Behind the scenes: what it’s like doing am dram

From Pinocchio. Photo by Miles Davies

Ever wondered what it’s like joining an amateur dramatics group?

Nobody said doing what you love is easy. Life gets in the way; children, jobs, bills. And before you know it, you can feel like your dreams of fame and fortune are lost. But perhaps not. If theatre is your dream, and you’ve ever wondered what it’s like doing am dram, we’re going to take you backstage to find out.

Meet some of the Southwick Players. The Players is a long-standing theatrical group based in Sussex presenting community theatre since 1935. Producing multiple shows a year, there’s everything from a mix of musicals, comedies, contemporary plays, to the classics.

And many of the Players directing, set-building, writing, making costumes, and acting are over 50. They’re busy proving that it’s never too late to engage that passion you might have put on the back burner.

Meet some of the Players

Ron Common

I do find it challenging to accept that I can’t be in every play

I’m a retired railwayman whose journey has been shaped by family, golf, painting, and an unexpected venture into theatre. 

Portrait photo of mature gentleman wearing a white shirt and blue blazer. Part of Silver's theatre over 50 profile

Ron Common

Getting into Southwick Players is a bit of a long story. My sister-in-law and her husband were members of Shoreham British Legion and someone came up with the idea of doing a panto, using a script written by a member during the war. I commuted to the panto rehearsals with a chap who was a member at Southwick. I turned up to learn more, and felt it was time to stretch myself. That was 31 years ago now.

Joining Southwick Players gave me the opportunity to direct my own first full-length play, Whose Life is it Anyway. I was fortunate in having an exceptional cast to work with for this very moving play. I’m often seen as always being ready for a laugh, and although I am, this showed my serious side.

Balancing rehearsals and performances has been made easier by my wonderful wife and previously patient and tolerant bosses. Now I’m retired, everything is much easier to fit around rehearsals.

Ron Common dressed in red kilt and matching exaggerated oversized hat. Silver Magazine am dram theatre over 50 article

Ron in A Christmas Cracker, 1997

I do find it challenging to accept that I can’t be in every play. Getting older means you can’t sing or dance as well as you used to, and learning lines becomes harder. I have to conquer my ego that says I should play lead in every production. But, that’s not to say you shouldn’t audition for the parts that feel right for you. Of course, the director has the final say when casting, but there are other ways to get involved in productions. I’m currently our props co-ordinator and archivist, and I’m soon to direct A Tale of Two Cities.

For anyone contemplating amateur dramatics, I’d say go for it. You’re never too old to try. Ok, there may not always be parts for someone your age but there may be in the next one. If you don’t fancy acting, there are plenty of other areas vital to production. 

Read more: My first time taking a holiday alone over 50

Chrissie Blount

Being a member has comforted me through many personal ups and downs

I enjoy a full life working part time, singing in choirs, volunteering, and of course being in Southwick Players. All despite being in my seventies. I had always enjoyed singing in school choirs and so on,

Portrait photo of mature woman with white bob and wearing red. Theatre over 50 profile

Chrissy Blount (Credit: Tom Faulkner)

but I didn’t really venture into theatre until about 30 years later, when I was chivvied by neighbours to help organise a panto to raise funds for the local village church hall roof. I ended up being the heroine (very badly cast!) and organising the songs. I was terrified, but it re-ignited my love for the theatre – watching, performing, singing and being part of a group.

I then got into Southwick Players through a golfing pal, Ron, who I’d watched in various productions. He convinced me to play a green elf in the play Lord and Ladies, by Terry Pratchett, in about 2000. 

Being a member has comforted me through many personal ups and downs. Even when I’ve had a break from productions, the social events and friendships have provided stability. I’m surprised at how many friends I have made. Even through Covid, we banded together to perform some murder mystery productions over zoom to raise money for various charities. When everyone was feeling cut off from family and friends, we got to bring a little entertainment to people; we even had some audience members joining from America.

Chrissy Blount in 1930s costume for a play. Theatre over 50s

Chrissy Blount as The Duchess in Murder on the Simpleton-Orient Express (Credit: Tom Faulkner)

Before Southwick Players, I don’t think I realised the satisfaction I’d get from audiences appreciating the shows. Especially after I’ve had a hard time learning a new accent for the role.

