I have been involved in theatre, amateur and professional, as long as I can remember. Recently, I was appointed as Theatre Manager for our local Little Theatre and am enjoying the unique challenges it presents, but it's led me to think a few things about what amateur theatre means, to me, and on a wider scale.
Firstly, something I've heard over and over again...
We're not «insert big theatre name here»
Working with another local amateur group (not the one that appointed me their TM!) this was a favourite refrain of some. I introduced a bit of a culture shock, I think, when I lit my first show there.
I brought a few extra lights to achieve some effects and my own ETC control system (the days of fader-per-channel control are long behind me!) to make the show look how I wanted and there were a few naysayers that commented "there's too many lights, We're not «insert big theatre name here»" or "the show is too complicated, We're not «insert big theatre name here»" etc.
I don't understand this. Not least because the audience paid almost the same price for a ticket as they would at «insert big theatre name here» but why should we aim lower just because we're 'amateur' ?
Should 'am-dram' automatically mean 'poor technically' or 'small' ?
I can't recall who said it, or excatly how it was phrased, but something that I remember from my first months in a theatre was (more or less) this;
By all accounts an amateur show should be striving to be better than the professionals. The professionals are paid, and whilst it's work that many do enjoy (or they wouldn't do it given the appalling pay and conditions - but that's a rant for another day!), it's a job. Amateur clubs are - in theory - all doing it for the love of it. Everyone who's there is there by choice, and wihtout obligation. They should want to achieve the best they possibly can.
And, in performers, that's often the case but all-too-often the technical side languishes. Often because they don't have the skills in-house, which is understandable - I wouldn't be able to turn my hand to acting so I appreciate why an actor wouldn't necessarily excel at lighting or sound - but then when those skills appear on their doorstep they are often dismissed, alienating willing volunteers just because they have a different focus.
There are people out there to whom lighting, sound design, set construction, costume, projection etc are as much an art form as performing. Embrace them.
Their ideas to raise the standard of production often dimissed as delusions of grandeur, or 'over the top', or just 'pointless' when it was 'good enough' before.
After all, we're not Eden Court.
But we should strive to be as good as them.