Eleanor Massie, 26 January 2014

This report is a summary of a group conversation about how the terms amateur,

professional, and emerging artist operate in performance in the UK. It aims to

represent the many opinions put forward and includes a lot of questions that

were thrown up. While discussing these terms there was a broader discussion

of different labels performers encounter in their careers, and the process and

potential problems within labelling, self-definition and/or being defined by

others. Sections marked by asterisks denote strands of conversation had during

D&D9 but outside this particular session (at lunch, with tea, in between chairs

etc.) but that are relvant to this topic and have been included

Folk, community, amateur

Why might folk traditions been perceived as more positive than amateur traditions?

What difference is there between a folk artist who works in a factory during the day

and an amateur artist who works in a bank during the day?

In community theatre who owns the process? Is there always a ‘professional’ who has

to step in to order and control that process, and claim ownership over that community?

Industrial model of theatre

It was suggested that the notion of a divide between amateurs and professionals

developed out of an industrial model for theatre. You are professional if you fit into this

industrial model of theatre.

Working Mens Clubs: a space within industry for people to be a leisure and watch

professional performers. The particular aesthetic of Variety acts which emerged out of

these spaces. These spaces have now been taken over by new groups of performers,

and a certain heritage has been appropriated.

Acting unions and trade unions: it was noted there is sometimes tension within Equity

between different classifications of performers, such as Variety acts and other acting


Professionalism was originally a principle: a desire to get respect for your craft and

protection from being exploited. Has this principle now been commodified?

Are the terms amateur and professional being applied to practices or to people? Are

we dividing ways of making work, or are we making judgements about what individual

people are like? For instance, why is ‘amateur’ used as an insult?

City & regions

Groups in the regions are termed amateur, where they wouldn't in cities.

Cities are more transient spaces, people move through them more quickly; in regional

areas amateur dramatics groups have a longer standing history because lifestyles are

seen to be more settled. Groups of people are more willing to commit to an activity.

There was a time recently when there was an increase in opportunities for people to

get involved in performance, i.e. intergenerational networks (c.f. work in Doncaster).

These are now being limited again as funding is increasingly limited. The drawbridges

are pulled up.

Inside the UK

Scotland - For certain strands of funding you have to communicate a commitment to

making work in Scotland. There may be a political agenda behind this policy, to create

a local industry that provides revenue for the area. Limiting as performers may wich to

broaden their horizons, and gain inspiration from travelling to other areas.

Northern Ireland - you are officially an ‘emerging practitioner’ for the first five years of

your career. *Amateur dramatics is taken very seriously and there are large


*Wales - a different notion of the relationship between professional and amateur - very

strong networks of community performance*

Outside the UK

Canada - In Canada the way funding works is that you get three chunks of money to

support you while you are termed an emerging artist.

*France - you have to have a licence d'entrepreneur de spectacle - in order to be a

professional performer. You are then not allowed to offer your services for free: this

would be illegal. You MUST work for minimum wage and cannot run free workshops

etc. Amateur groups are only allowed to performer up to six times a year and there

can be no exchange of money in their performances.*

Europe - there is a bid that can be made to the UN for ‘intangible heritage’ - a way of

recording and protecting folk practices within a certain country. As far as this group

was aware no one from the UK had ever approached the UN about this.

Craft & art

There was a suggestion that acting is perceived as a craft rather than an art, whereas

being a performer who makes their own worked you are seen as an artist. There was

a further suggestion that there is a divide between performance and theatre: that the

terms ‘emerging’ and ‘emerged’ apply to performance, and that ‘amateur’ and

professional apply to theatre. The term ‘emerging artist’ is a way of imposing structure

onto a field like performance which is seen as nebulous.

What credits on your CV ‘count’? Is there work at particular venues which may be

prestigious in some areas of performance, but just wouldn't count in others? Is it more

complicated than expressing value to people not engaged in performance, but rather a

question of expressing the value of different modes of performance and theatre to

each other?

Trained and untrained

The Henry Irving school of acting: turn up and do it.

Is education there to pay for the educators mortgage?

Do more women train than men, and if so why do they feel this accreditation is more

necessary than men?

Do we get training just to get accreditation? And what kind of training and experience


Performance training is itself an industry and a sector.

Should we encourage young artists to think about other routes?


Is there an age limit around who can be an emerging artist? Is it possible to transition

from being a paid actor in other peoples work to then making your own work? There

are tensions in this transition - like you are crossing over from craft to art.


Are we only talking about labels this year? By engaging in these conversations are we

trapped in a process of getting hung up on categories?

Are we more concerned with HOW we label ourselves than WHAT we do? Falling into

a model where you are required to market and sell your work.

It was suggested that labels may shape practice: we are taught to view our careers in

a certain way and that changes the work we make.

'Emerging artist' seems like a strange term as it is creating a narrative after the fact:

how do you know you are emerging until you have emerged? It implies a linear

progression for a ‘career’ in art. On the other hand, this term does imply that there are

performers creating work who still feel as though they need some extra help and

support: it is a way of letting people (venues/ peers/ funders) know that they still need

this support.

What are the upper and lower limits to being an emerging artist? When do we choose

to cut someone off and say there is no more room for them to grow?

Speech and silence

Should we use silence as a tactic: a way of getting beyond words? Or should we make

sure that we take control of the words with which we are described as artists? Can we

find a way of articulating our work to others without falling into using the labels others


There is a difficulty in articulating a mode of artistic expression that does not lend itself

to language or narrative. You might enjoy a piece of work on a personal level, because

of particular associations you have with that work. This personal moment may be

non-verbal, physical, bestial, emotional. How does this then withstand public analysis,

or how can this personal experience be shared and communicated publicly? How

might it hold up in a framework of funders and academic or journalistic criticism?

Is there a danger of losing what makes yourself unique if you have to fit a particular

model of description, i.e. how you lay out a CV, how you fill out an application form?

Should you stand your ground: make them understand your language. Make them

meet you half way.

When do you choose to disengage with the effort of describing yourself, and decide to

put your energies elsewhere, i.e. into the work you are creating?

The Art of Living Dangerously

Suggested as a useful report to read which considers how we can figure the value of

art in terms of eceonomic principles, without starting or ending merely with those

economic principles.


silence, emerging artist, Amateur, Training, amateur, Community, professional,

community, training, folk, words, labelling