For Love or Money? Collaboration between Amateur and Professional Theatre

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Drama and Theatre

Abstract

Professional theatre-makers often view their amateur counterparts with suspicion or even derision. Frequently assumed to be artistically conservative, the creative output of amateur dramatics companies is often stereotyped, with the consequence that there appears to be very little formal contact between the two artistic communities. In practice, however, the twenty-first century is redefining what is meant by amateur participation and the boundaries between amateur and professional theatre are rather more blurred than is popularly believed. This research both responds to the contemporary 'amateur turn' in the arts, and recognises that amateur theatre is a form of cultural participation that has sustained the interest of many people over decades. It will test the assumption there is little contact between professional and amateur theatre-makers and will analyse why, how and when amateur dramatic companies and professional theatre-makers work together.

For Love or Money? Collaboration between Amateur and Professional Theatre analyses three contexts in which different sectors work together. With the Royal Shakespeare Company as a leading partner, the research will investigate the RSC's Open Stages Programme, the first large-scale project that seeks to establish formal artistic partnerships between a major professional theatre company and amateur theatres. Amateur companies who are selected for the Open Stages Programme are often highly organised, bringing a professional attitude to their productions and producing work that RSC professionals identify as high quality. We will analyse the impact of the RSC's intervention on the artistic practices and creative processes of their amateur theatre partners and, reciprocally, we will examine how engagement with amateurs is influencing policy and practice at the RSC. This raises questions about how artistic quality and cultural value are understood within these two artistic communities, and considers how this form of professional-amateur collaboration might be developed in the future.

Second, the research will investigate the work of professional theatre-makers employed by amateur theatre companies. Amateur theatre companies often hire professional musicians, musical directors and choreographers to work with them on their productions. Some playwrights are sustained by selling rights for amateur productions and professionalised adjudicators' accept lucrative bookings to judge competitive festivals. The research will analyse how the work of trained and professional theatre-makers shapes and defines the repertoire, influences production values and impacts on the culture of amateur theatre in national festivals and local productions.

Third, we will investigate the social and economic impact of amateur theatre on professional theatres. This strand of the research will investigate how audiences for amateur theatre contribute to the economic viability of regional theatres, many of whom have struggled to survive in an area of low funding. It will analyse what, if anything, can be learnt from the successful operations of building-based amateur theatres. The research will investigate the opportunities, contradictions, tensions and mutual dependency between the two sectors, and how this speaks to wider (and neoliberal) political agendas.

These three research contexts will illuminate distinctions between professional and amateur knowledge, investigating where and how boundaries between amateurism and professionalism are drawn. This research raises pressing questions about artistic quality, cultural value and the contribution amateurs make to the cultural economies of different of forms of professional theatre, whether it is commercial, subsidised, or the work of freelance theatre-makers. The study has far-reaching implications, with the potential to shape cultural policy and creative practice in ways that recognise the opportunities that cross-sector collaboration invites.

Planned Impact

This research has impact at its core, and has great potential to influence a wide range of beneficiaries. It will benefit new partnerships between professional and amateur theatres, and will impact on the extensive networks with amateur organisations and theatre-makers (both inside and outside the remit of the RSC's Open Stages project). There is significant potential for professionals and amateurs to learn from each other as artists, craftspeople, technicians, as theatre managers, producers and funders. As such, there are three core groups who will benefit from this research:

1) Amateur dramatic companies involved in the RSC Open Stages Programme and associated amateur theatre organisations. They will benefit from developing a clear understanding of the ways in which their artistic skills, craft and repertoire have been influenced by working alongside professional theatre-makers. The research will provide evidence for how, why and if learning becomes embedded, and identify methodologies and opportunities for amateur organisations to shape equitable partnerships with professional theatre in the future.

2) Professional theatre-makers and producers involved in amateur theatres, both at the RSC and as individual musicians, choreographers, playwrights and adjudicators employed by individual amateur theatre companies. Professional theatre-makers will gain evidence of the impact of their mentoring and skills development on the working practices of amateur companies and their performances. They will benefit from research that tests assumptions about 'high quality' production values and rehearsal processes when professional theatre-makers work in amateur settings.

