When did you start getting involved in shows? It's a question frequently asked to the theatre community, and one of the most popular answers you'll get in return is that they started when they were very young; after-school clubs, weekend theatre schools and a whole lot of pairs of shoes (thanks mum!). But the question that should be asked is what made them want to get involved in theatre in the first place? What is it about getting up on stage that made them so happy that they carried on doing it? Why do they love going to see shows and immersing themselves in this fantastical world?
On the hunt for some willing participants (not too hard to find in the theatre community I'm sure you can imagine), I thought I'd ask the question. The great thing about talking to people about something they're passionate about is seeing their eyes light up. It's like they come alive talking about it, barely containing their excitement as they share their story with you.
I started off approaching quite a young age group. Aside from their parents wanting a break for a few hours, I wondered what this group of under tens really thought of this stagey malarky. I wasn't sure what answer to expect but ended up with a lot of smiley responses telling me they liked singing and dancing, and that's why they did it. Simple and to the point.
I also asked why they liked going to watch shows. The best answer was 'because of the comfy seats.'
The general consensus and the words that kept coming up were fun and exciting. My 11-year-old stepson has been involved in theatre from a young age and seems to enjoy it, though knowing his sense of humour and how easily distracted he is I wasn't sure what he would say when I asked him why he likes doing it. This was his answer.
'It's just the feeling of being someone else. Being able to be whatever you want to be.'
How perfect is that? You get to be whatever character you want. There aren't any boundaries. Want to be a lion? Sure thing! Fancy yourself as the Wicked Witch of the West? Go for it! A puppeteer? Why not? As an 11-year-old with two siblings to compete with, whilst coming to the end of his Primary School phase, maybe having that form of escapism from his everyday life is just the outlet he needs.
Now that was the only answer I managed to glean from him, but it intrigued me. If this young boy could give me such an honest response, what would older children say?
I approached a chorus of performers coming to the end of their college years, their whole future ahead of them, and asked them the same questions.
One young lady told me she joined a theatre group with a friend of hers just so she would have something to do outside of school. It's becoming clearer that young people really do use it as a way to relax and escape from outside pressures, to hang out with friends and have a laugh performing together. And why shouldn't it be just that?
One of the most incredible answers I got came from a girl I directed in a show earlier this year.
'For me, musical theatre has been such a blessing. I’ve danced from a young age as most girls do, but I truly fell in love with it as I grew older and knew that musical theatre was my career choice. It’s so inspiring watching shows that people can relate to and ultimately be moved by, to then go away feeling better than they did when they came in. I think to call such an art form your job is amazing and that’s what I aspire to do. There is nothing like the buzz of creating magic onstage with others who have the same dedication and love for theatre and making others happy! And that’s why I want to make people happy for a living.' - Chloe Gill
I mean stop me if I'm wrong but is that not the most lovely reason for wanting to perform? To make people happy. I also love the description of watching shows that move you in a way you didn't think possible, finding aspects you can relate to in order to inspire you as you leave the theatre. Every time I see a show, I think about which parts I would want to play and what songs I want to sing. Anybody else have that?
As the answers I received were getting longer the older I ventured, I thought, why stop there? I messaged a friend of mine who now spends his days singing at Trecco Bay:
'As I grew up, my family knew I had an interest in singing, after growing up on Disney, so took me to see some musicals. One I remember seeing was Billy Elliott, and I was blown away - to see a boy play Billy who wasn’t much older than me, who not only had to sing but dance and act as well. After that, I asked my parents how I could get into that industry, and they found a couple of amateur dramatic companies in my hometown who would support youngsters who wanted to be on stage. I always loved the support I got from my parents and friends, and how many hours my fellow cast members and I would put in week after week to get to perform the show a couple of times for an audience. The incredible buzz you got after nailing that giant monologue you had rehearsed over and over again in your bedroom. Holding on to that beautiful note at the end of a solo as the audience were on the edge of their seats. It’s a feeling which is unforgettable.'