Being in amateur dramatics later in life does have its challenges. I have to make sure my phone diary is always up to date, so I can plan my time. I like to be busy, so it’s just a question of being sure of what I can commit to. I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to get involved with Southwick Players, when for others it’s not as easy to do so.

It has totally helped me build my self-confidence over the years. Just being able to prove to myself that I can learn something new. But, also when I’ve had personal issues or health concerns, the support of the group has been a huge benefit. Any drop in confidence is quickly boosted again. 

Tim Ingram 

You don’t have to be a stage performer from day one to get involved with amateur dramatics

Gentleman dress in costume of red velvet blazer, bow tie, glasses, and a pipe. Theatre over 50 profile of Tim Ingram

Tim Ingram. Photo: Miles Davies

I was heavily involved in local theatre during my younger years, until work and family commitments took precedent. It wasn’t until taking early retirement in 2015 that I was invited to join my old theatre group for a production of West Side Story. My love for musical theatre was rekindled. I’ve been with the Southwick Players since a friend encouraged me to audition for a play her was directing, in 2019. It was immediately a very warm and welcoming community of people, and has become something of a second family.

In my older age I do find learning lines much harder when doing a play. Actually, recalling lines is much easier with music (a little tip for those of you who also struggle)! But, my maturity brings an element of enhanced skill in performing. Although less so physical performing. I suspect my stage dancing days are pretty much done.

I do think theatre means a lot to people. Being involved with theatre at a young age helped develop my confidence and communication. Additionally, we wouldn’t have shows with the audiences and the support they provide. There’s also a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to deliver a show. Our workshop teams that provide the sets, the props people, the costumiers, the front of house teams. They all bring such skill and are often the unsung heroes.

You don’t have to be a stage performer from day one to get involved with amateur dramatics. There are lots of roles behind scenes if you’re nervous to tread the boards straight away. 

Elizabeth Gibson

Acting now does have its challenges that weren’t there when I did youth theatre

I’m an ex-Londoner now living in West Sussex. I’m not in paid employment any more, but I volunteer for a couple of charities. I’m a member of several amateur dramatics companies, as parts for ‘women of a certain age’ are sometimes few and far between.

Headshot of mature woman with dark brown hair and fringe, wearing silver drop earrings. Part of Southwick Players theatre over 50 profile on Silver.

Elizabeth Gibson

After being involved in a big choir, we sung a lot of choral masses in Bulgarian, I was persuaded to try amateur dramatics. I hadn’t trodden the boards since my days in youth theatre in South London, so went to see a play by my local group. After a few shows with that group, I looked for another good group with parts for me and found Southwick Players. 

I’ve met some great and talented people through the group. Being in a show usually means turning up for rehearsals two or three times a week. You do, of course, have to spend time learning lines. I usually call upon my husband’s support and understanding, and his ability and willingness to prepare his own meals.

I will never forget the first play I did with the Players, See How They Run. It’s a farce, with lots of vicars, and people pretending to be vicars. Rehearsals were all great fun with lots of laughter amid the seriousness involved in putting on a comedy. And the show was a great success with audiences.

Elizabeth Gibson dressed in green pantomime costume. Doing theatre over 50

Elizabeth Gibson in pantomime costume

At one point I had to ‘pass out’ and lie on the floor, while other characters ran in and out, jumping over me. One of these accidentally trod on my hand and reminded me of it every time I saw him afterwards. It hadn’t particularly hurt, but as the young man has since passed away I think of him every time I think of the play – he was a particularly brilliant actor and much missed.

Acting now does have its challenges that weren’t there when I did youth theatre. When I was young, I could learn my lines on Sunday for a play we were starting rehearsals for on the Monday. Nowadays, it takes a lot longer to get them into my head. Movement is a bit more restricted too. Recently I was called on to do a backwards roll, and I did try. But we ended up having to adapt my exit to crawling off, which I was just able to do. 

Roy Stevens

I live on my own and it’s a great way to be involved with a group of friendly likeminded people

I’ve been a retired bank manager for about ten years, although I have now retrained to work part time teaching English to foreign students in Worthing. I’ve been involved with amateur dramatics for many years, and a part of Southwick Players since lockdown. So, my first interactions with the company were over zoom meetings to read plays.

Black and white image of Roy Stevens on stage practicing theatre over 50

Roy Stevens

Southwick Players has had a big impact on my life. I live on my own and it’s a great way to be involved with a group of friendly likeminded people. It gets me out of the house regularly, and there’s a good social side to it. 