3) Cultural policy-makers, building-based amateur theatre companies, regional theatres and funders of collaborations between amateur and professional theatre sectors. This research will provide a database of collaborative projects, evidence of the impact of amateur-professional collaborations artistically and creatively, and demonstrate how this can sustain the wider cultural economy. Because of its emphasis on cross-sector partnership, this research is very well placed attract the attention of cultural policy-makers, including Arts Council England and charitable trusts, who have taken little account of amateur theatre in the past.

The project has the full support of all the major amateur theatre associations in the UK, including The Little Theatre Guild (LTG), National Operatic and Drama Association (NODA), Voluntary Arts (VA) and The Guild of Adjudicators (GODA), as well as the RSC as a partner. The Swan Theatre in Worcester and the Northcott Exeter represent two different regional theatres who to varying degrees depend on collaboration with amateurs for their survival. Their generosity in sharing their experiences will enable policy-makers and other theatres to understand the implications of this situation. The depth of partnership we have already established with many different amateur theatres and amateur organisations will ensure that the research is well supported during the process and widely distributed.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description For Love or Money? Collaboration Between Amateur and Professional Theatre (2016-2017) has developed an understanding of the reciprocal relationship between amateur and professional theatre-makers in the twenty-first century, demonstrating how far, and in what ways, such collaborations are blurring boundaries between the sectors. In the performing arts, the changing face of amateurism is evidenced by the number of nationally-subsidised professional theatres that have taken to incorporating amateur and non-professional performers in their work. Findings are focused on three contexts; the dynamic relationship between amateurs and professional theatre-makers in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Open Stages Programme; the contribution made by professional theatre-makers employed by amateur theatre companies; and the economic benefits of amateur theatre as a business and an enterprise to professional theatre. The research findings contribute to a picture of how amateurism and professionalism are differentiated, defined, experienced and contested in practice. By situating the research firmly in the context of practice, our research illuminates how the affective labour of theatre-making is enacted and understood within and across the amateur-professional divide today, and identifies opportunities for future collaboration.
Research on Royal Shakespeare Company's Open Stages Programme offers one model of cross-sector collaboration. By sharing their practical and cultural resources with amateur companies across the UK, the RSC offered non-professional artists new access to the types of performance techniques commonly used in professional rehearsal rooms. Recognition from the RSC provided many of the programme's amateur participants affirmation that their work is of value. Reciprocally, our research shows that individual artists involved in Open Stages as professional practitioners have found their work with amateurs inspiring, challenging and eye-opening. The research demonstrates the value of professional-subsidised organisations' relationships with their communities and shows how professional involvement strengthens communities of amateur theatre-makers.
Our research shows that the boundaries between professional theatre-makers employed by amateur theatre companies and amateur theatre-makers are porous. Professional sound engineers, for example, offer their services to amateur theatre companies where they can experiment with new approaches and sometimes new technologies in ways that they find creative. Musical Directors, set designers and choreographers often regard amateur fees as part of a portfolio career in the arts, or as a stepping-stone to further professional theatre work. Our research shows that amateur theatre companies employ professional practitioners to improve the quality of their productions, and it is the quest for quality that leads them to enter festivals with paid adjudicators. Skilled adjudicators are much in demand, and many gain credibility if they are also members of amateur theatre companies. Professionally-trained actors may lend their expertise to amateur companies as one way to play leading roles and develop their skills. This porousness between sectors suggests that amateurism is a practice rather than a fixed identity, opening new ways to conceptualise amateur participation in theatre.
The economic benefits of amateur theatre as a business and an enterprise to professional theatre have been more difficult to assess due to commercial sensitivities of regional theatres. Findings demonstrate high level of box office and bar sales in regional theatres when amateur companies perform, but this does not always translate into audiences for professional touring theatres, suggesting that there is more work to be done on audience building. Playwrights and publishers of plays report that new plays have been kept alive though amateur performance, sometimes providing good sources of income for playwrights. We are currently mapping the contribution amateur theatre as a business makes, and our findings include a new on-line mapping tool that will gather appropriate data.

