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Escape & Highlight: Elizabeth Fenton on why she gets involved

Added on by Helen Nicholson.

Post updated by: Erin Walcon

As one of the contributors to our research, Elizabeth Fenton, of the Woodchurch Players, Kent, has explored her own 30 year journey with amateur dramatics. Below are some of her fascinating thoughts about the rewards and challenges of involvement:

'I am a full time teacher of English, married with two sons. "How on earth do you have time to do that?" some cry at me - still. It is tricky to respond without sounding too earnest or even arrogant -

"It is what I do and makes me who I am." I began at the age of 15 in order to be part of something, to belong and be accepted; to make friends! This is still true today:  I love working with dear friends whom I love, but it is always great to meet new people and create new relationships, as well as new theatrical opportunities. Below are the issues that are relevant to my experience over the past 30 years.

Point one: Personal Opportunities

I have been very fortunate to have played some brilliant roles - Mrs DeWinter, May in 'The Accrington Pals', Shelby in 'Steel Magnolias', Helga in 'Allo Allo', Kate in 'She Stoops to Conquer'. Would I have had those opportunities if I had tried the professional route? Doubt it.

Point two: Those that do...

I am now directing and am enjoying it very much. Productions have been very successful and I shall continue to balance it with my acting. But here comes the rub and it is a familiar story. Although I had been thinking about directing for some years, I finally started because of staffing problems shall we say. It gave me the push I needed to get started but at the same time, if I hadn't, there would not have been a production. Since then, I have directed two productions, but would not fill in the gap for October 2014. I had to have a break. I am directing again October 2015. That is fair enough is it not?

Our chairman and treasurer are very forward looking and imaginative and to ensure we did have something for our audiences this autumn, we had a visiting am dram group give a one off performance of their musical they did earlier in the year. It was tremendous and we want to do something similar again, but thank God the logistics worked out! We have a director for Spring 2015, but he has made it clear he will not be a regular director from now on. Why is it so difficult to get the people to do things? We know why (time and responsibility - when you have a job and a family it is very difficult) but it never gets easier and we are always under pressure to keep the productions going.

Point Three: What to do about it.

1.The Green Room: this a small group of reps from local am dram groups who meet to discuss, support and trouble shoot for each other, as we all have to deal with the same problems. This has smoothed the communication between groups and help has been offered and gratefully received between us, ranging from costume requests to marketing strategies to digital social networking. The group is dormant at the moment as the structure is now in place and we share publicity and notices through members' emails and newsletters etc regularly now. If a group needs a meeting, then we see who can attend. If nothing else, it has established vital moral support between companies and greater awareness of each others' work , which in turn has led to better ticket sales!

2. Collaboration with other groups - as above when another group visited us. It helped us out of what would have been a very embarrassing situation and gave them a boost as they are a young group (4 years old) with a young demographic. Now we can see ways in which we could collaborate on productions in the future, which is an exciting prospect.

3. My husband and I are on the committee (he is chair!) and we are very lucky to have new officers who are also new to the society. This has helped push the society forward and be more dynamic in following through new ideas, especially in relation to digital technology and marketing. We are now on Facebook, Twitter as well as a website which is linked to Ticketsource. I have clarified our NODA membership and we now have the active support of the regional rep which in turn will raise our profile and publicity. The committee as a whole is braver in its approach as the newer members show the loyal, hard working long term members how to see things differently sometimes.

3. I have been a campaigner for years for Woodchurch to participate in the KDA Full Length Play Festival and this year we will be a part of it! This now puts up alongside our fellow groups in the county and I am proud that we now have the chance to show what we can do so well to a wider arena.

Point Four: Recruitment and Recognition

All of the above are about fresh ways to attract new members and for praise to be given to those who put the effort in. I have never been in a production that has been demoralising, bitchy or agonisingly technical, though I know those who have, unfortunately. This year a dear friend of mine had decided to be with us again because she had such a lot of FUN with us. That is what is it all about, but it is coupled with the determination to do it properly and the best we can. I belong to two very strong, talented groups who rival some who do get paid to do this for a living! I may sound arrogant now, but I don't mean to be - just like when you go to a restaurant and you think you could have cooked it better yourself, the same can apply to am drams. Not all professional individuals or productions are better than amateurs! It is the best thing when our group receives feedback from audiences who are impressed by our achievement, as well as having had a really good time. They pay for their ticket and if we achieve in making them say "WOW" then that is only what our audiences deserve for supporting us and making the effort to attend in the first place.

We can escape from, or highlight, our own lives by our participation, but it is that dynamic between audience and us that seals it.'

Thank you to Elizabeth for sending in her experience and thoughts!  If you'd like to contribute to the research, you can download the Research Toolkit here, or email us at amdramaresearch@gmail.com.