minutes of the laughing, smiling, run up to the dressing room, applause ringing in our ears, I was back on the stage with my drill, helping dismantle the flats.
The post show blues set in quickly this time. Months of work; rehearsal after rehearsal, stress, nerves, missed meals, all climax on those five dates. And, on this show especially, it has been wonderfully good fun. There were a few minor mishaps; words mixed up, queues slightly late and, in the case of this husky fella, some uncontrolled corpsing watching my colleagues at work. (Corpsing is when you get a fit of the giggles on stage. Once they start it is often very hard to get back under control.) I don’t usually suffer but a couple of the moments on stage were so damned funny I couldn’t help it.
I just want to point out it was a comedy we were doing, I wasn’t chuckling through a death scene.
So, it’s all over. Auditions for the next play happen in January. Mrs Bloke is clearly delighted by the fact she’ll have me home in the evenings again. And you, gentle reader, will benefit from my unerring attention.
So why do it, why go to all that effort and expense of time, energy and just a little cash?
I think there are many benefits to getting involved in your local Amateur Dramatics, Operatics, even Community Choirs. I shall sum them up into a list I have contrived to call – The FIVE C’s
Confidence has to be the big one. In almost all cases, when I have worked with groups back in my youth, and in my more recent revival, I haven’t met anyone who is completely blasé about the thought of striding out in front of one hundred people and performing. Whether it is solo acting, or singing as part of a larger group, there are still nerves to overcome. I’ve known people with full on stagefright go out and perform amazingly. This last week my fellow cast members and myself have largely been playing 7 year old children, performing a chaotic nativity. We have been making ourselves look utterly ridiculous and literally behaving like children. Not one of us blanched at the thought and worried about looking stupid on stage. Doing that, even in front of a modest audience, is such a buzz and boost to your confidence.
I’m a shy person. I struggle hugely in social, smalltalk situations. It’s why, at most large family occasions, you’ll find me hanging round with the kids, messing around playing games, being silly. It is easier than making interesting conversation about holidays, or house prices or jobs. But, give me a script, and a stage and I’ll happily skip out. Once you have a script you are firmly planted, both feet on the ground. Someone else’s words are in your mouth and the only worry is a) forgetting them, or b) your co-stars forgetting theirs. (No prompts for me this week, though I did occasionally forget a couple of words, which just adds to the fun.) The very hardest thing I have done, in the last three years of acting, was walk through the door of a read through, for the very first time, not knowing anyone there.
Craft – Learning new skills and talents
Putting on a play involves a great deal of preparation. Not just people prancing around with books in their hands, but physically making costumes, props, and sets. If you cannot bear the thought of going out on stage, you can still have a massive impact on helping to get things set up. I’m a klutz, but even I have become part of the set construction team. (Mainly in the ‘stand still and hold that steady while I screw it down’ phase. They sometimes even let me handle tools. Some of you may have seen my ‘thumb meets mallet’ photo from last week on Facebook)
There are also important technical roles that can be learnt; lighting, sound design, stage managing, producing publicity, writing copy for newspapers and advertising. All of which leads me nicely onto….
Now, I’m not going to pretend that three performances down at your local village hall and you’ll be picked up by a WestEnd Casting Agent. But, you never know. Many actors have come to the craft later in life so I would never rule it out.
What I mean by career though, is that doing Am Dram really looks good on a CV. It shows imagination, discipline, determination, confidence and teamwork. From my experience something like that acts as a hook for any potential recruiter, beyond the uninspired ‘reading, socialising and cinema’ which everyone lists under additional information. It also shows you are willing to step out of your door and engage with the local…..
It’s amazing how many groups are out there, how they cross-pollinate with each other. Even in a little country town like mine there are Rock choirs, Operatics groups, various drama groups, all of whom output slightly different fare and serve a slightly different audience. But many people move from one group to another, spreading circles of creative influence and expanding social ranges. I have made some good friends since joining my group, and, with each new show, a new cast is created, there are always new people joining or returning. And it’s all a lot less ‘luvvie’ than you’d think. (Apart from me of course, I’m a HUGE primadonna!)
And in a broader sense of community, there are often dramatic / musical projects funded to explore various aspects of an areas history or cultural diversity, especially in youth theatre. (A cynic might say it is cheaper for councils and the like to chuck a few quid at a one off performance than to provision longer term projects to enhance a towns cultural identity. But then what do cynic’s know?)
And all the above combine together for the final C….
The sense of satisfaction from using your imagination to create something new. Live performance exists only in the moment, it is a fleeting moment in time of beauty, drama, humour or empathy. You take a script, and you tease your own meaning and vision from it. Even with a director guiding you there is scope to interpret your character and put your own stamp on proceedings. Each night of a show you tweak and adjust your performance in tiny new ways; a line delivered with a different breath, or stress, a movement of a hand slower or faster. We did a comedy, so you get the immediate feedback of a bigger laugh as you try something new. It’s good to be creative, to exercise your imagination to create something new.
So, all in all, I love the experience. For all the time, blood, sweat and tears that goes into producing a two hour show it is hugely rewarding. And as I’ve listed above, not just the ego boost of standing in front of people’s applause.
So, think about it. Get out of your comfort zone and try something creative, in a group. Expand your horizons and see what you can do. At the very least it means your partner can have a quiet evening every week to watch what they want off the Sky+ Box in peace.
Now, let’s see if I’m so happy once the review is out….
You can find my previous posts about my adventures on the amateur stage;