Taken together, our findings show overwhelmingly that collaborations between amateur and professional theatre-makers challenge cultural assumptions about the value of theatre as a community activity. This contributes, we claim, to the 'amateur turn' in professional theatre which is documented in our edition of Contemporary Theatre Review.
Exploitation Route The research findings might be used by professional theatre companies who are interested in extending collaborations with amateur theatre companies. The research might be used to show the potential and pitfalls of such partnerships, and how they might learn from the past to inform the future. Amateur theatre companies might use evidence for developing equitable partnerships with professionals, and how to improve production values and the cultural capital of amateur theatre through such collaborations.
Cultural policy-makers on a local and national level might use the research to encourage amateur-professional collaboration and to make greater use of amateur theatre as a cultural asset and to recognise the contribution amateur theatre makes to the wider cultural economy. Furthermore, clarification about the role of amateur theatre participants, as well as audiences, provides evidence for funding bodies as well as policymakers for how amateur theatre contributes to the nations cultural economy.
Academics from different disciplines might use the definitions of amateur, professional, non-professional and community theatre-makers that have their own genealogies and histories. Addressing distinctions of practice also reveals divisions of labour and judgments of taste, which challenge orthodox use of terminology surrounding this contested area.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.amateurdramaresearch.com
 
Description There is already new understanding of the potential for amateur-professional collaborations in theatre. The Royal Shakespeare Company is using our research to develop their programme of skills-sharing with amateurs, and there is growing evidence of increased collaboration between the two sectors. Voluntary Arts have used clearer definitions of amateur theatre in their policy-briefings, and it has appeared in other grey literature reports (e.g. Kings College London Towards Cultural Democracy). Our research is informing collaborations between non-professional theatre-makers and the professional sector, particularly at the National Theatre. The findings have been used by amateur associations and also by publishers of plays to argue that contemporary theatre is thriving in amateur settings. There is also renewed interest in amateurs from professional theatres, including collaborations with Young Vic, National Theatre, Queen's Theatre Hornchurch and Cast, Doncaster. This is leading to discussion about the barriers to the profession, and how they can be eroded. The research has been used by Arts Council England to inform their thinking about the role of the amateur sector in policy, leading to discussions with the Little Theatre Guild. The Little Theatre Guild is using the research to develop a policy for diversity and inclusion in the amateur sector.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

 
Description Advisory Group: Cultural Value Scoping Project
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Policy Briefing Arts Council England
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Arts Council England
Amount £17,000 (GBP)
Organisation Royal National Theatre 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 10/2018
 
Description Little Theatre Guild 
Organisation Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This partnership evolved during the project and the research team contributed to conferences, policy and brokering discussions with professional policy-makers.
Collaborator Contribution Offering access to theatres, introductions, contributing to symposia and steering groups.
Impact There have been several reports generated by the project, including: Reflections on amateur Theatre research; For Love or Money? Collaboration Between Amateur and Professional Theatre in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Open Stages Programme. The collaboration also contributed to a new publication, The Ecologies of Amateur Theatre, published by Palgrave, and co-authored Helen Nicholson, Nadine Holdsworth and Jane Milling. The findings of the project showed that amateur theatre contributes to well-being and feelings of belonging, and place-making in towns and villages, as well as cities.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Royal National Theatre 
Organisation Royal National Theatre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Helen Nicholson is leading the research on the National Theatre's new programme, Public Acts. This involves researching the ways in which theatre-making impacts on non-professional performers, and how it influences the lives of communities.
Collaborator Contribution The RNT has commissioned research, providing opportunities for researchers to undertake an ethnographic study of workshops and rehearsals.
Impact The first year of Public Acts generated significant press interest, citing my research (though unattributed). The first year of the research has been reported on, and this used to gather information about the project and to generate further funds and public interest. The research has demontrated that participation in theatre has generated significant feelings of belonging. The second year is now underway, and the findings are being applied to practice.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Royal Shakespeare Company Open Stages 
Organisation Royal Shakespeare Company
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution This collaboration has resulted in findings related to the Open Stages Programme, the first national collaborations between professional and amateur theatre organisations. The RSC contributed to policy documents, events and reports with key policy-makers led by the research team. It has also enabled depth of collaboration on the effects of amateur theatre on professionals, and vice-versa.
Collaborator Contribution The RSC provided access to rehearsals, performances and theatre practitioners. they also contributed expertise to the research through their reflections on experience.
Impact For Love or Money?: Collaboration Between Amateur and Professional Theatre in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Open Stages Programme (Grey Literature Impact Report) For Love or Money? Collaborations between amateur and professional theatre (Grey Literature Impact Report) The Ecologies of Amateur Theatre, (Palgrave, 2018), Nicholson, Holdsworth and Milling
Start Year 2016
 
