Friends at the Festival
9 August 2017 – I make my way to Edinburgh using public transport – small case on wheels in one hand containing SCDA related materials and stationary. Slung over one shoulder an SCDA banner I walked all the way to Venue 2 by George Square for my workshop ‘Why do we need Amateur Theatre?’
In common with a lot of activities at the Fringe I wasn’t expecting a large group but was very heartened when I arrived to find that 10 people reserved tickets. Unfortunately the weather was fantastic and I think that some people changed their minds as they would rather by outside or the timing didn’t fit into their programme of performances. This is no complaint however as the small group of 4 (5 including me) created a lot of energetic discussion and questions.
In addition to one of our very active member and supporter, Martin Butler, we had a representative from Sardines the amateur theatre magazine, and 2 of my friends who I have know for over 20 years. One of them is an individual member of SCDA since she moved back to Scotland and the other lives in the south of England but was just up for the festival – lovely reunion for me. Although I created a structure for the day I was happy to be flexible and let the group dictate the way in which we got to some of the issues that we were all interested in. Here are some brief notes of the discussion
We talked about the challenges of being brave and taking risks both in terms of choices of plays and staging. Factors influencing these choices were demographic of the club and audience expectations
This led on to talking about age and gender blindness when casting. One person talked about a production of Romeo & Juliet with 2 older actors taking on that role and the disapproval of the families coming from the grown-up children. There is also a trend for gender blind casting which may help when there is such a body of work that is produced for all male or predominantly male casts.
We talked about production reviews and Chris from Sardines filled us in on the fact that they review by invitation and have reviewers all over the UK. We had a chat about expectations and I updated the group on my conversation with Thom Dibdin resulting in a couple of resources recently making their way onto our website
There was a general feeling that there is a gap in knowledge for office bearers and it may be useful to consider offering this to clubs, All agreed that getting people in general onto Committees can be challenging but the role of Treasurer seems to be the role that is most difficult to fill
Something we are aware of is the challenge of finding suitable plays and agreed that the ‘community’ could help more by sharing information about the plays they have done
Everyone talked about the lack of directing skills that can result in people not feeling valued. One of the participants said that he is now not willing to take part in a production where the cast are not involved in the creative process.
We touched on the perception of amateur theatre being white middle class and how that is reflected in the professional sector. We also acknowledged that this can be geographic. If you live in an area that isn’t particularly diverse your group is likely to reflect that. We shouldn’t be complacent however but this is a much bigger issue than we were able to address in any depth within this forum.
We did talk about how clubs are run being a potential barrier to members. This includes time and location for meetings and rehearsals and the feeling that sometimes it’s always the same people who get the parts’ This took us back to point number 1 where we talked about making braver choices where possible.
Perception is a problem however and we acknowledged that some amateur groups at the Fringe do not declare themselves as amateurs as they believe it will put people off. We agreed that the term ‘Community rather than ‘Sector’ felt more appropriate. We talked about the attempt to reclaim the word ‘amateur’ as a positive umbrella but there is still some way to go in this area
We talked about the issue of VAT on theatre hire for charities and wondered if there was anyway this could be claimed back. (SCDA are looking into this)
There is a trend, particularly in London, for people to pay a membership fee and then have to pay a performance fee. We were uncertain about whether this was a good idea. It can be a barrier particularly if you don’t have much money but on the other hand if everyone pays the same fee to be a member of a club lots of people are non-performing members. We think this is more common in musical theatre groups. Anyone reading this have a view??
We wondered if it was helpful to differentiate between youth groups who are led by paid professionals and amateur theatre led youth groups and decided that whilst we wouldn’t want to be rigid there is a bit difference, not necessarily in quality but in the fact that a lot of youth theatre is devised whereas amateur groups tend to use scripts more often than not.
- It was a interesting and inspiring event that I think we all enjoyed. Who wouldn’t want to get together to talk about something they are passionate about with like-minded individuals. The debates were really good with lots of different opinions but everyone respecting those differences.
- One very important thing that came out of this discussion is that the people living in England would love to have an SCDA equivalent and they were very jealous of the resources and the willingness for SCDA to open up discussions and continuously try to find ways to develop. They were very impressed with the new workshop brochure and amazed that people can have a local workshop for a very small fee.
Please get in touch if you have any thoughts about the subjects discussed on anything else that you see as a pressing issue for your club or for the amateur theatre Community in general.
See you down the road.