It's true, isn't it? You work for weeks or months on something for just a couple of performances, simply so you can feel that buzz again. Addictive, right?
So what's his take on watching musicals?
'The main reason I and many others enjoy watching musicals is to escape to a different world and forget about your own problems and focus on someone else’s (which sounds ridiculous but trust me, most people get it). It’s a different feeling from watching a film to seeing someone who also has a passion to entertain doing it live up to 8 times a week. There’s some wonderfully talented people all over the world who love being on stage and deserve to be there. Overall, musicals played a massive part of my childhood/younger years, and without having the experiences I had, I wouldn’t be where I am now.' - George Stacey
Escapism again! It's a common theme, but the other thing I like about his response is that it highlights the family vibe in the theatre community. It's always implied that we're a bitchy bunch, but generally, when you're watching other performers onstage, you get a strange sense of pride seeing their performance and knowing that you are also involved in that art form.
And the stories don't stop there. Some friends of mine who run It's all an act podcast, a focus on sharing their insights and love of amdram theatre (you'll find them on the On Stage Blog podcast page), had some great stories to share. Whose story can you relate to?
'At school, I found it was really hard to find a subject that I looked forward to and actually enjoyed. My friends were enjoying things like history or P.E or maths, whereas the only thing I seemed to enjoy was drama, music, and dance, which luckily my school at the time offered those subjects for GSCE and A-level. I find school quite pressuring in the way you have to do exams and are forced to try and find a career, so doing drama, music, and dance, I was quite lucky to have amazing teachers that supported me and gave me the confidence to say I actually have talent. I then took on any extracurricular I could outside of school, both amateur/community theatre and professional training and it sort of took off from there.
When watching a show, whether it was my first show I ever saw or the last show I saw, I love going into this other world and being immersed in that show. I always get this passion and drive watching shows of always wanting to be onstage with them. Most of the time, I admire the actors themselves on how they can create these characters and take us on a journey. There will always be one character I can relate to, which I know a lot of people do, and seeing that come to life before my eyes allows me to transfer that into my own performances.
I enjoy being able to do what I love. The energy, adrenaline, and confidence you get when performing are incredible.' Anna Neary
'I think I first decided I enjoyed theatre when I was about 5 - I joined stagecoach because I wanted to do something that wasn't a sport and my mum probably wanted some alone time on a Saturday morning. I did that for ten years, and from there on out, I just carried on doing it. I love performing just because it's super fun. It's a bit of an adrenaline rush, but also you just get to basically mess around on stage with friends for 2 hours (and potentially get paid for it).
The rehearsal process is always fun, which adds to the whole thing, and you always get a kick out of putting on a production that makes people have a good night and feel something.
I like watching theatre just because it's entertainment. It's like asking why people go to the cinema, I guess; it's a bit of escapism, and it's good fun. I'm also very critical, so I enjoy watching to evaluate the show, think about what I liked and what I didn't, and thinking about how I'd act or direct it differently myself.' - Tom Hazelden
'I got into theatre quite late actually; it wasn’t until secondary school. I obviously did the nativities and stuff, but nothing serious. I didn't do a stagecoach kind of thing as mum couldn't afford it.
I loved drama at school. It was a release for me, a chance for me to be somebody else for a little moment. To not worry about what was going on in the world around me. To be lost in the characters, the story and the feel of performing. That buzz you get from performing - the pre-show butterflies, the empty belly feeling when you first step on stage and the applause you get at the end - you can’t, and I have not felt that anywhere else.' - Jaz Wilson
For me, I think there are elements of each that I can relate to, but what I've discovered is that it doesn't matter what age we are when we start involving ourselves in theatre. We do it because it makes us and others happy. Jaz actually sent me one last sentence that I think sums it up really well.
'There is a reason they call it the theatre bug and I believe that it is in us all; it just depends on how you wish to express it.'