Shrewsbury Matters: More men needed to sparkle on stage

A man went into a pet shop and explained to the proprietor that he needed a parrot because he was playing the part of Long John Silver in the local amateur dramatic society’s latest production writes Phil Gillam.

Men have not always been in short supply. Flashback to 1995 and, enjoying the chance to dress up with the operatic society, are Ted Smith, Alan Wisener and Rob Prince.
Men have not always been in short supply. Flashback to 1995 and, enjoying the chance to dress up with the operatic society, are Ted Smith, Alan Wisener and Rob Prince.

“Oh, you won’t need a live parrot for that,” said the pet shop owner. “A live parrot would just be a nuisance: squawking in all the wrong places and pooping on your shoulder. No, no, no. You’d be much better off with a stuffed parrot.”

The amateur actor was unconvinced. “Are you absolutely sure a stuffed parrot would be better for me?” he asked. “I really want this performance to be as realistic as possible. Realism is everything for me.”

But the pet shop owner insisted: “A stuffed parrot would be fine. I can get one for you if you’d like to pop by on Thursday.”

“Oh no, Thursday’s no good for me,” said the actor. “On Thursday I’m having my leg cut off.”

Okay, it’s a terrible joke, but, I suspect, one that many a thespian might enjoy.

For generations the call of the amateur theatre has been irresistible to a certain type of person; the sort of person, perhaps, who – in spite of all the inherent dangers (stagefright, forgetting your lines, tripping over the props and making a fool of yourself) – somehow relishes the idea of getting up on stage (very often in a dusty old village hall) in order to (hopefully) sparkle before an audience, whether it be through their acting ability, their singing, their dancing, or just that indefinable X factor!

My admiration for these people is huge. I know I couldn’t do it.

I also know that despite television, cinema, the internet, and so many other distractions competing with live theatre, those amateur shows in the local hall or at the town theatre continue to be a big draw and continue to entertain and delight audiences across the nation.

But I noticed last week a piece in the Shrewsbury Chronicle in which the Shrewsbury Amateur Operatic Society had put out an appeal which suggested that, possibly, the above-described type of person could be thin on the ground right now . . . or at least when it comes to blokes.

The call had gone out for a few more fellas in order to give the forthcoming production of Chess a vocal boost of a manly kind.

I would step forward myself but I sing about as well as Eric Morecambe played the piano for Andre Previn.

“Virtually all amateur drama groups and amateur operatics groups struggle to find enough men for their productions.” So said my sister Jan the other day when I asked her about this. And she knows a thing or two about it, having been a member of the Shawbury Players for more than 30 years.

“In fact,” she added, “I know that many a group over the years has had to rewrite the scripts slightly to make some of the male characters female because they couldn’t find enough men to play the male roles.”

I am conjuring up visions now of women having to play the parts of Sherlock Holmes, Ebenezer Scrooge and Joseph with his Amazing Technicolor Dream-petticoat.

“All the world’s a stage,” said Shakespeare (oh, and also Elvis, of course, in the middle of ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’).

But the next line in The Bard’s ‘As You Like It’ is “And all the men and women merely players.”

Given what we now know about finding enough chaps to play the male roles, perhaps this should now read: “And all the women and, er . . . women . . . merely players.”

Anyway. I have no doubt that the Shrewsbury Amateur Operatic Society will once again turn on the magic and deliver a fine production of Chess.

It’s being staged at Theatre Severn from March 13-16. Alistair Craib, the society’s musical director, says there is a ‘a strong requirement for men. If any men are interested in joining this musical, which is the favourite of Elaine Paige, they will be most welcome.’

The rehearsals for Chess take place on Mondays and Wednesdays at Belvidere School, Shrewsbury. The minimum age for participation is 16.

Anyone interested can contact Alistair on 01952 884620 for a chat. Or they can pop along to a rehearsal.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Chess was written by Bjorn Ulveus and Benny Andersson of Abba fame, and the lyrics are by Tim Rice. Alistair said: “The music has in many cases that distinctive Abba sound and also has some beautiful classical singing combined with orchestral arrangements which are quite delightful.”

The show features some memorable songs such as I Know Him So Well. And Elaine Paige, who starred in the first production, says it is still her favourite musical.

And while we are all in a theatrical frame of mind, a couple of old theatre jokes to finish with:

How many actors does it take to change a lightbulb?

Answer: Just one. The actor stands still, holding the lightbulb in position, and the world revolves around him.

How many sound engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Answer: One-two. One-two.

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