Amateur Theatre – Should Their Shows Be Reviewed
Upon making and publicising my new Facebook page for this blog I stated that amongst other things I would be reviewing amateur shows. This was faced with a comment advising me not to do so, which of course got me thinking and resulted in this post.
When I put this question out on twitter and to friends I received some sensible reasons for not reviewing amateur shows, mainly focusing on the fact that they perform for love (not money) and that they are not ‘putting themselves out there’ the way professional actors would. Whilst I understand this argument I am of the opinion that the arguments for reviewing amateur shows are stronger.
One of the main reasons I am of the belief that amateur theatre should be reviewed and actively encourage bloggers, like myself, to their productions is publicity. Providing 1-2 seats to bloggers/reviewers on opening night will cost the company nothing (assuming the show is not sold out on opening night) and it can get them free publicity. Bloggers/reviewers want people to read their work and once a review is up they will tweet, instagram, Facebook post all about it. This is a perfect way of getting audience that may not otherwise know about your show along. Of course if it is a good review then the company can also use quotes from this on their own social medial pages and retweet the bloggers post to their hearts content. It is a course a possibility that the review may not be so favourable, of course the company then will have the choice and will not have to refer anyone to it directly.
It can also seek to enhance the reputation of Amateur theatre as a whole. Often ‘am dram’ has a stigma that comes with it and if bloggers and reviewers do review a range amateur work and are therefore given the chance to see the high quality production at the top end of the spectrum then this, in turn can begin to spread the word that am dram can be high quality and hopefully enhance audiences all around. Yes there may be the odd dud among a fair few shows, but isn’t this the same for professional shows and as a firm supporter of amateur theatre I am of the opinion that for those that have not ventured to an amateur production before, they will on the whole be pleasantly surprised.
Constructive criticism from people who see theatre several times a week/month is one of the best ways to learn and therefore improve the quality of performances. Whilst in an amateur company you will often get feedback from friends & family that attend, impartial feedback from a stranger who is not swayed by friendships can be far more useful. For the last 2 shows I have directed I have invited a (different) individual to attend the dress rehearsal of the production. I have purposely invited individuals who are very critical (in a constructive manner) to attend in order to try and improve the performance. Whilst, generally, due to the short nature of amateur runs it will be too late to amend anything about the performance following a review of amateur production it should assist the company is knowing what the strengths of the company is and conversely what to work on next time.
Amateur V’s Professional
Whilst I am of the view that amateur productions should be reviewed there are some additional consideration bloggers/reviewers should take into account. Things such as budget. However not all professional shows have a huge budget and if you compare a typical show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to a company that performs in a large theatre such as The Churchill Theatre, I would imagine that in this scenario the amateur company actually has the deeper pockets.
As touched on above people also argue that amateurs are not paid to perform and therefore the criticism is not warranted. I agree that amateur performers may not have had the training (although many amateur performers have had high quality training and are simply between jobs or currently in training) and built up the resilience that many professional performers have done to criticism and maybe less able to shrug it off easily but compare this to somebody fresh out of drama school who receives a very critical review. Who is going to be more affected by this – someone who has spent thousands of pounds on their training and wants to make a career out of it or someone that has a career outside of the theatre?
In talking about amateur and professional theatre it is important to mention the ticket price. The majority of amateur shows I see now cost around £13/£14 although some do go up to in excess of £20….we can see a professional show for this price. If we expect the audience to part with potentially the same amounts of cash to watch an amateur show than they would do for a professional one then transparency for the audience is deserved and one way the audience can obtain this transparency is through reviews/bloggers.
A lot of the views that state that amateur shows should not be reviewed focus on the negative – i.e. the bad reviews. That being said what about the good reviews? It can be a enormous confidence boost to the whole cast or individuals when a good review is received.
On Sunday 28th June I attended the annual London NODA conference. For those of you that don’t know NODA is essentially the governing body for amateur theatre and if invited they will send their area representative to watch the show. They will then produce a show report which looks at all aspects of the show. The annual London NODA conference also has an award ceremony which awards prizes to things such as best musical, best male/female in a musical, male/female comedy role, best set – the list goes on.Whilst NODA does not critique the show in the same manner it is essentially the same principle. This celebrates the talent in amateur theatre and all of those there nominated for an award were clearly pleased that someone had been along to see their show and essentially judge them on their performance, meaning that they could therefore be in the position of receiving a nomination.
What Do I Do Differently
One thing I do differently when reviewing an amateur show is I do not use the star system. I do this as I do not think it is fair to compare an amateur show with a 5 star show such as Gypsy. In reality an amateur performance, whilst it may be exceptional, is not going to be as good as Gypsy (for example). It is therefore in my opinion unfair and counterproductive to rate an amateur show out of 5 when they are never going to be able to get full marks.
Now of course I would say all of these- I have said from the outset I want to review amateur shows. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter – whether you agree or disagree!
DISCLAIMER – Whilst I am passionate about theatre and love reviewing shows I don’t feel that it is appropriate to review shows at the theatre I perform/direct at (The Bob Hope Theatre) as well as for few other companies that I (or even Mr Musicaltheatremusings) have been closely involved with. I am of the opinion that you risk loosing your impartiality then and also risk things becoming personal (even if not for me then for them) when you know the company/person well and critique should never be personal.