"Why do we do it?"
This was Linda's question to me on our opening night last week, performing Alan Ayckbourn's Life and Beth with The Centralian Players, and is one that I invariably ask myself in the days approaching any live performance of our productions.
Every script becomes akin to a comfort blanket for each member of the cast, with us until moments before we walk onto the stage and returning once again to our nerve-ridden, sweaty palms almost as soon as we are off, soothing away the jitters just by being within easy reach. That, and the various sweets and cakes that people bring in, encouraging a quick comfort-munch before the next appearance.
At least, that's true for the more nervous amongst us. There are those that seem to be entirely at ease with the whole thing, of which there were at least three in the last production who were all calmly reading, studying or Smurf-ing (apparently, that's not a euphemism). Admittedly, they did have the fewest lines and appearances, but I can't say I would have been as calm in their shoes. Even being Stage Manager for Curtain Call set my nerves-a-jangling - I'd have been a natural for mixing 007's Martinis.
But why the nerves? We've had twelve weeks learning our lines, our characters and our moves, so we should feel confident, shouldn't we? Rationally, yes. Emotionally, well, that's something completely different.
Despite the rationalisation that it is highly unlikely for audience members to know a production word-for-word (though not completely impossible), nobody wants to forget their lines: partly because you work as a team so going awry can affect everyone else; and partly because absolutely nobody wants to be prompted. Yes, the prompt is there for a good reason and we should take reassurance in her presence, but there is a certain amount of personal pride in being able to get through a production without the need for a prod; though it is not unheard of for even the prompt to be at a loss when the performance takes an unexpected detour!
As if this weren't enough to worry about, we then have a tendency to pile on the stress surrounding the audience reactions. Are they responding as we had hoped, if at all? Are they getting into the production and feeling for the characters? Or have they all just fallen asleep?!
Then there is the little issue of reviews. We all know that these should be taken with a pinch of salt as they are the opinions of a single individual so, if you want to get a truer critique of a production, it is the audience response as a whole that you should really listen to. This is especially true for amateur dramatics groups where reviewers tend to be volunteers from one of the few associations designed to help promote and encourage 'AmDram', in a position to review the production purely by virtue of the fact they are the local representative.
However, despite this, we are still eager to read the reviews: happy with the good reviews and the fact the reviewer enjoyed the production as much as the rest of the audience; unhappy and defensive with the bad reviews and wondering if the reviewer was one of the sleepers.
This is all just a tiny fraction of what we, as a group, go through. There is also the set design, production design, set building, poster design, flyer design, programme design, costume design, make-up, lighting configuration and operation, special effects design, sound effects generation and publicity management ... all this and more, for just three nights performance.
Yes, that's right, three nights.
By now you should have started to echo the question at the beginning of this post: Why do we do it?
Well, it certainly isn't for the money or the fame - it's called Amateur Dramatics for a reason!
Everyone will have their own reasons for getting involved, but I wouldn't be surprised if others shared at least some my own views. For me, it is a perfect distraction from a long day at work, providing an excellent excuse to get away at a reasonable time as well as a perfect opportunity to mix with like-minded people who, it is fair to say, have become like a second family to me.
Also, despite the high levels of nervous tension during those three nights of live performance, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing an audience enjoying themselves and knowing that you have made a contribution to that.
So, why wouldn't we do it???