Neil Rathmell’s letter (Comment, October 4, p6) was unfair to Lyn Gardner when it suggested her column on the first Amateur Theatre Fest had implied the main value of amateur theatre was to provide “an additional income stream for professionals”.
Although an amdram performer since 1953, when I played Tom Pearce of Widecombe Fair fame in a pageant at Croydon Baths, it is only in the past few years that I have found myself acting, dancing and singing alongside professionals at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.
As part of the venue’s community chorus, I wondered how we amateurs would be received by actors who had appeared in such TV hits as Casualty, EastEnders and Call the Midwife when I began rehearsals in 2016 for artistic director Douglas Rintoul’s production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. But we were shown nothing but kindness and encouragement. And the most fun I have ever had in a production was in this summer’s regional premiere of the musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which proved so popular that it was extended by a week.
Next August, the Queen’s and the National Theatre will be staging a musical version of As You Like It as part of the Public Acts programme with a cast of community and professional performers. I hope I successfully audition for the show – just as long as the arthritic knees hold out, although I have discovered that dancing eases the pain.
Let amateurs and professionals continue working together to ensure theatres draw the crowds from as many backgrounds as possible.
David J Savage
Paul Clayton’s informative article ‘What does your dream drama school look like?’(The Half, September 20, p24) makes no mention of schools that are not in the self-appointed Federation of Drama Schools.
A number of drama schools not represented in the article also provide excellent training in London and beyond. It is easy to talk about RADA’s reputation: it is the oldest and most established drama school in the country. If other schools had been in existence for 114 years, they might have equally prestigious alumni.
As the industry’s foremost theatre publication, The Stage has a responsibility to inform its readership of all of the training institutions available for aspiring actors and not just highlight the ubiquitous acronym-laden schools that everyone knows about.
Dorset School of Acting
Thank you Lyn Gardner for standing up for artists (Comment, October 4, p7).
I was once told by a venue at a conference that artists may need to email 14 times to get a response, even if there was an existing relationship. I have organised many meetings at my own expense, travelling across the country to have people not turn up, be late, or cut a meeting very short. I once travelled for five hours only to be given five minutes of time to pitch an idea that the theatre went on to use with another artist.
Freelance artists can share many more stories about inequality, but we can’t speak up about it as our careers suffer if we criticise.
Paul Anthony Evans
Coming from an engineering background, my partner only recently got involved in the world of performance. He is constantly shocked that many venues are so badly run. “They wouldn’t last five minutes in the commercial world of engineering,” he can often be heard to say.
In the engineering world, if a better digger comes on the market every company wants it. In theatre, if a better performer is looking for work, they will probably be ignored unless they are friends with the right people. It might be ‘cosy’ that way, but it’s slowly killing live performance as the standard keeps dropping.
There are two important nuances here, when an ever-increasing percentage of resources is going on raising and sustaining funds.
First, many of the new army of ‘producers’ (we used to call them administrators or managers) are artists trying to pay the rent and make work at the same time. It’s a difficult balance, as they get access to the organisation, but are now also categorised as non-artists.
Secondly, organisations often respond to the era of perpetual funding-crisis, not by creating yet another non-artistic job role, which could make the organisation look too admin-heavy, but by adding more admin to roles that might once have been more creative, such as the education or community officer.
Ultimately, barring the pipe-dream of dramatic public-funding increases, part of the solution lies with the Arts Council and other funding bodies, by determinedly making their processes dramatically lighter in touch.
There is a big black hole in Welsh drama (News, September 27, p2): Arts Council Wales. Created in the late 1960s, it has remained a rest home for chums, old boys, cliques, clubs, bias and mediocrity and is not for fit for purpose.
In his admirable book Stage Welsh, David Adams traces the ascent of these pernicious drones. We writers of the old London Guild of Welsh artists sat down to tea with them 60 years ago, but nothing has changed. To see my fellow Welsh writers trying to fill in the same blank hole shakes me to the core.
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“It would be churlish not to say that our country has moved so far from the 1970s and 1980s. You wouldn’t have dreamt that someone like me could have been the artistic director of the Young Vic. You couldn’t have believed that the mayor of London [Sadiq Khan] would be someone from that background. I think part of my job is to acknowledge how far we’ve come while making sure I don’t get complacent about it.” – Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah (Times)
“I feel like each time we have that conversation [about being the first black British female playwright to have a play in the West End] it negates what has gone before – the work by so many black playwrights and theatre groups that existed in the 1980s but closed due to a lack of support. We have these conversations about ‘the first’ as though there’s a sudden boom or it’s a fad, and I don’t think it helps us to sustain.” – Playwright and actor Natasha Gordon (Guardian)
“He was everything to me as a young actor: his structure, his rhythms, his dialogue. But people think you have to revere Pinter. You don’t. You can take his plays and do what you want with them.” – Actor Russell Tovey on Harold Pinter (Telegraph)
“There is always an appeal to doing theatre for me. There never won’t be. We were saying over lunch how we [Harington and fellow actor Johnny Flynn] were both taken to the theatre constantly as kids. It really is bred into you as an English actor, this love.” – Actor Kit Harington (Times)
“Small Island [Andrea Levy’s novel about Jamaican migrants to London during the Second World War] is being adapted by a white writer for the National Theatre [Helen Edmundson] because all the black playwrights were busy. Yep, that’s it right?” – Playwright Bola Agbaje (Twitter)
“[Post-natal anxiety] was so traumatic, for a while I felt like I’d never be able to talk about it. I’ve performed some of my shows over 300 times. I thought, could I really go through that every night?” – Performance artist Bryony Kimmings on her show I’m a Phoenix, Bitch (Telegraph)
“In theatre, having the unbroken flow and a live audience is intoxicating and sweeps you away. But with film you are there, in the situation, and often there’s very little need to pretend anything. I don’t know, man, I just want to keep doing both.” – Actor Tom Glynn-Carney (Evening Standard)
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