Like a tightrope walker who knows he may not need the safety net, but feels safer in the knowledge that it is there, so some actors feel the need have a net of their own. It is not one the audience will see, but it is one that, if used, they will hear.
It is, of course… er…’
The prompter (sometimes prompt) in a theatre is a person who prompts or cues actors when they forget their lines or neglect to move on the stage to where they are supposed to be situated.
In truth, there is nothing better than knowing your lines. I do not just mean in an ‘Oh, I knew this yesterday,’ kind of way, but an ‘I know these lines so well, they’re almost part of me’. For an actor, learning the lines is where you start not where you finish. It is the least a paying audience deserves. It is only when books are down, faces lifted out of scripts and eye contact made that the real work can begin with your fellow actors, and relationships built.
If you have ever taken a prompt, you will know the feeling. The lurch of the heart as the words fail you and the seemingly eternal wait for the prompt to notice. The look of panic in the eyes of your fellow cast members. What do they do, cover for you, and wait for the line to come? The scene becomes a frozen tableau of inaction, everyone waiting for something to happen.
An audience may tolerate a prompt or two ( it happens to the best of professional actors). They feel embarrassed for you, nervous that you will do it again. Perhaps even, dare I say it, disappointed? Far better to know your lines so well, that you can recite them in your sleep (actually, reciting them as you fall asleep is often a good way to make them stick – you will be surprised by how much is retained in the morning). Far better for you and your cast members to know the play so well that, should the worst happen, you can get back on track. The greatest thing a rehearsal process can bring to a cast is the feeling of trust.
Directors; be brave. Tell your cast from the first rehearsal, that they will be performing without a prompt. Tell them they will not need it, and then see how hard they work to fulfil your prophecy. They will amaze themselves.
Remember, your audience want you to succeed.
Why not reward them by doing just that?
Richard Nicholas James
If you have been to a theatre performance, odds are you have heard the term “break a leg,” and maybe even used it to wish performers good luck. It may seem odd, but in the theatre world, saying “good luck” is considered to bring bad luck. There are numerous ideas about the origin of the phrase. One story says spirits wreak havoc on your wishes and make the opposite happen. Another comes from ancient Greece, where the audience did not clap but instead stomped their feet to show appreciation. If the audience stomped long enough, they would break a leg. Some say the term originated during Elizabethan times when, instead of applause, the audience would bang their chairs on the ground — and if they liked it enough, the leg of the chair would break.
Bowing or Curtsying
The term “break a leg” may refer to a performer bowing or curtsying to the audience in the metaphorical sense of bending one’s leg to do so. The saying could originally express the hope that an enthusiastic audience repeatedly calls for further bows or encores. This might cause a performer to “break” the leg line. Much earlier in stage history, when superstition had a less frightening hold on the craft, actors and their followers used a more gracious greeting: “May you break your leg,” by which it was meant that the evening’s performance would be of such grandeur that the actor would be obliged to break his leg – that is, bend his knee – in a deep bow acknowledging the audience’s applause.
The most common theory refers to an actor breaking the “leg line” of the stage. The edge of a stage just beyond the vantage point of the audience forms a line, imaginary or actually marked, which is called the “leg line,” named after a type of concealing stage curtain: a leg. For an unpaid stand-by performer to cross or “break” this line would mean that the performer was getting an opportunity to go onstage and be paid; therefore, “break a leg” might have shifted from a specific hope for this outcome to a general hope for any performer’s good fortune.
Evidently, in the days of early vaudeville, the producers would book more performers than could possibly perform in the given time. In order to ensure that the show did not start paying people who do not actually perform, there was a general policy that a performer was NOT paid unless they actually performed on-stage. Nowadays the term is used to wish an actor all the very best for a good performance and a successful run. No matter which version you choose to believe well wishes are always appreciated and as amateur performers, we still use the term. Invariably, producers, directors and fellow cast members pop their heads around dressing-room doors for a quick chat and a cheery,
“Break a Leg Darling, You’ll be Fabulous”
Abbey Drama were mid-rehearsal when the first lockdown was announced. The news headlines were reporting a new SARS-like virus that reportedly came from the livestock meat markets of Wuhan .
