Amateur groups fear for their future

Fears have been raised about the impact last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review will have on UK amateur theatre, with a poll revealing that half of those involved in the sector feel less optimistic about its future as a result of recent cuts.

Although amateur companies do not receive government funding, and are therefore not directly affected by spending cuts, the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, which is the leading representative body for amateur theatre in the UK, believes the sector will still suffer a negative impact.

It claims that people will have less money generally to pay to see amateur productions or take part in an amateur theatre society, which in turn puts the number of companies operating at risk.

There are currently 2,500 affiliated NODA societies in the UK, which have a total of 150,000 members, but the association’s chief executive Tony Gibbs has warned that some of these people would have to give up their passion if people’s “disposable family income is significantly reduced”.

“As all amateur societies rely on annual subscriptions from their individual members, this may have the result of depleting some societies in the near future,” he added.

NODA polled members and non-members with an interest in amateur theatre, asking whether they felt more or less optimistic about the future because of last year’s spending review. It found that 49% were less optimistic, with only a third being more optimistic.

Gibbs, who claims the amateur sector is vital to the UK theatre industry, as it provides aspiring actors with their first experience of being on stage, is now urging NODA members to “carefully monitor” any loss of individuals as a result of financial pressures. He added that any society that sees its membership reach a “critical level” would be offered advice on how to stage joint productions with other companies or merge with other local groups.

The chief executive also warned that councils looking to make savings might increase the cost of hiring theatres to amateur companies, and said a “management model worth exploring further” could be one that sees non-professional theatre societies take over the running of their local venues.

NODA is looking at how professional theatre organisations can do more to nurture amateur groups.

Gibbs cited the Royal Shakespeare Company – which last year launched Open Stages, an initiative aimed at supporting amateur performers – as an example of how the two sectors could work together. He said: “NODA is inviting any other like-minded organisation interested in exploring ideas for joint pro-am productions or cross-sector projects to contact them now, as they would welcome entering into discussions to see what the future could hold through the formation of new formal, or informal, partnerships.”

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