The boundaries have blurred between amateur dramatics groups and the professionals. So perhaps it’s time we took am-dram more seriously


amateur dramatics group

Breath of fresh air … amateur dramatics is in good health and the distinction between it and professionals is becoming hazy. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

In 1963, the academic Edwin R Schoell wrote: “There is, particularly in professional quarters, a deep-rooted suspicion that amateur theatre is really an institution that exists in order to give significance to ‘amateur dramatics’, a frivolous kind of amusement with no pretention to art.”

Attitudes seem to have changed. Last month Sky Arts announced its latest theatrical sensation – a reality documentary series entitled Stagestruck, in which cameras follow eight amateur companies competing for the chance to perform on a West End stage. As the production company’s creative director, Nicolas Kent, said: “Stagestruck is more than a talent show, it’s a celebration of how amateur theatre can be a beating heart of communities across Britain.”

Sky is not the only interested party. The RSC is currently running the Open Stages project, described as a “national programme of skills-sharing events and showcases, with amateur societies from across the UK invited to produce their own RSC-branded Shakespeare-themed production”.

Am-dram seems in good health at the moment. There are over 2,500 groups affiliated to the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, the leading representative of amateur performance in the UK, and many more who are not associated. In the village in which I grew up, am-dram slotted alongside cricket, the WI and the church as a quintessential English activity. Long before the pronouncement of the “big society”, theatre and the arts have been activities which unite people of all ages and from a range of backgrounds. And, of course, a high percentage of professional theatre actors and practitioners had their first taste of theatre through their local am-dram. As purses tighten, it’s reassuring that the industry is taking it upon itself to support and cherish groups from across the country.