In mid-March 2020, our group along with the rest of the UK , were legally obliged to commit to lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the virus. “Hands, face, space” became the mantra as we rubbed our hands raw with alcohol gels and donned smile-hiding face masks to attend to the only permitted activity of buying essentials. We stopped hugging, and helping strangers out, and even shaking hands was disallowed. It became an alien world, like something from the movies. Except that it wasn’t, it was our lives, our community, and our Drama Group.
Of course, we all took it all in our stride, thinking that worst case scenario, the production dates might be pushed back a tad. Personally, I plunged myself into this altered reality with more than a pinch of disbelief at what was happening, little knowing that 16 months on, I would still be unable to meet up with friends in the rehearsal space, or any other space for that matter.
As it became crystal clear that everything was going to be anything but clear for the foreseeable, a collective from Abbey Drama decided to reconvene on a Monday evening to oxymoronically “meet remotely” via Zoom or Skype (other video conferencing software is available). In addition to the popular productions that the group are so well known for, the Ab Drams have always enjoyed regular play-readings as a group and of course, this lends itself well to video conferencing. In a heartbeat, we were off, and we started with David Muncaster’s Community Spirit.
Everyone was new to video call meetings back then and much hilarity ensued as we tried to log on, puzzled over strange camera angles, and failed to take ourselves off mute again, and again, and again. But we soon left the technical hitches in the ditches and what joy to see those familiar faces and hear the tones of those voices we knew so well. Not every Ab Dram member has joined in, but everyone is welcome and in fact, we have embraced fellow thespians from other drama groups who now make up a vibrant part of our happy throng. “Monday evening play reading” sounds clichéd, perhaps Alan Bennet would like to produce a script bearing the title.
Since that first Zoom play-reading in March 2020 we have read upwards of 30 scripts including The Constant Wife (W Somerset Maugham), The Cherry Orchard (Anton Chekhov), Steel Magnolias (Robert Harling) and The Vicar of Dibley (Richard Curtis, Paul Mayhew-Archer) naming a few to illustrate that the plays are wide and varied. We also read a script that one of our members had written.
But more than getting to know the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of plays that are out there we got to connect with others. During the unsettling and ever-extending days of social restriction, we created a virtual space that was warm, welcoming, nurturing and nourishing. A Zoom womb if you like.
It has been a difficult time for many, but Ab Dram has continued to see and connect with its members albeit through the portals of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computer screens. We have laughed, shared, checked up on one another and managed to maintain some sense of normality in these unprecedented times.
We have shared our thoughts on the plays we read and how they relate to today. We have giggled at and embraced dodgy accents and mispronunciations. There is no judgement in our group, the laughter is shared. This is a safe space to try out early attempts at an accent or dialect and sometimes the outcomes are truly hilarious but there is no malice and absolutely no pressure on anyone to attempt any accent. You read as you want to read. Or you can choose to tune in as a silent member and enjoy the experience of what is a rough approximation of an unedited Radio 4 drama. We have debated the merits (and otherwise) of various plays and pondered the potential of putting them on as a group in the future. We have also shared in passing what is happening in our own individual lockdown lives and smiled at the on-screen faces of those we haven’t seen in person for over a year. It has been so much more than a regular play reading group.
I wonder if our current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson will allow us into the rehearsal space and welcome our lovely audiences back into the less-than-socially-distanced seating area of our theatre any time soon?
Oh, but I shall so miss our Zoom play readings when they come to an end.
Perhaps it is the languid, lazy part of me that enjoys barely having to move two feet to plug in, recline in my own chair with my current drink of choice, slippers on and script to hand. There really is something quite comforting about engaging with the Ab Drams whilst faintly hearing my family in the next room watching TV and then having the dog wander up occasionally for a quick tummy tickle. Social convention falls by the wayside during unprecedented times and whilst I have not logged in wearing hair curlers yet, I am very relaxed about what I’m wearing and there has been at least one incident of members wearing pyjamas. You see, despite being remote, our play-readings are homely, warm, and intimate.
Perhaps Zoom will continue to be part of the organisation in one form or another.
