The Power of the Amateur

Sara Harrison, 28 July 2012

We were tempted to join up with a group exploring the question of ‘Is it better to work for free rather than not at all?’ However we decided that this was a seperate issue and we were pleased to have stuck to this decision.

We started by exploring what this fundamental difference was - what is the difference between working for free and being an amateur?

Amateurs do it for Passion, not for money - but so do professionals - they are just lucky enough to be getting paid!
Professionals often start as amateurs and get into theatre that way.
Is it just getting paid that makes someone a professional? Do all professionals have to be trained? Often they aren't.

Questions around how to keep up morale when you are a professional, taking work that you aren't passionate about in order to pay the bills - how do you get that passion back?

The importance of taking amateurs seriously.
Alot of amateur work is better than professional work. But it's a seperate thing. Should amateur work even have a place at this forum?
When you go to see amateur work your expectations are lower.
The element of passion iin amateur work is detectable - they find an essence which is often missing in shows with high production values, because they are more reliant on

the performances.
Amateur companies are able to produce larger scale shows with bigger casts as they don't have to pay them, however amateur groups suffer from not being able to afford better sets and costumes.

The divide between the amateur and the professional world needs to be addressed. Snobby attitudes of both about each other.
In Greenock there's a massive audience for amateur theatre but not for pro theatre. Amateur companies can be jealous of pro theatre - a ‘we can do that better, on a budget’ attitude.

There are different reasons for being involved in amateur theatre: *Acheiving a polished result
*Challenging yourself
*Love of performance/text/theatre in general

*The opportunity to take on roles you might not get in your professional life (meaning a lot of amateur theatre IS actually done by professionals!)
*The social aspoect - where the result isn't the aim, it's an opportunity to meet friends and do something fun.

Does the audience perceive a difference between amateur theatre and pro theatre? Do they care or do they just go and see it because of the play?
Many audience's ONLY experience of theatre is amateur theatre and they might not even know it - they just think of that as theatre.

Amateur theatre, therefore plays a very important role in audience development. People may see their family member in an amateur performance of Macbeth and for that reason, go on to buy a ticket for the RSC season.

Amateur theatre is facing the same issues as pro theatre
They are stuggling in the same ways: lack of audiences/engagement/prohibitive costs of venue hire
Attracting audiences to new work - old/popular/traditional work vs new/challenging/modern work

There's a paradox: The perception that making money or being paid is somehow less artisticly valid e.g - commercial theatre is somehow seen as maff or less valid because it's done to make money, but then amateur theatre is seen as less valid because it's not done to make money. The romantic idea of the struggling artist is still perceived as being the only valid form of ‘real’ art.

Once you become a professional actor/theatre practitioner, you might get bored and disillusioned - does this affect the performance? If a show has been on tour for a long time - the actors may become less passionate about the role.

The distinction between Amateur theatre / commercial theatre / ‘proper’ artistic theatre.

What can amateur theatre offer the pro world?
Edinburgh Grand Opera is an excellent example of the two working in symbiosis - the principals are professionally trained recent graduates, and the chorus are made up of amateurs. This model works in opera but wouldn't necessarily work in theatre as many straight plays are made up of just principals (or the chorus/minor roles are so small that amateurs wouldn't really be interested in being involved). The model is already in place for large scale touring companies like Scottish Ballet or west end shows, who use local amateurs to populate their chorus. Equity might have an issue with this

though - as it's taking work away from professional actors.

Question of new plays. Pro companies can't afford to produce new plays with large casts so playwrights usually create plays with small casts. Amateur companies offer the opportunity for playwrights to create plays with large casts! However, there is a stigma around writing plays for amateur companies. New writing is as much of a risk for amateur companies as for pro companies - because of the question of audiences (If not more of a risk as amateur companies aren't subsidised).

How to make venues more affordable?
There are lots of venues with nothing to put in them - why not reduce rates for amateur theatre?
Because the venues may feel they are putting their theatre's reputation at risk by hosting amateur performances. Goes back to the stigma surrounding amateurs.

As amateur theatre plays a very important role in audience development / arts engagement / accessibility / career development for pro theatre there is an argument for Governement support for the structures of amateur theatre.
*Subsidising the management/administration of them
*Subsidising venues to encourage them to host more amteur/Community theatre
*In turn, Gvt subsidy might help to remove the stigma for amateur theatre and make it more respectable.

Problem: If amateur theatre starts to receive government subsidy will this erode the support given to professional theatre? Is it the thin end of the wedge? What's stopping the government from arguing that if they can support amateur theatre and some professionals are willing to do that for free and they are providing a good product - why

pay professionals?

The main difference between amateur theatre and professinal theatre is in the intention, not in the value. This intention should be celebrated and supported.


subsidy, pay, venue hire, new plays, amateur theatre, Audience Development, participation, audience development