IT’S THE WEEKEND: Money doesn’t count for variety of performers

IT’S THE WEEKEND: Money doesn’t count for variety of performers

PLAYGOERS: The cast of Vicar of Dibley who performed at the Doleman Theatre

Being part of amateur dramatic groups involves hours of rehearsals, costumes changes and time off work. CARYS THOMAS takes a look behind the curtain of amateur theatre.

AMATEUR dramatic groups are thriving in the Gwent area with a range of youth groups through to operatic societies. With funding for the arts being cut, theatre groups such as these are now more important than ever.

Rosie Bissex has been involved with amateur dramatics all her life starting as a young girl when she joined the Newport Playgoers, based at the Dolman Theatre.

She said: “I have been involved in the Playgoers for the last 50 years. I was a member when it first started at the chapel – I remember my first role as a black and white dog.

“The gargoyles which used to be inside the ceiling chapel are now in the foyer of the Dolman.”

Ms Bissex has been an actress with the Playgoers with roles including Juliet, Snow Queen and Ophelia.

She said: “Playing Lady Macbeth is my one ambition. I think amateur theatre allows you to play a whole variety of roles which you might not get to play if you went professional.

“People think the word amateur is negative – that is means that it will be rubbish. But amateur actually means lover of. You do it because you love it because you don’t get paid – most of the time it costs you.”

She has now gone on to sit in the directors chair with the Playgoers and directed the Vicar of Dibley performance in November.

She said: “They were marvellous – the cast give so much of their time and effort . They do this because they have a tremendous love of the theatre. Many people have used the Dolman as a launch pad for all types of art.”

Ms Bissex’s love of theatre stemmed from her mother who was involved in the Monmouthshire drama league and made elaborate Elizabethan costumes.

She said: “I was about six and had a call while I was at Gaer school – the play was a one man play and the girl was ill. I had to learn all the lines for the part that afternoon.

“I lost my father when I was nine-years-old. The theatre is a wonderful place to be if you’re going through a difficult trauma.”

The Playgoers have been based at the Dolman since it was first opened in 1967 and boasts around 900 members putting on eight plays in a season which runs from September to June.

They are currently rehearsing for the production of Dick Barton Special Agent which will be showcased in January.

Sue Morgan, director of Dick Barton Special Agent, said: “I’ve been involved with the Playgoers since 1979. I started off as scenery painter – I’m a bit of a jack of all trades really. I have been in charge of props, assistant director and now director.

“The best part of it for me is seeing someone get into a role and really develop as an actor.”

The Brynmawr Operatic Society was founded in 1957 and perform one show a year at the Brynmawr Market Hall.

Ruth Fouracre, chairman of the Brynmawr Operatic Society, said: “We use the stage for all of our shows. I don’t know what we would have done if it was closed down.”

“We have members who travel from Porthcawl which is around 100 miles to come to this theatre group.”

The problem of funding is a common issue which amateur theatre groups have to combat with costs of up to £1,800 per production according to Mrs Fouracre.

She said: “It costs so much to put on a performance with all the costumes and the lighting. We have to do fundraising events to raise the money.

“We have a raffle coming up to win Six Nation’s tickets and a duck race at the end of December.”

Mrs Fouracre first got involved with the society after her daughter joined the group.

She said: “We are still going strong at the moment – our numbers have dwindled. We are in real need of males at the moment.”

The group are currently rehearsing for their production of Guys and Dolls which will be showcased in March.

Eileen Batten, 84, member of Brymawr Operatic Society, said: “It’s such a wonderful organisation to be a part of – you get to meet such a lovely group of people. I have been a member since 1958 and I’ve had such a wonderful time.

“My favourite part was playing mother superior in ‘The Sound of Music’. I got to sing ‘Climb Every Mountain’ – it was just so special.”

Lisa Aston-Griffiths, theatre manager at the Dolman Theatre, for the past six years, believes amateur theatre is a family affair and encourages parents to take part in their children’s youth groups.

She said: “My mum and dad were heavily involved in musicals ans Playgoers used to drag me with them all the time. I was involved with dance shows as a child and all my children are involved with theatre – it’s a family thing.”

“I think the theatre is great for the children – they love it and it keeps them off the streets. I always knew where my children were – they were always involved with the theatre.

“The children that are coming through now are so talented – their shows are West End quality. The children love being on stage and performing.”

The Dolman Theatre Works, which currently has 44 members ranging from 11 to 18-years-old, are rehearsing for their production of Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist. The company are producing the play adaptation and not the musical number which Mrs Aston-Griffiths believes is closer to Dicken’s novel.

She said: “The children are very shy when they come here. It gives them confidence. It teaches them skills such as how to work as a team and lots of things like that.

“Confidence is the main thing but they also make lots of new friends. The theatre in Newport is especially great for children.”

With pantomime season approaching the Abergavenny Pantomime Company, the oldest pantomime company in Wales, are currently in rehearsals for Rumpelstiltskin at the Borough Theatre. The company which started in 1932 received three National Operatic Dramatic Association awards in May 2013 for the best show poster, best standard souvenir show programme and also for the best technical production for their production of Peter Pan.

Andrea Marfell, a member of Abergavenny Pantomime said: “I enjoy all the aspects of the theatre from behind the scenes to the front of the stage to watching and supporting the other companies in our community. I have met and gained some great friends from all different backgrounds through the company.

“My favourite part was playing Cinderella’s step mother and I was nominated in the local A4B Awards for best supporting actress as Wendy and the boys mother in Peter Pan.”

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