That said, I can’t wait to see everyone in the flesh again, to move in the space and see great writing in action.
So finally, whilst reflecting on our Zoom play-readings with great affection, as we approach the end of the third and hopefully last lockdown, I am looking forward in great anticipation that maybe, just maybe, we will be back strutting the SURC’s boards very soon.
Symantha Simcox July 2021
Joining a local Amateur Dramatic Society was always on my list of things to do. I had been thinking about doing it for a while but kept putting it off, but then….
We all need a hobby. However, when we want to do something different it is difficult to find someone else to come along with you, so you just give up. That is what happened to me. However, I dealt with the problem directly and joined my local Am – Dram Group. In plain English, Abbey Foregate (SURC) Drama Group.
Well for starters, it’s a lot of fun. The group are lovely and friendly. In addition, they are all different ages. So I did not feel out of place. Some work full time, a few are retired, and others have been acting for so long they cannot remember a time when they haven’t ‘Trod the boards’ so to speak.
So I thought, ‘Why not?’ In for a penny…..! So, after sending the email, I arranged to go down to their rehearsal room for my first sojourn into acting! The first night I ventured into the rehearsal room, I was terrified! But, everybody was so nice. So far so good!
The first thing I noticed was how easy it all was. In fact everyone there is so laid back and has a great sense of humour. Making a fool of yourself is part of the fun!
For anyone who really wants to act, work behind the scenes or just generally help, just contact us. We will welcome you warmly with open arms, so don’t be nervous, we are all in it together, helping each other out.
I joined the Abbey Foregate (SURC) Drama Group because I saw a production that was of such stunningly high quality, I wanted a piece of THAT CAKE. The production was of such high quality in terms of acting, directing, stage set, lighting, and costume. Staged in a church hall that was anything but a church hall, being transformed as it was into one of Oscar Wilde’s elegant interiors, on a small thrust stage with raked seating for 100 transported audience members. I was massively impressed, and I was only able to witness the dress rehearsal because all of the actual shows had already sold-out weeks ago. Don’t take my word for it; check us out as soon as you are able.
Our foundation is community based, supportive, and respectful of others and welcoming and I am more than happy to be part of that. We are passionate about our productions, committed to telling the writer’s story and great fun to work with. We are simply kind, compassionate, creative folk who just happen to love putting on a show and are really quite good at it!
However, one should never pass up the opportunity to encourage membership enquiries from young blood and from as diverse a background as is possible in our lovely Shropshire backwater.
Whatever your interest in the theatre is, you will receive a warm welcome at Abbey Foregate (SURC) Drama Group. Whether you want to tread the boards, develop your artistic skills or just make some new friends, there will be something for you to enjoy. We are always delighted to talk to anyone wishing to learn and take part in all aspects of drama. Perhaps you would like to try your hand at some of the many backstage roles – lighting, props, costumes, make-up, and front of house. In addition, we hold play readings, workshops, theatre visits and social events throughout the year.
-where are the lights? We often take lighting for granted but the more you know about lighting the more you can engage your audience and impress them with a memorable experience. Learning about stage lighting sometimes seems a mystery to those of us who Tread the Boards, so to speak. Lighting design and technology can seem like black magic with all its strange terminology and jargon.
As a Drama Group, we were very fortunate to obtain a grant, which we used to purchase our own lighting rig and kit. Knowing what was required was beyond our knowledge and we only knew what to purchase because a young man of fourteen advised us!
Who is the young man you ask?
His name is Tom Mulliner and we at Abbey Foregate (SURC) Drama Group were very fortunate to obtain Tom’s expertise in lighting. He had always been involved in lighting school musicals and offered to work with us on our productions. A young man with such talent was always going far in his chosen profession and after lighting approximately eight plays Tom was off to college to gain more knowledge.
He is now based in Ipswich and working professionally as a lighting programmer. Tom’s work takes him far and wide to many venues around the world and to date he has worked in over 130 theatres! The more recent productions he has worked on are Tell Me On a Sunday (UK Tour), Be More Chill (West end), &Juliet (West end), Leopoldstadt (West end), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Sao Paulo) and Titanic (UK Tour).
