The dramatic situation in Stratford upon Avon has become a common sight on social media (including print). To see various organisations pleading for their very existence is very sad. Bodies one thought that were invulnerable and would go on for ever, are reduced to pleading for funds, desperate to keep-going and still be there when this is all over.
In wealthy Stratford upon Avon the situation is of course no different from the rest of the country, except of course it is Stratford upon Avon, the Bard’s home town. And everybody knows that theatre courses through its very being. So the fact that the loudest survival-type noises come from the theatrical quarter both professional and amateur should be of no great surprise.. However, for me personally any sympathy that I might have had initially has dissolved pretty quickly when I read some of the claims that are obviously designed to raise the aforementioned sympathy level to 11 and get folks to dip into their well-worn pockets.
For instance, there appears to be a lot of weight put upon the very useful word ‘Community’. (A bit like the RSC use the word ‘education’ to fill their coffers – another story). ‘Community’ used in the sense, as far as I understand it, that we are as somehow ‘one’. That we are all ‘theatre-people’ and care passionately about one another. That so-and-so theatre group was formed out of thin air not only for the benefit of ‘the community’ i.e. punters, but more than that, formed for the struggling base of performers/purveyors. Galling to say the least.
For instance, the suggestion that prices have been kept at reasonable levels so that the local purveyors of theatre (in all its forms) could benefit is something I must have missed. Not only does it suggest (falsely), that it is relatively cheap to hire a space to rehearse and put on a production, it, worse than that, suggests that all along there has been dialogue. That those in a better position (both financially and with er…’friends in high places) have reached out to their Brothers and Sisters in Arts to enable rehearsal and performance space at reasonable rates. This has not been my experience. In fact, I would go as far to say that there is a great divide between those companies with membership and therefore money, and those of us who operate on a play to play system without a pot to piss in. In short, encouragement (of any sort) would be nice.
I ought to say at this point that I do, sort of, understand.
Once a theatre group has had some ‘success’ it becomes more and more difficult to plan. The urge is to put as much drama on as possible. Which it turn eats up all the empty space that might be free for rehearsal if said successful theatre group hadn’t been so greedy. To put it in another way, it obviously becomes more difficult to find empty spaces that would allow fellow drama people to share in that success, as said ‘successful drama group’ would be eating up free space for their own non-stop production schedule.
My complaint is, don’t promise, or pretend to promise that your particular enterprise is for the benefit of all when in fact that is a damn near impossible goal to achieve. Be honest.
There is all sorts of drama going on in this town. Which is great.
Although I am a great believer in drama that relates to the human condition and holds up a mirror to our behaviour and like a parable maybe offer a solution, I also see the reason behind what I would call ‘impersonation drama’. Drama for example, that offers copies of successful TV sit-coms, that sort of thing. Although I dislike that stuff intensely, I see the point, which is quite simply ‘entertainment’ and a good night out without too much thinking. I am very aware that this branch gives a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people, so until I begin to understand a little more, I will zip it.
The thing is, and perhaps the whole point of this rather angry article (or sour grapes as some will no doubt call it) is… we could perhaps learn from each other if only we would talk to each other.
If we could get some kind of Federation of Drama Companies on the go, where we could exchange ideas and perhaps more importantly, information (even equipment-I have some lights) then a real community could be formed that would indeed benefit us (inc the audiences) all. As it is, in all the years my little company has been going (on and off) it is only recently I have had a chat with another (albeit wealthier) company concerning the problems they have faced over the past year..
I guess in the end I will be accused of being bitter and twisted and to that charge part of me pleads, ‘guilty’. I just think it’s about time in the long theatrical history of this great little town, that the surprisingly large number of drama/dance etc groups that exist, swallow their pride and make a real and genuine attempt to get together.