When I put this down as a topic to cover on the blog I assumed that I’d knock out a few hundred words in an hour or so and be done. The last thing I expected was to fall down a rabbit hole that would have me reading University and Arts Council reports and searching blogs and Amateur Theatre websites for ever more diverse and captivating takes on what Amateur Theatre is and means to people.
What I quickly found is there are many definitions of Amateur Theatre out there, most seeming to have been written without much care and even less understanding of what it actually means to be involved in it.
For one thing, it’s clear that there’s a great deal more nuance to the amateur theatre-making process than it gets credit for. It involves all manner of creative participation and relies on a collection of people with a multitude of skills both backstage and onstage. Then there’s the very nature of being an artist to factor in. It’s fair to say that the absence of payment or training does not inhibit the level and mastery of an amateur practitioner.
“People become artists through their acts” and “however desirable it may be, excellence is not intrinsic in the artist’s act: creation is”.
The value of this creativity becomes apparent when the holder is able to find a channel through which it can flow and this is where Amateur Theatre begins to really come to life.
Many times I’ve seen Amateur Theatre sidelined as a leisure activity or a hobby but this doesn’t do justice to the effort, commitment, and passion that sit at its heart. The fact that it outcompetes so many of today’s distractions (especially those of a technological nature) is a testament to its status within society. The physical act of creating something with others, as opposed to virtually manifesting something alone, provides some insights into its continued popularity.
It also continues to be a space where the craft (the mechanics of doing it) is passed from person to person through direct interaction, observation, and practice. This necessity to be in close proximity to others is, and will be, vital to future generations. This is also one of many ways it sits aside from professional theatre which is becoming ever more inaccessible.
Ironically, even with all this said Amateur Theatre still flies under the radar in so many ways. Much can be made of the negative connotations associated with the word “amateur” and the variability of performance quality that people like to sight. But rather than deride these as negatives, they should be celebrated. You can and will find amateur shows that match and surpass many professional endeavors. And for those that don’t many will carry a greater purpose than mastery of the craft. They may help “disseminate and celebrate important local narratives and histories”.
The very act of performing some of these shows will help construct social and cultural values and meanings. Even Governments recognise that participating in the arts and attending local cultural events creates a sense of belonging. I’m reliably informed that cultural activity contributes to urban regeneration, wellbeing and prosperity. So, sometimes Amateur Theatre has a much more important role to play than pure entertainment.
It’s clear that Amateur Theatre is also a community creator. When people come together to create they form lasting bonds and new networks between strangers, friends, and families. Participating in theatre in this way can be a life changing thing (not to get too heavy in sentiment). You are involved in something much bigger than yourself and everyone is reliant on one another to secure an end result. As someone I know once said, “it’s like team sports without the horrible sporty bit”. You feel an immense sense of achievement when you rely on each other so heavily. You also build unique levels of trust. Being involved in such a potentially exposing process, you need to feel safe to explore and uncover the truth of the play. So, it’s no wonder for many people Amateur Theatre becomes a lifelong passion, shaping their lives around the beats of their local theatre community.
And now, as I climb out of the rabbit hole with this new understanding, I ask myself again - What is Amateur Theatre?
Although my answer is still not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, it feels better than a lot of what’s out there;
Amateur Theatre -
The collective, creative expression of a group of passionate artists, separate from a specific financial imperative.