Community Theatre. Am Dram. Call it what you will, it’s at the heart of every great community. We’ve been talking to those involved about how life changing it can be.
Northampton has a wealth of amateur and community theatre groups, whose passion for performing entertains thousands of people each year. Community theatre groups offer an array of performances across the year, at a much smaller price than professional venues meaning that theatre becomes far more accessible to all. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how these hard working groups benefit the people of Northampton.
Masque Theatre have been performing in Northampton since 1932, and perform everything from the classics to contemporary productions (such as their next production, Defying Gravity), and each summer perform Shakespeare outdoors at Abington Park Museum. This summer, they also took a special 1-hour family-friendly adaptation of Macbeth to Wicksteed Park – a show you’ll get another chance to see at this year’s Northamptonshire Day at Delapré Abbey on 30 September.
As with all Masque productions, the group held open auditions; Jasmine Shadrack was one of those who read for a part.
“I am happy to hold my hands up and say I have never done anything like this before! I went to the auditions simply thinking, ah well, it’ll be a bit of fun, not thinking that I’d actually get the role! Then I thought, oh bugger! Now I’ve got to, you know, act! I have no clue what I’m doing! I immediately regret my decision! Panic mode engaged!
“So when the rehearsals started in earnest and it dawned on me my soliloquy wasn’t exactly compact and bijou, I knew I had to get to grips with it sharpish. I’m a musician and lecturer so getting up in front of people doesn’t phase me too much; take the music away and I’m (to quote a Red Dwarf fave of mine) galloping up diarrhoea drive without a paddle!
“Also being a noob, not only to acting but to the Masque, was a bit scary. For someone like me who suffers from social anxiety disorder, walking into a room full of people who already know each other and what they’re doing, was scary. There’s me, the shadowy void in the corner, literally no clue about any of it.
“So imagine my utter and very absolute joy to discover how very, very lucky I have been to work with such a welcoming, hugely talented group of people.
“Alex and Tamsyn knew just what to do to encourage me and draw my heretofore unknown ability, out. I wholeheartedly loved every second of it.
“The rehearsals, the performances, the people, the costumes, the music, the choreography and the language! Such beautiful, gloriously saturated language! In short, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. ”
You can catch Masque’s Macbeth at Delapré Abbey on 30 September 2018 as part of Northamptonshire Day – for more details, check out the Facebook event
While groups like Masque are taking on various venues and multiple productions each year, smaller hyperlocal groups provide a wonderful first step for those interested in community theatre. Duston Players have been performing for over 70 years, with their Christmas shows often selling out the Duston Community Centre.
On Stage Northants Editor Rebecca Cockcroft got involved with the group in 2017 and it’s made a huge difference to her life:
“When I moved to Northampton in 2016 after living my whole life in Birmingham, I wasn’t sure how to go about meeting like-minded people! I’d worked in theatre for the best part of 9 years, but now I was a stay at home parent, and I genuinely didn’t know where to start.
“I ended up emailing my local group – Duston Players – just intending to get involved backstage; it was a massive thing for me to send that message – I struggle with social anxiety, and it was incredibly daunting to walk into that rehearsal room to meet everyone for the first time.
“I needn’t have worried – everyone was really friendly and welcoming, and I quickly felt right at home.
“Somehow I even got persuaded to be in their next production, House of Fog – which was one of the best experiences of my life! Since then I’ve been involved with the committee, and I’m even co-directing this year’s Panto. To say I’ve launched myself into community theatre headfirst might be an understatement!
“I’ve made some truly amazing friends, and now I’m working with Masque on Defying Gravity too, this time actually behind the scenes as a Production Assistant. Joining Duston Players was the catalyst for starting On Stage Northants, which has really opened my eyes to just how much brilliant work is going on across Northampton!
