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The Green Room: Do community casts and amateur actors inspire or threaten?

Professional actor Ayesha Dharker with Chris Clarke, who was part of the community cast in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play for the Nation in February. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…

Albert_Parker

Albert Parker is 58 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

Tina-Cerrito-

Tina Cerrito is in her 20s. She has worked on a number of productions in leading new writing theatres, as well as film work.

eoghan barry

Eoghan Barry is 30. He has worked professionally as an actor on fringe projects and work for young people and more recently as a writer

Victor_Winstanley

Victor Winstanley is 42. His theatre career includes work at the National, the West End, touring and regional work. He also writes for radio and TV

Beryl-Phoenix

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays and toured both national and internationally

Jenny_Talbot

Jenny Talbot is 39, with nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV and film

JennyI think it’s great to use community and amateur casts. Not threatening at all.

Beryl Both.

Albert Would you let an amateur plumber mend your sink?

Jenny Some of my first inspirations in theatre were people I did amdram with.

Tina Totally inspires me. I have worked on a few community-based projects and it definitely encourages authenticity and originality, especially in new work.

Beryl There is already too little work for the players in the industry.

Albert I directed two large-scale communities plays back in the 1980s. Great to get so many people involved in theatre.

Jenny I have massive respect for them and for the role theatre can play in the community.

Thomas Who does a theatre have a responsibility to? Actors or audience? Projects that include community companies increase audience engagement.

Albert The amateurs in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Nights Dream – A Play for the Nation have been fabulous, evidently… but it is a little suspect.

Victor Involving community companies is a brilliant idea and one I thoroughly approve of. I can’t say I’m particularly threatened or particularly inspired, it just seems like a good idea and an obvious solution for some plays.

Beryl I struggle with this. I really like it as an idea, but don’t want it to happen too much as there isn’t enough work.

Albert It’s just like reality TV. Content provided by gazing at the public.

Victor It’s open to abuse on both sides, which needs to be carefully monitored – theatres using community companies to avoid paying actors, professional actors pretending to be amateurs to bypass the usual casting process.

Eoghan I have to say I haven’t seen enough community casts in action to be able to say whether they are successful performance-wise. But as an idea I think it’s good if it engages people, particularly those whose voices are less represented in theatre. And some projects can really grab people (like the Play for the Nation as you mention) and excite.

Beryl Yup.

Albert But it’s the production values and sheer depth of the professional world that will always win out.

Thomas I struggle too, Beryl. I can see when a project feels valid and grounded in genuine desire to work with a community – like the RSC project – and I’ve witnessed projects that were simply cheap labour. Trouble is, it’s very hard to define contractually which is which.

Albert I suppose it is more threatening in smaller towns and communities, but if we will go around closing theatres, then this is to be expected.

Beryl Exactly Thomas, it’s about the motives.

Albert If their involvement means a piece of work can be created that otherwise might not have existed, then surely it is a good thing.

Eoghan It can be troubling if it goes down the route of ‘free crowds’. You Me Bum Bum Train is an example of a big project that relies on a lot of input from enthusiastic members of the public to make it what it is. But I know there are plenty of actors who feel that if they’re charging so much for a ticket, they should look at how they can make it viable for performers.

Albert You Me Bum Bum Train and Secret Cinema – both dubious in the extreme as to their using actors and not paying proper rates. Or even anything.

Thomas Absolutely – and motives are hard to pin down. I thought Equity was wrong to take the RSC to task over Play for a Nation – it made no sense, and paying amateur actors a minimum wage doesn’t increase work for professional actors or make the amateurs professionals – it felt like Equity missed the point.

Albert Equity… missing the point? Come on, Thomas… get real… that would never happen.

Eoghan I liked the initial idea of You Me Bum Bum Train and yes, it would never have been made without the public performers, but they pay a lot of their crew, why not the performers?

Albert That’s a real example of when Equity could have made a difference and yet again showed it has no understanding of what works out in the field.

Beryl Maybe that says more about my lack of trust when it comes to the money people.

Thomas The trouble is – retrospectively, it is easy to see the difference between these projects and you can see what makes the RSC project totally brilliant and different (like the passion plays in Wales) but I can’t see how you define those differences to create best practice models that protect everyone.

Eoghan Yes, it’s hard from a ‘black and white’ point of view.

Albert And amateurs do tend to leave their glasses on.