You do have to be quite organised and disciplined with your time. Learning lines takes a lot of effort, and I normally allocate some time each day to go over lines. You have to attend two rehearsals a week, and show week is a big commitment, so normal life gets put on hold that week.

From my experience, I think the biggest challenges of being an older perform are that you have to work harder to learn lines, and perhaps stamina for the role you’re playing. Or, if the show is physically demanding, pantomime for example, can be quite draining in a way that wouldn’t have been twenty years ago.

If you are considering joining an amateur dramatics group later in life my advice is, “don’t just sit there do it !” It’s great fun, get’s you out and good for your mental simulation. Even if you don’t want to act there are always plenty of jobs to do back-stage and they are generally a very friendly bunch of people. Expect a warm welcome, but be prepared for a commitment of time and effort, you won’t regret it.

Sally Diver

Theatre holds a mirror in front of society and reminds us how lucky we are that we’re free to be creative and express ourselves

For most of my working life I was a secretary, alongside raising two wonderful children who have blessed me with five adorable grandchildren. I retired early and took a part time job as a view guide for an estate agent. Being paid to show people around new houses and chat all day, what’s not to like?

Professional headshot of Sally Diver wearing black top. Theatre over 50 profile

Sally Diver

I wanted to go to a children’s theatre school as a young girl but my mother put a stop to that. Then after school I considered getting into acting; but I started a job, met a boy, and before I knew it I was a wife and mother. I saw an ad for Southwick Players in our local newspaper and went to an open evening. That was thirty years ago now!

Southwick Players has made me friends for life. I met my best friend through Players. We go away on holiday all over the world, fortunately my hubby doesn’t mind. I also do voluntary work, through Players, for the Southwick Community Centre. I carry out the training of the front of house staff, and organise cover for many visit acts.

Being part of this group has filled my life with many benefits. I’ve grown from a shy actor to a director, and even temporarily the acting president of the Players. Plus, found I’ve got a knack for advertising and won Best Publicity at the Brighton and Hove Arts Council Drama Awards six years on the trot.

Sally Diver on stage theatre over 50. Red curtain backdrop.

Sally Diver on stage (Credit: Miles Davis Photography)

Performing arts plays such a key role in encouraging us to expand our imaginations and explore our emotions. Theatre holds a mirror in front of society and reminds us how lucky we are that we’re free to be creative and express ourselves. It’s certainly a tool for education as well as entertainment.

I don’t think you ever stop learning in theatre. I’m sure my style has changed, but only because I’ve got more experience. I try to play it as naturally as possible. If you don’t believe, then neither will the audience. Although directing is much more my thing now.

Frank Horsley

Acting with the Players has boosted my self-esteem and made the outside world easier to negotiate

Now retired after 40 years as a journalist and two years as a drummer in an Elvis tribute band, I fill my days with walking, reading, attending concerts, and reunions with old journalist friends. I reviewed many of the Southwick Player’s shows in the 1970s as a young journalist. However, I didn’t go on stage until 1996 with Adur Theatre Company for a behind the scene panto feature in the Worthing Herald paper. This led to me joining the players in 2005, first appearing in Scrooge the Musical.

Frank Horsely in the Government Inspector poster with the Southwick Players. Theatre over 50.

Frank Horsely in the Government Inspector poster

Being with the Players has made me lots of new friends. It’s also a brilliant place to regularly venture outside your comfort zone, either in taking on weightier roles or performing to a larger audience. 

Being retired and living alone makes it a lot easier to devote myself to the months of preparation needed for any production. When I was still working, I always took show weeks off, because it’s almost impossible to focus on anything else when you have the next performance buzzing round your brain.

Acting with the Players has boosted my self-esteem and made the outside world easier to negotiate for someone who was desperately shy as a youngster, but there’s never any room for complacency or cockiness. You’re only as good as your next performance. 

If you’re considering amateur drama, just do it. You’re a long time retired in that great green room in the sky. And although I’m far from impartial, expect and embrace a warm welcome from the Southwick Players.

Feeling inspired?

You can find more about the Southwick Players and their upcoming performances on their website.

To find an amateur drama group local to you, visit Drama Groups.

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About Lana Hall
Lana can usually be found spinning her collection of records, or writing odd poems in her phone notes. Her mixer of choice is a ginger beer, and you’ll never find her away from the sea for more than a few weeks.

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