Many people in the UK have, at one point or another, taken part in amateur dramatics. Amateur theatre has played an important role in building community spirit for centuries. Not only has it given a platform for untrained performers to grace the limelight, it has also acted as a springboard for some performers to hone their skills and launch professional careers.
The term “amateur”, in its strictest sense, refers to someone who performs their services as a pastime, and without remuneration. Unfortunately, it has also become a derogatory term to describe something that is of a lower standard. This is not always the case, and many amateur drama societies manage to produce shows of a very high standard by engaging the services of professional directors and musicians.
In order to raise the standard of amateur theatre, share skills, and give a voice to drama societies, several umbrella associations have been formed in the UK. The oldest of these is the National Operatic and Dramatic Association (NODA), which was formed in 1899. NODA’s membership is made up of 2500 amateur theatre groups and 1000 individuals, who stage musicals, operas, plays, concerts, and pantomimes. Other such organisations include the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain (LTG) formed in 1946, and the National Drama Festivals Association (NDFA), formed in 1964. There are also regional organisations, such as the Scottish Community Drama Association (SCDA), the Drama Association of Wales (DAW), and the Association of Ulster Drama Festivals (AUDF). These organisations help organise annual festivals and competitions.
One of the world’s biggest amateur drama festivals is the International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. The festival was founded in 1994 in Buxton and presents three weeks of performances of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Operas by amateur societies every summer. In 2014, the festival moved to Harrogate, where it’s currently set to remain until 2018.