Catching up with Tom, he informed me that the past fifteen months have been very quiet in terms of theatre work. It is now starting to pick up again and he is currently working on ANYTHING GOES at the Barbican, which opened on Friday 23rd July 2021.
Tom was so pleased that we have productions in the pipeline for the future and” hopes they go well and the group go back to doing what they do best!”
As I mentioned before a young man with such talent was always going to go far in his chosen profession and that is what has happened to Tom. We are so proud that in his early days he worked with us on our productions and send him all our thanks and best wishes for the future.
What a fabulous evening! It was hard to remember that this was actually Sue Hughes’ directorial debut; it was such a polished show and the comic timing was superb. The backstage team had ingeniously created the world of a retirement home for professional musicians.
The play itself told us that, ‘Art isn’t Art if it doesn’t make you feel’, and indeed, we felt the joy of recognition; we laughed; we felt so moved by the gradual revelations of the truth each character had been trying to hide.
Helen Bryant’s gentle Cissy and Robert Currie’s mischievous Wilf earned our affection as they helped us to ‘see the best’ in Ian Musty’s repressed Reggie and Lesley Strachan’s sharp-edged Jean; each of the four actors was completely on point. Our intimate theatre space was made for them: every flicker of the eyebrow or twitch of the lips told a story. They all landed every moment in a clever, clever script, and made the silences talk too.
There was something rather magical about seeing the characters grow younger before our very eyes. We saw the ‘lovely young’ men and women in all of them, and a lump came to more than one throat as they turned their backs on us, the audience, to remember audiences of the past.
Thank you – watching the play made ‘the future’, whatever age we are now, glow brighter.
The Abbey Foregate Drama Group production of “Don’t Get your Vicars in a Twist” sold out in two weeks, so a Saturday matinee was added to the run. We must admire the stamina of all concerned.
The play started slowly as the situation that would lead to all the confusion and misunderstanding that defines a farce was set out for the audience. But then the pace picked up as all the characters arrived and started making assumptions. Farce also demands over-the top acting, and this was we got. Paul Rushworth as a pseudo Bishop and Stephan Meredith as the Murder Mystery event arranger were superbly OTT, especially when they were drunk and dressed as a maid respectively. Enfys Jenkins and Lesley Drew/Carol Wolfe were two uptight ladies who had been given the weekend (I suspect as a prank) and thought the entire goings on were real. Ian Musty as the real Bishop was suitably bewildered – perhaps still coping with his translation from a vicar in the last production!
This was an evening of laughs, and Rob Hutchings is to be congratulated on a difficult job well done. It was worth the ticket money just to see Brian Bentley and Richard Breakell wearing skirts!
Over Christmas I saw four productions of A Christmas Carol, three professional and one amateur. There was the “Shrewsbury” film with George C Scott, The Muppets with Michael Caine, and a carol that went wrong with Derek Jacobi. Each was good in its own way. However, the best production by far was the one put on by the Abbey Foregate Drama Group with Brian Bentley.
The church provided a perfect space for this production, and was used to maximum effect with imaginative staging. The scene shifted from one area to another with minimum fuss so that the flow of the story was not interrupted. Praise must go to the design and construction group. Even more amazing was the speed with which the stage area was cleared for the Sunday service.
The cast for this production was much larger than that required for the usual plays, which must have involved a lot of organization. But the performances went smoothly, even if there was a lot going on backstage!
Top of the list for commendation is Brian Bentley who was on stage for the entire time. He also had long monologues, which are more difficult to remember than conversations. He was ably supported by some of our favourite actors: Robert Currie, Andrew Sandilands, Lesley Strachan, Rob Hutchings, and Carole Newcombe to name but a few. However, it was also nice to see the newer cast members coming to the fore. As usual the standard of the acting was superb, and each character was true to their part. I sat next to the prompt who was not required.
The choice of this play was inspired. Not only did it honour the very start of the Drama Group, but also it came at the beginning of Advent, which set the scene for our Christmas worship.
