Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Support Your Local Arts Groups!

There's a lot in the press generally about supporting local businesses - and quite rightly too - and they even have their own 'day'. But there is nothing specific that I am aware of about supporting local arts groups.

I enjoy going to the theatre and often go to London, to the National Theatre or the West End, and it is a great pleasure to see such skilled performers giving their all. But it is hard to make a living as an actor and there are many who can't afford to restrict themselves to such august venues, holding down 'day jobs' in many cases to pay the bills. And that doesn't even begin to count all the amateur groups who rehearse for weeks and sometimes months on end to provide entertainment for those who don't want, or can't afford, to go to London.

Bicester doesn't have a theatre (yet, she says optimistically) so for professional theatre, we have to go further afield - but we do at least have a choice of Oxford or Aylesbury, or, if you're prepared to trek a little longer, Milton Keynes, Northampton and of course Stratford-upon-Avon. It may be a drive, but there is plenty to choose from - and that's just theatre.

But there are local groups too. Launton Village Players are lucky enough to perform sometimes to a packed audience; their annual pantomime is a highlight for many in the dark days of the February half-term break, but they also perform a Summer Show in July, and there is an Autumn Play at the end of October - and although the venue for these is quite full, it's rarely sold out - and it's only a small venue. They could make much more for the charities they support if more people went to see what they provide. Bicester Choral and Operatic Society put on Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe over the recent half-term, to great critical acclaim, yet achieved less than half the audience it could have done (I confess to a vested interest here as assistant director, but it really was an excellent production and all those who came really enjoyed it). A concert by Akeman Voices as part of the Deddington Music Festival was excellent, beautiful music, singing and poems, yet the church was less than half full. This is just a small selection of the opportunities locally.

As a performer, it is disheartening in the extreme to look out into the audience and see only a handful of people. As part of the organisation of BCOS, I can tell you it is not only disheartening but extremely expensive when so few people make the effort to see what's on offer.

And is it really such an effort? I've been to numerous things over the years to support friends who are taking part or organising something, usually for charity. It's not that expensive, especially as I don't need to pay train-fare to get there. And I have always taken something good out of it. Maybe I haven't always enjoyed the whole thing, but *that doesn't matter*. My friends' months of rehearsal have been rewarded by having someone show up to appreciate them and their effort. And I've done something to deter my evolution into a couch potato.

A few years ago, Dillie Keane, of Fascinating Aida, who lives around here somewhere, wrote in The Stage that this area was a cultural desert. Clearly it isn't at the moment, but unless we support our local arts groups, they may not survive to entertain us for much longer. Then it will become a desert.

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