There were some things that I found not great about the whole process, and other things that I found to be amazingly rewarding.
From the point of view of the finished programme, which is really the point of the whole discussion; in fairness I think the producers have, pretty much, made an affectionate look rather than an exploitative one, for which we should all be grateful – it could very easily have gone the other way and ended up damaging every amateur company by tarring them all with some sort of horrible Acorn Antiques-handled brush. So in that sense I think that the producers have shown (so far at least) a sense of responsibility to the wider fraternity, and that they haven’t approached the subject with a hatchet job in mind, which is a huge relief.
As regards the choice of finalists (the final 20 or final 8): you know what, there very probably was an element of “what will make good TV” in their selection. Why this should be a surprise to anyone, it being a TV show and all, I don’t really know. That said, within the constraints of a TV show, with all that that might imply, there does seem to be a genuine regard for the companies and the efforts taken by their members – whether or not one agrees with their inclusion as a finalist; whether or not one feels that “we wouldn’t have done it like that” or “we would have done it better”. For a TV show to take amateur theatre seriously on its own merits and not take the piss out of the whole edifice…that’s kind of the most important thing, really, isn’t it?
Because, as for it not being representative of the entire phalanx of amateur theatre companies across the country…well, of course it’s not. The Amateur Stage moderator is right, the choice of plays performed all comes down to staging productions that are out of copyright – with most copyright fees for broadcast media being charged by the number of “eyeballs”, you can see that it would instantly get very expensive indeed to have performed anything that wasn’t out of copyright (especially showing the programme on a more mainstream channel like Sky One with around 10m weekly viewers – even little old Sky Arts 1 has a reach of around 750,000 a week), and musicals (by far the most popular of all amateur productions) are in themselves very expensive to begin with. Thus I think choosing to do only plays was the wisest, most manageable route for the production company.
As for the title. Well, I for one hate it - see my post elsewhere here about this. It was originally called Stagestruck, but was changed to Nation’s Best Am Dram – almost certainly for reasons of copyright again. I don’t like it, as apart from calling it “am dram” which I dislike anyway, if you were to win Britain’s Got Talent you would be crowned “Winner”, not “Most Talented Brit”. So it is a wee bit divisive, but then it is a competition, I suppose. We’re stuck with it now, regardless.
Some are complaining that it’s on Sky and not everyone gets Sky. True enough. But at least someone decided to make it, and that it was Sky Arts, who more than any other channel have a remit to support the arts, and not deride them. God alone knows what would have happened had ITV got a hold of it.
For those complaining they were unable to take part due to other commitments, it’s a shame that this is the case, but like any audition for any part anywhere, it does come down to (a) a willingness to enter (and I appreciate that a fear of the programme being exploitative may, reasonably, have hedged people’s bets in the first place and put them off – we certainly thought hard about it), and (b) an ability to make the deadline and/or commit to the schedule. Of course there are groups for whom the timing would have proven impossible to apply for the show, or for whom, had they been selected, would have meant massive clashes with a planned production. It is the nature of the beast that amateur theatre companies are busy a lot of the time. That said, I know of one of the companies in the programme who finished a run of a show the night before then had to travel half the country to perform for the TV programme the very next morning – but they were, luckily, willing and able to manage that juggling act - and the juggling of rehearsals for both too.
Hopefully the programme will show the public that, as Madeline from Crossmichael says on Facebook, there is a huge cross section of people from all walks of life involved in amateur theatre, and that for the vast majority of them, they take it seriously and are passionate about it. Quality varies from company to company, of course, but whatever you think of the finalists individually, none of them are actually bad, nor – most importantly - are they edited in such a way to be portrayed as the sort of company for whose members a production is primarily a way of getting a twice-weekly fix of custard creams and gossip with a chance to dress up at the end…which is a common misconception.
It won’t remove the stigma attached to the term “am dram” but if it shows amateurs in a positive light and maybe makes people think about seeing their local group as a consequence, it can only be a good thing. Even if I personally end up looking like a knob*.
* please no please no please God no
Author: Gareth Richards