The rewards of the Little Theatre

By Caroline Jenner (*)


For many, amateur theatre is something of a dirty word. They look down their noses and think that it is people ‘play-acting’.  However this is very far from the truth as anyone who has had any involvement with amateur theatre will be quick to tell you.  Amateurs take their theatre every bit as seriously as professionals, in fact sometimes more so as it is a hobby that they are choosing to spend their hard earned leisure time pursuing. 

My husband Tony and I have come to amateur theatre as a hobby, having spent a great deal of our professional lives involved in drama one way or another.  Tony began his career in stage management having attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, whilst I have spent the last 30 years as a teacher of English and Drama at various secondary schools in South London. Working in professional theatre is a gruelling experience.  Your social life tends to begin at about 10.30 at night when the show ends and your friendships tend to centre round your work colleagues.  It does not fit well with family life and this is why so many people leave stage management to work for the industries that supply theatre with lights, special effects, staging or, in Tony’s case, track systems.   

But theatre is something that eats away at you and once you have the bug there is no escape.  As a teacher of A Level Drama I attend the theatre with the students at least once a week and sometimes more often when there are shows that ‘I cannot bear to miss’.  Sometimes I go alone, sometimes we go as a couple and occasionally we go as a threesome, having produced a daughter who is equally as obsessed as we are.  These things are not always enough and, in Tony’s case, he needed to get back to the chalk face. 

It was about 6 years ago that we attended an amateur production of ‘Once a Catholic’ at Bromley Little Theatre.  It was a play very close to our hearts as it had been in repertoire at the Churchill Theatre, my husband’s place of work, the week we were married.  The set wobbled alarmingly every time anyone opened or closed a door, so I was not surprised when a few weeks later we were not only members but I had become an amateur theatre widow, losing my husband evenings and weekends to a workshop in the bowels of the theatre where masterpieces of design were being created.   

It didn’t take long though before other members of the family were roped in.  I have made cake and knitted booties and gloves for productions, I count the votes for the annual awards ceremony and I have even been known on occasion to run the bar!  And it doesn’t stop there!  On returning from university our daughter, who had spent almost as much time on drama as the zoology she was studying for her degree, spent no time at all before taking over running the props department, appearing in productions ranging from ‘Twelfth Night’ to ‘Oliver’ and stage managing the recent production of ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’. 

What is great about amateur theatre however is the fact that many local societies band together through the Little Theatre Guild.  This means that our friendship circle is ever widening and that there are opportunities to share props and costumes, advice and expertise.  A kitchen range made for ‘The Beauty Queen of Leenane’ at Bromley Little Theatre has graced the stage at Theatre 62, West Wickham in their performance of ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ as well as BLTs own recent production.  It was also loaned out to Forshort Theatre Company in Beckenham for their performance of ‘The Lonesome West’.  A recent phenomenon is the one year window allowing amateur theatre to put on the play ‘Calendar Girls’.  This has popped up in the repertoire of almost every amateur theatre company in the country.  The obvious need for a stage load of sunflowers at the end of the performance has led to companies again sharing resources (3) and all the local productions donate to Cancer Research in return for borrowing the ubiquitous prop.

Amateur, when referring to theatre, does not mean inexpert, slapdash, incompetent or substandard, all words that come up as synonyms. There will always be some performers who turn in a stronger performance than others, but that is true of the professional theatre too.  It is also true that when services are being given free-of-charge, you sometimes have to cast from those who audition rather than from those who you would like to audition.  But amateur theatre is all about people in the local community coming together, and all communities are made up of a variety of characters who have to learn to rub along together.  Whether you are great at making cake or coffee, counting ticket stubs or pouring drinks, acting, directing, set building or costuming there is a place in a little theatre just waiting for you.  Check out the little theatre website(1) or the amateur theatre magazine Sardines website(2)  and perhaps you too might find an unexpectedly rewarding opportunity.



(3) Sample of advert for shared material can be seen at



Caroline Anne Jenner is a graduate of Warwick University.  She teaches English and drama at Bromley High School (Girls' Day School Trust) in Bromley, Kent.