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The curse of "amdram"



I have no problem with the description "amateur theatre". Most of the theatre I’ve been involved in throughout my life has been unpaid, and therefore qualifies undeniably as "amateur". The fact that theatres like the Loft and the Talisman regularly achieve such high standards of production and performance despite – or maybe even because of – the fact that no one involved gets paid for their services is a source of immense pride. The status of "amateur" need not imply "amateurish", which is more an attitude of mind.

However, most people seem unable to talk about my hobby without resorting to a curious quirk of terminology. It’s a curse that – so far as I can make out – afflicts no other pastime. The amateur equivalent of professional football is, unsurprisingly, "amateur football"; photography for pleasure is "amateur photography". Why, then, should the unpaid counterpart of "professional theatre" be termed "amateur dramatics"?

I loathe this ugly phrase (not to mention its even more cringeworthy contraction, "amdram"). To me, it conjures up images of badly acted potboilers performed for two nights in front of wobbly scenery in draughty village halls. It may not always be intended as pejorative but, when people say, "Oh, so-and-so’s heavily into amateur dramatics," that’s invariably how it sounds. Would anyone describe the career followed by Ian McKellen or Judi Dench as "professional dramatics", unless it was intended to belittle? I doubt it.

Maybe it’s all just a question of personal taste; maybe I’m being over-sensitive in perceiving the word "dramatics" as demeaning. But it feels like such an unnecessary word otherwise. Why use two different nouns to describe the same activity, simply because one person does it for money and the other for sheer love? Intentional or not, the effect is to suggest that their achievements are in no way to be considered on a par. It devalues the amateur by distancing the "real" actor or director from those who are, literally and also (it implies) metaphorically, merely play-acting.

This page last updated: 24 August 2009   Home | Performing | Travelling | Quizzing | Living  
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