Amateur dramatics is a popular pastime in the UK. Stage productions by non-professionals can bring communities together through shared experiences of fun and laughter. But there is more to amateur theatre than just the acting!
I write scripts for The Llanfoist Players, an amateur drama group based in a village on the outskirts of Abergavenny in Monmouthshire. They perform every year to a sell-out crowd in the village hall. Billed as ‘Extravaganzas’, the annual shows are collections of comedy sketches which combine to create evenings of entertainment.
Following on from the success of 2017, I was given the opportunity to write another short play for this year’s show. ‘A Night at the Besties!’ is a comedy drama. It is the sequel to last year’s play, ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’.
There is more pressure when writing the second script as there is an additional level of expectation. For writers, it is often said that all the creative ideas go into the first piece of work. This is true to a large extent but as I am gaining experience, I am confident enough to know that new ideas will materialise. I make lists of my thoughts, including the ideas that may not stand out immediately. Ideas will grow, particularly when combined with others that emerge at a later date.
‘A Night at the Besties!’ is based around the fictional drama group who appeared in ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’. They receive the exciting news that they have been nominated for a British Entertainment Stage and Theatre (B.E.S.T.) Award in the category of ‘Best Amateur Production in a Village Hall’. The play follows the characters as they prepare for the ceremony, otherwise known as ‘The Besties’.
Writing a script is a long process. It takes almost a year from the initial idea to the performance. I begin putting ideas together at Christmas time. This is an ideal opportunity because it is a time of social gatherings so I regularly see the group outside the village hall setting.
The best thing about being part of a group is the collaboration. Even though I write the scripts, they are created specifically for The Llanfoist Players so it is important that everyone is involved. I try to include as many ideas as possible and I will use these to establish a theme.
As soon as the main theme has been decided, I meet with the group to check if they like the initial ideas. When this has been agreed, usually in January or February, I will write a first draft.
For a writer, the ‘reveal’ of the script is terrifying because there is always the risk that they will not like it. The first read-through takes place in March or April and provides an opportunity for further suggestions or amendments. I then take these new ideas away, make the changes as required and the final script is handed over towards the end of April at the latest. This gives the group six months to rehearse.
I only attend rehearsals towards the end. This is just to see how they are progressing and to find out if they need any final script changes. Sometimes, rehearsals can highlight minor logistical problems with scenery or costume changes.
This is the reason why an amateur production can provide excellent training for a writer. A script is about more than just dialogue. The drama group has taught me so much about stagecraft. When I am writing, I now also think about the timings for scenery changes or about how long a character is on the stage without a break. Amateur dramatics is supposed to be fun so the scripts are written to ensure that nobody feels pressured into learning long, complicated lines.
As always, show night is the best part of the whole experience. It is the culmination of months of hard work. Knowing that the cast and the audience enjoyed the performance makes it all worthwhile. This year, I went up on the stage at the end and I was presented with the perfect gift. The ‘Besties’ mugs are now displayed on the shelf in my writing room.
After the euphoria of a successful show subsides, the group reflects on what was successful and what needs to be improved in the future.
I will be writing a new script for the 2019 show and the process has already started. I am currently in the first phase of gathering ideas.
Seeing my scripts performed is wonderful but the friendships last far beyond show night. It is a fantastic community group and I would like to thank everyone for giving me such a great opportunity to be part of it.