For March’s issue of Your Local Link I had a grand chat with some of the area’s most vibrant amateur dramatic companies. In fact, I had so much fun speaking to these fantastic thespians that I completely lost track of time, meaning we couldn’t fit all their dazzlingly dramatic dialogue into our pleasingly portable printed pages.
But worry not stage spectators, for the magical Your Local Link internet machine is up and running (at least that’s what we hope the red blinking light indicates…), enabling us to beam wonderful words right on to your screens at home. So sit back (but not too far – you’ll hurt your eyes) and enjoy this special in-depth feature on our shiny new blog.
To begin, I should mention that my own theatrical experience is somewhat limited. In my salacious stage past, I have three performance highlights; a dancing sea monster (to a ‘Yellow Submarine’ karaoke tune), Ross in Macbeth (who? I still don’t know what he had to do with absolutely anything), and one of the girls in the musical Annie (my only line was “Santa Claus: who’s that? Who’s he?!”). However, I still loved playing all these parts and each time I knew it wouldn’t be long before I found myself back on the boards. So when the chance came to exchange words with some of York’s committed companies, I knew it’d be a great opportunity to find out more about our exciting Am-Dram community.
A Sweet Start
My first chat was with Caroline Heppell from the Rowntree Players, and she told me all about history of the company. Did you know the company was originally known as the Cocoa Works Dramatic Society, as the cast did all their rehearsals inside the Rowntree Chocolate Factory? Personally I think it’s a fantastic location, though it’s a shame that it preceded Roald Dahl’s chocolaty tale by more than a few years (it definitely would’ve added a touch of authenticity to an Oompa Loompa ensemble!). “The company’s first production, Pinero’s ‘Sweet Lavender’, was at the De Grey Rooms in York. For one Cocoa Works employee this was his first and last appearance as he was reprimanded by his chief for spending too much time on rehearsals, having late nights and using the office telephone excessively while selling tickets!” Caroline tells me. Sounds like a rebellious start – who knew community theatre could be so controversial!? It didn’t deter the company’s efforts though; “For many years productions were held in the staff canteen of the factory, but now all productions are at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.” At least there they can avoid being told off!
Celebrating its 100th birthday this September, the Rowntree Players have had some varied members over the past century – and that includes a few famous faces, too. Planning to see The Woman in Black when it hits the silver screen? It’ll be featuring an alumnus of the company, Janet McTeer, playing the part of Elizabeth. She’s had a great career since her start at the Rowntree Players, working on stage and screen, and she was recently nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film Albert Nobbs. It definitely proves that York’s companies are a great launching-pad for aspiring actors and actresses who have their eyes set on the big time.
York’s Dramatic Core
I caught up with Kate Bramley, the Artistic Director for Badapple Theatre Company, to find out how their company has made a name for itself. When it started back in 1998, Badapple was mostly inspired by human stories from around the area. “Our first tour in Hull was a play about Amy Johnson, who was the pioneer aviatress from the area. So we originally conceived to look at stories which had a local or biographical resonance.” Kate told me. “Doing this has taken us on two divergent paths as the company became more successful,” she continued. “One of our biggest plays was one called Still Marylyn, which was about Marylyn Monroe. That took us down one path in terms of the biography side. And then more recently we’ve gone back to the very regional sort of stories again, so we’ve moved away from biography. We’ve recently had a play about James Herriot, so that gives you an idea!”
One of Badapple’s unique features is that it produces an original script almost every major play which it stages, with Kate herself usually taking the helm and writing the bulk of each piece. But I was particularly interested in how the theme and content of these plays is chosen, as the line between public appeal and personal creativity must be a tricky line to walk when you’re creating an original full-length play for every new tour. “There’s definitely a discussion among the core members,” Kate tells me. “It’s a case of getting to a point where we know our audience. We’re always trying to challenge and do something a bit different but at the same time we’re always looking for stories that would appeal to people.”
“And sometimes audience members come to us with ideas for stories. In fact, the most successful tour we’ve had in the last decade was a play about the women’s Land Army, the Land Girls. That idea came from a local woman in our village who was a Land Army girl and worked on the fields during war time; it was her suggestion after seeing one of our shows that we should look into it and the subject. So we interviewed her and then interviewed a number of her contemporaries, and that was where that particular play came from. So sometimes we’re lucky enough to stumble across stories that people come to us with, and that’s brilliant”.
The Write Words
However, with all creative processes there is a degree of alteration and refinement as things get going. “We’ll have a draft ready, and some of the actors will be on board to read part of that and see how it flows,” says Badapple’s Kate. “We’ll see whether we need to make it funnier, or put more music, or something along those lines. After that, it goes through another re-writing process, which continues throughout rehearsals. We’ll always do a little bit of editing almost right up to the first night”.
“When you get people working on a play which is brand new, they’ll often find little nooks and crannies that you hadn’t realised before; in some cases, these can be exploited to make the story stronger or funnier. We specialise almost entirely in comedy now, so you always need other people to assess whether it’ll be funny for an audience.”
Setting the Stage
But the process of deciding on a suitable play is one which all theatre companies experience and deal with in a unique way. Carol Richardson from the New Earswick Musical Society (founded in 1914) explained how her company approaches this recurring challenge. “You’ve got to do something which appeals to the audience, or you think is going to appeal,” she told me. “And you’ve got to do something that you can cast, or you believe you’re going to be able to cast, so it’s going to attract people into the company. You need enough interest to sell tickets and break-even: that’s the big one!” She talked me through how the ideas are actually selected. “It’s done at committee. But having said that, anybody who has got an idea feeds it into a committee member and then it’s basically open to suggestion. We bat the ideas around at a meeting, then we’ll get the script and score to read. We’ll see how many people need to be in the orchestra, and work up the practicalities of how we could put it on and go from there. Not all plays are available – like South Pacific, which is only available for school productions at the moment. So you might want to do a specific play, but you’ve got to check that they are all available. So it’s a very, very difficult decision, it’s always very difficult to choose the next show.”
We’re all looking forward to seeing what York’s theatrical community comes out with next, and we’ll keep listing all the highlights in our monthly magazine. Now get out there and see some theatre!
Find out more -
For York Stage Musicals call 0870 7705753 or visit www.yorkstagemusicals.co.uk
For the York Light Opera Society email email@example.com or visit www.yorklight.com
For the Flying Ducks Youth Theatre call 761806 or visit www.flyingducksyouththeatre.com
For Six Lips Theatre Company visit www.sixlips.co.uk
For the York Musical Theatre Company call 704520 or visit www.yorkmusicaltheatrecompany.org.uk
For the York Settlement players email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.yorksettlementplayers.wordpress.com/
For the York Shakespeare Project email email@example.com or visit www.yorkshakespeareproject.org