On Saturday I went to see the professional, touring performance of The Wedding Singer, starring Ray Quinn and Ruth Madoc. I’d performed in the show myself, last year, in a local, amateur theatre group. And, you know, I think ours was better.
Let me explain why.
On paper, the professional version was, well, much more professional. The sets, the acting, the dancing, the singing – it was high quality, note perfect and perfectly choreographed. But it lacked something important – soul.
My view is that this is because this is their day job. They do this every day (often twice) and are paid to do it. They don’t need audience appreciation – a standing ovation or good laugh at the right point is unlikely to mean anywhere near as much as it does to an amateur production. You see, an amateur group will be doing this for just a few nights, they get paid nothing and so their only payment is nailing their performance and getting maximum audience feedback. If we go on stage on the first night and a gag falls flat, you make changes to it for the second night and so on until you get it right. In the professional version, having done God know how many performances, many of the jokes were flat, with no-one laughing at them. Did the performers care? I suspect not. At times I could even some of the performers actually tuning out and staring off into the distance.
Let’s take 2 characters I know, as they were the ones I performed. In the opening number David Fonda, the drunk best man, ruins the wedding until Robbie steps. My characters was obviously very drunk, slurring, belching and falling over. He was obnoxious and really did help to ruin things. On the touring version, he was swigging from a wine bottle but otherwise didn’t seem too drunk. The actor seemed more concerned about nods and winks directed to the audience and, well, it fell flat. David Fonda should own that opening scene but, here, he didn’t. On the flip side the ‘Bum’ was good and they added some neat touches. But (and same actor again) too much time was spent gurning and playing to the audience. Oh, and those professional actors don’t like to take a fall – every fall was padded or obviously staged. Or is just me that likes to take a genuine hit and fall properly?
But that’s not to say an amateur performance is completely that. I’m sure this will differ, depending on theatre group, but from my own experience everyone in front of that stage – band, lighting, sound, etc – are paid, professionals. Sets and props are usually by the theatre group and costumes are often a combination of professional hires and those provided by the performers themselves. Everyone involved, with the exception of the performers, is usually paid. And it’s the performers that shine – enthusiastic performers who, unpaid, are doing this just for the love and all they want is for the audience to enjoy it.
Oh, and my ticket for The Wedding Singer tour was £38. For our performance last year, they were £13.
If you like theatre, musical or otherwise, and you’re not already supporting your local amateur productions, you really should and I guarantee you’ll be surprised.