Welcome to the website of our two research projects, the first fully funded academic studies of amateur theatre in the UK.

Performing Rural Community in the South West

This case study looks at the role that amateur theatre plays in the construction and sustaining of community identity in rural villages in Devon. Amateur theatre has been a key part of the cultural and social life of villages throughout the twentieth century, and a diverse range of performance traditions have evolved.  In many villages amateur dramatic groups grew from popular and commercial entertainment roots, for example in the minstrel and musical performances of South Brent Amateur Dramatic Society (founded 1907).  A second strand of amateur village drama emerged from the work of Mary Kelly and the Village Drama Society (founded in  1919), which championed rural creative practice and craft. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Playgoers Society of Dartington Hall was founded as part of the rural utopian interests of Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst and their desire to bring the creative advances of metropolitan culture to the rural environment.  Elements of these different kinds of amateur theatre still continue today.

Village demographics have changed considerably over the last century, and today villages exist as both established communities strongly related to the rural agricultural activities of romantic imagination, and modern dormitory satellites for the major employment centres of regional towns. How have village theatre groups sustained their cultural activity over such long periods of time? This case study asks, what impact does  amateur drama, its social networks, repertoire, and craft have on the perception of a village, a sense of community and a sense of place in the rural landscape?

Researcher for this Case Study is Jane Milling (j.r.milling@exeter.ac.uk)