Kev and me came along on Friday night to see ‘Earnest’ and had a great time. Really excellent performance – cast was awesome, set was beautiful, costumes stunning, crew slick and professional, front of house welcoming and friendly. All round perfect end of the weeknight out Thank you everyone
I went last night. Brilliant! It is one of my favourite plays and they did not disappoint! One thing I really wanted to applaud the set changers. Well done the whole team.
The Importance of being Earnest is one of the best known and most often staged of the plays by Oscar Wilde. It takes a wonderfully sideways look at the niceties of Victorian social behaviour, yet in some ways is remarkably modern with misunderstandings galore.
As the stage is small, it requires careful setting. The transformation from a morning room in one flat, a garden, and the morning room in another home was very cleverly done. While one scene change took place during an interval, the second was in full view of the audience, so we were able to see and appreciate the slick performance of the back stage staff that is normally out of view.
This is very much an ensemble piece, and the entire cast worked together to give us their usual high standard entertainment. Malcolm Castle as Algernon and Adam Giblin as Jack/Ernest sparked off each other as the unsuspecting brothers, their love/dislike relationship in full view. Likewise, Symantha Simcox and Lucy Hagen beautifully demonstrated the relationship between Gwendolen and Cecily, with their constant changes from love rivals to sisters-in-arms.
If I had any concerns prior to the performance it was the crucial casting of Lady Bracknell and the famous handbag comment. For many people the Dame Edith Evans rendition in the 1952 film is the definitive delivery, and can overshadow any other performance. I need not have worried. Lesley Reynolds made a splendidly haughty Lady B, and gave her own twist to THAT line. She managed to combine horror with contempt through both delivery and facial expression. Full marks Lesley.
A word of praise goes to the director, Helen Bryant, set designers and builders, the costume department, lighting and sound, as well as the front of house meeters and greeters.
The raffle in aid of ‘Jigsaw’ taken at the performance of A Christmas Carol was £570. The raffle at this performance was for the Shropshire Wildlife Trust as a tribute to Maureen Sandlilands who sadly died last January.
Hilarious – I laughed so much my face hurt!!Some great characters and so well played. Well done to all involved and thanks for a great night out.
An absolutely fantastic performance by all! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and haven’t laughed aloud this much in a long time! Thank you. We will be coming to see your next performances in the future
Oh my goodness we just have to write and offer our sincere Congratulations. Please congratulate all the cast for such a Professional performance and as usual we can’t wait for the next one. Many Many thanks to you all for such a superb performance.
Just to say what a great night we’ve just had @ a perfect murder. We thoroughly enjoyed the play and everyone should be very proud of their performances.
It was so intimate being close to the scenes especially act 2 in the courtroom. It felt so realistic. Please pass on our congratulations to everyone and good luck for your final performance.
We both came to the opening night. It was fantastic – Absolutely brilliant. Very polished, very professional. I was so absorbed that during the second act in the courtroom, I actually felt I was there. You could tell by the gasp of the audience that no-one had anticipated the twist and turn at the end. Very well done, Congratulations to you all.
What a wonderful performance we all enjoyed at the URC last night. The casting and directing were inspired—all the actors were superb, seemingly transformed into the characters they were playing .The audience was in the sitting room or courtroom with you. The scenes in the courtroom were particularly good. Sitting in the front row, I felt as though I was a juror, and concentrated on listening for clues!
Sincere congratulations are due to everyone, including the clever young people in the corner.
I am taking this opportunity of sending you lots of congratulations on your latest production of “The Ideal Husband” My friend and I thoroughly enjoyed it – great casting, super set and costumes and we could hear every word! (Very important when listening to Oscar Wilde!) Not a weak link anywhere. Knocked spots off many professional productions we have seen. Congratulations!”
“Brilliant production, excellent set, terrific acting and fabulous costumes – thoroughly marvellous all round. Congratulations all”
“Well done on a superb production of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband”; I attended your dress rehearsal last night and thoroughly enjoyed the show. Having been transported by the superb acting, beautiful set and wonderful costumes, I completely forgot to leave the slip with my email address on. Please add me to your email circulation list as I would love to see future shows”
“It was fabulous. They all had so many lines to remember and all word perfect Look forward to the next one”
Lavish is the only word to describe Abbey Fore gate Drama Groups production of An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde. The set was simple but effective, and Ian Musty and Malcolm Castle changed the sets with a butlery dignity that earned them a round of applause, for which they took a very dignified bow. The costumes were a delight and were worth every penny of the hire fee.