Description Amateur Theatre organisati0on: GoDA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The Guild of Drama Adjudicators invited talk at their annual conference. The feedback was that it was inspiring, and the discussion sparked questions about how amateur theatre might change to attract more young people from diverse backgrounds.

The organisation reported a change in thinking about how the jobs market has altered how young people see their commitment to amateur theatre, and how they can accommodate more flexible lifestyles.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Amateur and Professional Theatres 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was a talk to practitioners and theatre-makers in Nordic countries. It sparked questions about how the boundaries between amateur, community and professional theatre are constructed in different contexts and settings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description London Theatre Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact 30 people attended a seminar in London university dedicated to the research. Debates included the aesthetics of amateur theatre, and how this related to cognate research in popular theatre. The event generated debate about inclusions and exclusions in the academy, and how judgments of taste have been determined the focus of research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description RAPPT: Amateur theatre conference presentation Cork, Ireland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This was a conference for researchers (both amateur and professional) undertaking research on the history and current practices of amateur theatre. Discussion from our research project focused around the relationship between craft and community, and prompting discussion about how far this is changing in the digital era. The research team all contributed to this conference, generating interest in the range of research methods we used and the historical and geographical reach of our research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://rappt.org
 
Description Research Network 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation at AHRC network event, Incubate-Propagate, AHRC Research Network Grant, on amateur and professional theatre
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://incubate-propagate.com/
 
Description Symposium for Amateur Theatre-Makers and Theatre Professionals 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact 172 amateur theatre-makers attended a symposium, Reflections on Amateur Theatre Research on 17th September 2016. The purpose was to share research on a range of different areas and to bring together amateurs with professional archivists, publishers and theatre producers with members of amateur theatre organisations. It generated insights into the social and cultural significance of amateur theatre in the wider cultural ecology. Amateurs considered forms of archiving; the contribution to place-making and heritage and their place in the national repertoire.

The Little Theatre Guild reported increased visibility of amateur theatre, and greater understanding of their role in the cultural sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://amateurdramaresearch.com/
 
Description Symposium for Cultural Policy-makers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The symposium aimed to bring together leading representatives from cultural policy, charitable organisations, think-tanks and theatres (both amateur and professional). The symposium aimed to debate:
• how amateur theatre might contribute to current policy agendas
• potential for further cross-sector collaboration and partnership
• areas for further research.

It was attended by 25 leading cultural policy-makers, and raised important questions about the limits to participation, and the potential to extend this kind of activity. Delegates reported an increased understanding of amateur theatre, and how theatre shapes communities. It sparked debate about how future amateur-professional collaboration can be extended for mutual benefit.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Theatre and Performance Research Association 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Research papers offered by Nadine Holdsworth and Helen Nicholson sparked debates about the role of amateur theatre in the academy, and how the research methods and processes used to engage communities might be extended to other areas in theatre and performance research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016