Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Given that I’m hoping to provide a comprehensive set of resources and tools for anyone working in, or looking to be a part of, their local amateur theatre scene, it felt a little remiss of me not to have addressed probably the most obvious question facing people starting their journey - How do you go about getting involved in Amateur Theatre?
What follows is an attempt to get you thinking in the right way about your first forays into being a part of an amateur production. It’s not a step-by-step guide, where I walk you through how to use Google or social media to find a company in your area. My aim is more to ask you a few questions and present you with some ideas that might help you as your journey begins.
The first of which is to let you in on the dirty secret about amateur theatre, which is that it’s actually very welcoming to new faces and the cliches of the professional world rarely reflect what you’ll find at a local level. This means that getting involved is easier than you’d imagine and if you’re happy with where your passions lie and you want to get involved as quickly as possible, my advice is to get out there and do it.
If you’d like to act, seek out auditions on social media, if you’d like to direct, find some of the bigger amateur dramatics groups near you and see if and when they’re taking proposal submissions from directors and if you’d like to work back or front of house, create a mini cv of your skills and experience and email as many groups as you can.
Given enough auditions or submissions or emails, you will eventually find your way into the arms of an amateur group.
For everyone else, and by that I mean those of you that are either unsure of where you fit in the theatre world or those of you that have a very specific vision of how you’d like your experience to go, please keep reading. What follows might just help increase your hit rate and your happiness.
Question 1 - What area of the theatre interests you?
Being unsure about where you might fit in in the world of amateur dramatics is quite natural. Many people try many things before they find their true calling in theatre. Once you’ve been involved in one or two productions, you should get a better feel for where you derive enjoyment and where your skill set fits in with the building of a show.
In order to get that exposure, it’s time to think about volunteering (I appreciate amateur theatre, by its very nature, it is all voluntary, but in this context I mean you need to take the initiative and put yourself in front of people and ask to be allowed to get involved - for free!).
Now, let’s be clear, your options might be limited depending on the team you select. They may well already have many of the roles filled, especially if you find them in the back end of their creative process, or if they’re a small tight-knit group who regularly work together. But usually, a company that’s not yet started their run will be crying out for help with all manner of things from building sets or assisting with props, costumes, lighting/sound, selling tickets, putting together programs, designing posters, managing customers, or cleaning the house before/after.
*A quick note on finding a company. With a limited search through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, personal websites, local ads, the radio, church bulletin boards, or any of the myriad of other options out there, you’ll easily find a group near you. Alternatively, search for auditions or shows that are coming up and drop the group a message either on one of their socials or via an email address.
Once you’ve made contact and got yourself involved, it’s time to revisit the above question. Consider where your general passions exist, then consider how they might fit within the theatre-making process. Look around while you’re carrying out your role and see who is doing what. Do any of these roles excite you? There are a multitude of positions that might interest you and the majority don’t require you to get on stage and perform, which is a godsend for me. From here you should get a flavour of what goes on and what might interest you longer term. You’ll also get to know the people involved with the group and see firsthand how they do things.
Question 2 - Where do you find your people?
Whether you need to follow through with the ideas in section one or not, hopefully, you’ve managed to get some experience under your belt and you’ve begun to understand how things work. You may even have a clearer idea of what you’d like to be doing. Now it’s time to start shaping your development more constructively.
You should also have seen (as I mentioned at the outset) that Amateur Theatre, in the main, is a very inviting and accepting place to come and play and the glue that holds it together is the people and their energy. It is the people that bring a show to life and to do this, they need to invest a great deal of time and energy into the creative process. Time and energy that comes after they’ve seen to the activities of their daily lives. And I’m not just talking about “people” in the abstract, I also mean you. Therefore you want to ensure, as best you can, that that time and energy (which are two of your most precious resources) is spent with people you like, on something you love, and provides you with something you are proud of.
So doing a little leg work when you’re first trying to get your foot in the door will provide you with a nice list of companies, societies, groups, and their shows (past, present, and future) from which to begin to learn as much as you can about your options. Ask anyone you know and have recently met in the local theatre scene for their thoughts. Get online and do some searching. Take a look at each group’s back catalog. Are they performing shows that interest you? Who are they casting, does that fit with your ideals? Is it usually big casts or small? Do they perform several shows a year or just one or two? Is it indoor or outdoor theatre? What do the reviews say? How do the productions look, are they being staged in a manner that you’d like to be a part of? How do they audition? How do they take show submissions? What’s their committee structure (if one exists)?
You need to be asking yourself all manner of questions to get a true feeling for which of the companies is a good fit for you. It’s by no means an exact science, but the more you know the less surprised you’ll end up being when you commit to your next project.
Question 3 - Are you being realistic?
Finally, I’d like to turn the focus onto you more directly. Wherever you have decided to focus your efforts, you now have a lot more work to do to shine as bright as you know you can. You may well now be on your way to presenting a show and you’ll no doubt be on the radar of other amateur groups in your area. So be ready to deploy your toolkit of skills, to improve, to develop and ultimately progress when the opportunity presents itself.
But before the opportunity comes (which it will) remember that just because it’s “amateur” theatre it doesn’t mean the standard is going to be any lower. This is an environment where you’ll find some of the best theatre practitioners going. Therefore be realistic about where you currently reside in terms of skills and experience. I’m all for aiming high but I’m also well aware of how quickly the roles you’re offered will dry up or requests for your assistance backstage will stop reaching you if you get a reputation as someone that holds themselves in too high a regard. The best parts and greatest responsibilities will come if you listen, learn and work your butt off at all times. So if you’ve never acted before then a small part in the village panto is a great place to start, Hamlet will wait, I promise.