It was good to see familiar faces as well as newcomers in the cast. Everyone was totally convincing in their characters, and the evening was pure joy!
As this does not happen by accident, it was clear that a great deal of hard work went into achieving such a polished performance. Praise is due to Helen Bryant who had ensured that every detail was right.
This production has further enhanced the already high reputation of the Drama Group.
“All My Sons” by Arthur Miller is the latest production of the Abbey Foregate (S URC) Drama Group. This play is not a barrel of laughs, and needs careful handling to avoid either being dreary or being melodramatic. Under the sure direction of Helen Bryant the Group rose to the challenge superbly. The 1946 American ambience was re-created with great attention to detail. The set was functional and attractive; the clothes were right, even to the ladies wearing seamed nylons, and the music played before and after the production and during the interval was vintage American 40s. Secure in their setting, the cast delivered the piece with power and integrity. The minor characters, including a delightful cameo from bright young Chris Davies, added necessary light relief that served to highlight the terrible predicament of the core family. Dana James and Robin Cooper, playing Ann and George Deever, were the bringers of bad news, and stepped in and out of the action with sensitivity.
Robert Currie carried the weight of Joe’s guilt with skill, and his gradual disintegration as truth cut through the web of lies was truly moving. Paula Bayley as Joe’s wife delivered a wonderfully understated performance. She cleverly avoided overt hand wringing, and instead allowed her obsession to loom like an iceberg in fog. However, the star of the evening was Andrew Sandilands playing the idealistic Chris. This demanding role runs the gamut of emotion, Andrew gave us the pleasant American, the tender and romantic lover, irritation, the searing heat of anger, and final collapse in tears as the play ended.
Once again this talented Group raised am dram to professional levels. I am booking my ticket for their next production already!
To mark its 60th Anniversary the Abbey Foregate (SURC) Drama Group staged a magnificent production of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the theatrical source of MY FAIR LADY, from Thursday- Saturday of last week.
Three sets- both indoor and outdoor were skilfully created in the Church itself, and the acting was of the uniformly high standard we have come to expect from this company. The subtle and thought provoking mixture of comedy and serious drama was well conveyed through individual performances-especially Jo Bullock as Eliza Doolittle, Rob Hutchings as her opportunistic Father and Andrew Sandilands as Phonetics Professor, Henry Higgins- as well as by the verve and coherence of the whole. The society scenes were vigorous too, communicated with real charm but also with the critical edge of Shaw’s ironical view of class-conscious Edwardian London.
This was a worthwhile play given worthy treatment. Audience comments such as” better than professional” could be heard at the end of the evening. Helen Bryant, Director and Sue Hughes her assistant, are to be warmly congratulated along with their whole team.
It’s really an odd thing, if you consider we gather in groups and sit in the dark silence. And another group gets up on a raised platform and proceeds to create make-believe situations that might be potentially from our lives. It’s a pretty bizarre form of entertainment.
I love that with a play, a writer creates the script, and then directors and actors pick it up, interpret it, and bring it to visual realization. It isn’t written, and then read by readers quietly, in the dark of spooky night, all alone. Seeing and making theatre is a communal experience.
He had positioned himself stage centre
And was giving the audience his all.
When suddenly a seat went up with a “Crash!”
And a lady walked down from the stalls.
Ignoring the audience hissing
And the thespian’s renderings too.
She crossed in front of the Footlights.
And disappeared into the Loo.
Feeling decidedly slighted
The actor waited, enraged.
So when she came out of the Loo,
He walked to the front of the stage.
Adopting a theatrical posture
And in a voice filled with venom and bite.
That carried its way clear up to the Gods
He delivered the best of the night!
He said, “Madam”. Whilst there in the privy.
Could you hear my excellent King Lear?
You couldn’t? Well I find that amazing.
For we heard you quite clearly out here!