This issue of Interventions extends some of the ideas and practices behind the special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review entitled ‘Theatre, Performance and the Amateur Turn’. The special issue itself, and the online Interventions that accompany it, has been inspired by two Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded projects entitled Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Space and Time (2013-2016) and For Love or Money? Collaboration Between Amateur and Professional Theatre (2016-2017).
From the outset, the project teams (PI Helen Nicholson, CIs Nadine Holdsworth and Jane Milling, PDRAs Erin Walcon and Molly Flynn and PhD students Cara Gray and Sarah Penny) have been keen to open up ways that amateur theatre might be researched, understood, analysed and documented. This special issue offers a number of perspectives on amateur participation in relation to professional theatre, as communities of interest and as activist practice. In particular, Erin Walcon and Helen Nicholson’s article offers one example of how the research team have been combining cultural theory and empathetic forms of ethnographic research to explore questions of sociability, social capital, and the relational quality of amateur theatre making. In addition, these Interventions give further insight into the diverse research methods employed during our research including workshops, conversations and interviews, participant observation, attendance at performances, archival research and ethnographic research in rehearsal rooms, costume stores, making spaces, committee rooms and amateur theatre festivals.
Inspired by Sherry Turkle’s collection Evocative Objects: Things We Think With (2007), we held ‘Evocative Objects’ workshops as part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities Ten Year Anniversary Festival in 2015. Members of the Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Space and Time project invited amateur theatre-makers to bring objects that captured their memories and stories. This collection of images and accompanying text documents some of the people, voices, objects and stories we encountered.
‘You start an amateur and you end up an amateur’ offers a conversation with eighty-one-year-old Arthur Aldrich who shares thoughts on his origins in the amateur theatre sector, his transition to professional work as a theatre manager in the West End and regional repertory theatre and his return to the amateur sector as a director, adjudicator and current treasurer of Market Harborough Drama Society. His insights provide a glimpse into the distinctions he finds between the amateur and professional worlds and the deep sense of service that enables amateur theatre to flourish in towns, villages and cities across England.
Drawing on archival and ethnographic research, Sarah Penny and Nadine Holdsworth’s annotated slide show documenting amateur theatre in the Royal Navy offers a guided tour through some of the historical and contemporary theatrical events that have occurred on board ships and on naval bases. In particular it draws attention to the range of theatrical practices undertaken by the Royal Navy by offering illustrative examples of minstrel troupes, concert parties, crossing the line ceremonies, SODS operas, pantomimes and productions of Shakespeare.
The For Love or Money? project aims to develop an understanding of the reciprocal relationship between amateur and professional theatre-makers in the twenty-first century, and how far, and in what ways, such collaborations are blurring boundaries between the sectors. In this piece, Molly Flynn draws on ethnographic research in rehearsal rooms and interviews with amateur participants and professional artists to reflect on the most ambitious and high profile example of amateur/professional collaboration in the UK in recent years, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages Initiative.
All of these contributions document and represent efforts to create new spaces to consider the diversity of amateur theatre practice. We hope you enjoy the print issue and these accompanying Interventions and welcome your comments and feedback.
Nadine Holdsworth, co-editor of ‘Theatre, Performance and the Amateur Turn’
and curator of this issue of Interventions