As children, many of us wanted to pursue a life of theatre, whether for the singing, dancing, costumes or glamour. As we grow up, for one reason or another, those dreams tend to leave us. So understandably, a huge number of people find community theatre groups a great place to indulge those fantasies, make new friends, build on skills and talents they forgot they had, and have a good time. However, one thing can taint the frivolity, and that is the stigma attached to the terms ‘amateur theatre’ or ‘Am-Dram’. Whether we agree with the assumptions or not, often the phrase ‘am-dram’ conjures images of creaky village hall floorboards being trampled on by out of tune singers and clumsy dancers; not exactly a glowing advert for being part of amateur theatre. Yet still hundreds of thousands of us are part of the community in Britain and across the globe.
People can get very defensive when you refer to their performances as am-dram, and understandably so. These societies often struggle to raise funds for costly performance licenses and venue hires, therefore dismissing their hard work as ‘am dram’ can be seen as quite the insult. Theatre groups need to appeal to broad audiences and new members, striving to appear as streamlined and professional as possible. So is am-dram such a dirty term? Surely it is a completely factually accurate expression? Phrases like ‘community theatre’ and ‘youth performance groups’ get used more and more these days as many people like to distance themselves from ‘am dram’ and the incompetent and hammed-up acting that is associated with it. So is now the time to embrace the phrase and prove to the sceptics that amateur theatre is just as valid and twice as fun as professional performance?
Part of the anger that surrounds the phrase am-dram from within the community comes from the blurred line between professional and amateur theatre. If a group is using crowd funding, local authority or arts council grants, are they still an amateur group? Furthermore, by labelling them as amateur do you hinder their ticket sales and consequently force the performers to feel further into the realms of am-dram? Some may argue that amateur theatre does not deserve the respect of professional theatre, so people should stop complaining. The focus of amateur theatre is largely on the socialising rather than the recognition of performance. However, nobody wants to have something they have poured six months of their life into completely disrespected. And so the battle continues. Would you be happy to have your work known as am-dram, or would you rather disassociate yourself from a term steeped in judgement?
Photo by Flickr user BiblioArchives under a Creative Commons Licence.