“Community theatre has given me back a lot of confidence that I hadn’t realised I’d lost. Northampton theatre people are some of the nicest, most positive and supportive people I’ve ever met, and it is a privilege to be part of such a wonderful community. I’d encourage anyone who has even the smallest inkling that they might want to be involved to go for it – there is nothing to lose and literally everything to gain. “
Duston Players are back at Duston Community Centre this Christmas with a brand new version of Sleeping Beauty from 28 November to 1 December 2018 – visit www.ticketsource.co.uk/duston-players for tickets!
There are a number of familiar faces across the Northampton theatre scene – if you’re a regular visitor to The Playhouse you’ll know that there is a considerable core group of actors who pop up in everything – theatre is an addictive thing!
Currently in rehearsals for Masque’s Defying Gravity, his fifth theatre show in two years having made his acting stage debut with Duston Players back in 2016, Lou Chawner is becoming one of those faces…
“I have only been involved in theatre for a couple of years. For years I knew that I wanted to try acting, but I had absolutely no idea where to start. About a year before I finally got involved, I saw a flyer for an upcoming production from Duston Players, made a mental note to contact them, and then didn’t.
“I think I subconsciously put it off, not because I was afraid of performing or being centre of attention (I had been doing stand up for many years so I obviously enjoy those things), but because I would be entering a world I knew next to nothing about.
“It’s easy to get put off by negative thoughts, such as “What if they don’t like newcomers?”, “what if I’m really bad at it?” “what if I actually get a part and then forget all my lines, ruin the play and end up looking like a prat?”. But eventually I did what I always end up doing when I want to try something new – focus on the positives, and the reason why I want to do it. “What if I can do it?” “What if I do get a part and end up enjoying it?” “What if I get talent spotted, get an agent, get a role in the next season of Peaky Blinders, win a BAFTA, then get the chance to make one of the scripts that I have written and Tom Hardy is desperate to be in it?” Well… we can all dream, but honestly, the positive things that have already happened to me since I started have been more than enough.
“I have been made to feel very welcome by this community in every way. I have made some very, very good friends, and most importantly, I have had an awful lot of fun.
“If anyone reading this thinks that they might want to get involved but are unsure or worried about it, then don’t be. Just send an e-mail to one of the local groups and ask if you can join in. And don’t worry about looking silly. Firstly, you probably won’t. Secondly, if you do, no-one will care. And thirdly, in this community, there will always, always be someone willing to make an even bigger idiot of themselves than you.”
Lou is back on stage with Masque as Claude Monet in Defying Gravity, which takes place at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton from 16-20 October 2018. Tickets are available from www.masquetheatre.co.uk
Getting involved in Community Theatre isn’t always all about auditioning and joining groups – just ask A Small Mind At The Theatre reviewer Kevin Evans..
“My first experience of community theatre came in March 2014, when I watched the Royal & Derngate Youth Theatre perform Elements of War, and a few days later I had my first experience of Masque, with their production of No Way Out at Holy Sepulchre. For a few years, I lurked in the background secretly writing reviews of the shows.
“Over time I became good friends with many of the community theatre network and slowly my identity as A Small Mind At The Theatre was revealed. Since 2016 I have been on the committee at The Playhouse Theatre (which I didn’t find until December 2014) handling publicity, and each year has become more interesting. First, last year directing, and this year escalating into numerous areas including acting a number of times, writing work and most recently working backstage on Macbeth at Wicksteed Park with Masque.
“Community theatre has enriched my life like nothing before, and while at times, it might have taken over too much of it, I will never regret being busy, too busy, on something so wonderful and fulfilling.”
Community theatre isn’t just about the acting – that’s where the “community” element comes in to force. Masque’s motto is “Just for the love of it” which sums it up perfectly – the love of rehearsals, the love of seeing old and new friends perform, the love of the audience applause, and the love of theatre. Theatre is a force for good, and we should be proud to have such a powerful community spirit here in Northampton.
If you’re interested in getting involved with your local theatre groups, a great place to start looking is on Drama Groups UK – they have a list of most theatre groups across the country with contact details and the best way to get in touch.
Have you got a story about you involvement in a local arts project, or perhaps you’ve got a show coming up that you’d love to shout about? Please send an email to Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org
Header photo credit: Joe Brown