Stepping Out With Huntingdon Drama Club

Anyone who’s involved with the club knows that when it comes to our social events, we host a very lively calendar of outings, from play readings, meals out, or trips to the theatre. Since a large percentage of members’ interaction takes place within the setting of rehearsals or meetings, our social outings are spaces where we can relax and enjoy each other’s company away from the responsibilities of working on productions and planning the future of the club. Most of our events are open to non-members, so it’s also an opportunity for new people to introduce themselves and register interest.

Our most recent social event was an afternoon at the Cambridge Arts Theatre to see Stepping Out – giving this winter season something of a Richard Harris theme, as he is not only the playwright behind Stepping Out, but also the writer of the soon-to-be-performed Outside Edge. Those of us that were already familiar with the former arrived at the theatre expecting an immensely enjoyable play, and we weren’t disappointed. It was an excellent show, full of warmth, humour and – given the story – music.

The plot? Stepping Out tells the tale of a diverse bunch of personalities who meet for weekly tapdancing classes. For the members, the dancing lessons serve more as a chance to socialise with their classmates than any sort of artistic endeavour, but after they are selected to give a performance in a charity event, their teacher puts together a professional routine and organises her motley crew of dance students into a rather talented and entertaining ensemble.

Stepping Out is a play that is littered with memorable characters, brilliantly performed by all actors. The entire cast impressed, though if I were to single out my favourites, I’d choose Tamzin Outhwaite as the committed teacher Mavis and Amanda Holden as the somewhat annoying and affected but nevertheless likeable Vera. Holden brought an endearing innocence to Vera, revealing that what at first glance appears to be quite a supercilious nature, is more of a rather naïve upper-crust woman genuinely trying to be friendly and fit in, but not quite understanding how to go about it.

Harris’s musical comedy is very much a feel-good piece; that’s not to say that there aren’t touches of solemnity, but these are never lingered upon and are very much superseded by the pace of the dialogue and the amusing interaction between such disparate figures. It was made clear that for many of the characters, their dance classes were a welcome respite from the pressures and difficulties of regular life – a place that cheered them up and simultaneously relaxed and energised them – which gave the performance a very comforting aura. The exuberance that the cast brought to the play was supplemented by the attention to detail of the costume department, who outfitted the actors in some of the most colourful of 1980s fashions.

Club members’ opinions were unanimous; everyone had enjoyed the show immensely, and as one friend said to me, “It was everything that theatre should be” – sound praise indeed. We’re now more excited than ever for the impending production of Outside Edge.

by Guest Blogger Michelle Gibson

Acting Strikes At The Heart

“Stage plays also captivated me, with their sights full of the images of my own miseries: fuel for my own fire. Now, why does a man like to be made sad by viewing doleful and tragic scenes, which he himself could not by any means endure? Yet, as a spectator, he wishes to experience from them a sense of grief, and in this very sense of grief his pleasure consists…what kind of compassion is it that arises from viewing fictitious and unreal sufferings?” – Confessions of Saint Augustine

I’ve always been impressed by the capacity of acting (and all art) to establish a tunnel to the emotional psyche of those receiving it. People shed tears over novels, over music, over poetry, and over performances on screen or stage. Not only that, but there’s a savage yearning for a performance to evoke our deepest feelings, an almost masochistic desire for actors to penetrate our outer coating and speak directly to our inner mind.
How is it that acting elicits such desires and responses? My particular take on this question is that, like all art, it fulfils the fundamental human need to look beyond ordinary, objective, material life and tread the waters of the subjective, personal and immaterial arena of our conscious experience. For the former, we construct rules and metaphorical shields in order to sustain a system of agreed acceptable action; in the latter we are beholden to nothing but our own nature.

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I find watching a performance to be analogous to a transcendental episode. The lights of the theatre dimmed, the audience hushed, attention fixed upon the stage – all these serve to move us into an altered state of perception, in which the sole manifestation of reality is that which plays before us. By doing so, an environment is created where all that remains is the emotional relationship between performer and spectator. To watch a performance is a deeply personal experience, and as we are drawn into a world beyond our own, we become comfortable enough to bring our deeper instincts to the surface.hamlet-skull

How often in life do we feel able to express our truest, fullest selves? We often find that we self-censor, or otherwise restrict our behaviour, so that we might get along, or to appear conventional. Art facilitates a piercing of our outer shells, crafting a space that allows for the greater reign of our natural emotional components.hamlet96b

Everyone can relate to tragedy and human foibles. The fiction of a film or a play provides a safe psychological avenue for an audience’s undergoing of pathos. The knowledge that “this isn’t real” creates a sense of security which propels our enthusiasm to be powerfully touched by what we watch. We not only expect it, we want it. Our experience of art is subjective, individualistic, and self-determined, a system whereby we free our intrinsic persona and process our emotional reaction in a manner which translates to our own life and the greater world. Acting strikes at the heart of an individual, and in doing so, provokes a potential for greater understanding of inner truth.

It’s sometimes asked whether art imitates life or life imitates art. I would suggest that they are one and the same, and that acting, as with all artistic expressions, is as solid an arbiter of reality as any branch of science or philosophy.

by Guest Blogger Michelle Gibson