I am from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire – born and raised, and aside from my first year at university I’ve lived my whole life here. After uni I worked in retail for a while then – through volunteering – began working at Queens Park Arts Centre, where I’m the Marketing Coordinator and Theatre Manager. I still volunteer now as Creative Producer of the Centre’s in-house theatre company Unbound.
Aylesbury comes in for a fair bit of criticism for not having much to offer as a town, but do a little investigating and there’s an awful lot going on – two theatres, a museum, lots of smaller live music venues in pubs and clubs, regular big events for families. The quality of work can be phenomenal at a professional and amateur level.
Everyone has an instinct to be creative and there are plenty of opportunities to explore that instinct – if only you act on the impulse to do so. It’s difficult for smaller, community-run venues with modest marketing budgets like Queens Park to reach a wider audience and promote a way into the arts for local residents. A lot of focus in the arts tends to on projects leading to a specific outcome, but for me the key importance of art is about getting involved in the first place and enjoying the experience of being creative, especially working with other like-minded people.
Art is as essential to our wellbeing as any other aspect of our lives. People are happier when they engage with or create art; art is one of the most collaborative endeavors that there can be, so it teaches people to be and work together. I don’t believe anyone could live a happy life without art. We all look forward to watching TV or seeing a play after work, or listening to music or read a book in our downtime. We all use art, but as a society we often treat it as something “less than”.
Amateur dramatics is this odd but wonderful thing where people come together because they care and they love it and though it’s long hours and constant worry about how you’re going to pull a project together. But when you’re together and there is an audience, the delight is infectious. It’s the most joyful thing to create something with other people. The audiences recognize the love of it in the people that they come to watch.
As with any project, there is always a lot of anxiety about deadlines and whether everybody will be well to perform on the night. Precariousness is ever-present. It’s not something you can escape in live theatre. No matter how much experience you have, every time you get on stage, it’s unpredictable.
When you hang a painting, it’s a finished piece. With theatre, the first half can go well, but in the second half an actor can still forget their lines or a lighting cue might be mistimed, and that’s in every performance. But the audiences support us and I think they enjoy it when things go wrong. They see blips as part of the experience and they root for the artists recover.
When you put on a show, it’s a new audience and their reactions are completely different. They laugh at different points, they clap at different points; it’s strange when an audience in the way you anticipate, but it’s quite exciting to see what resonates with people and what doesn’t on different nights.
We try to strike a balance between well-known mainstream work and the kind of work that’s very niche and will attract a small but dedicated audience. We also have local writers send in brand new material. As long as someone is dedicated to a project, we will do it.
We ask our audience to take a risk, too. Many audiences want to go and see things that they’ve already seen. We try to put on plays that people who see their interests as mainstream will want to take risk on. I think AmDram is a balancing act between work that’s well known and something more challenging that wouldn’t necessarily make it to a big venue.
Unbound, our theatre company, is run entirely by volunteers, and more and more are joining us through the open auditions we hold for productions. We tend to forget how many things function thanks to people who donate their time. I cannot stress enough how amazing it can be to donate one or two hours a week to something joyful. And you never know whom you might meet and where it might take you. Get involved with your local volunteer ventures!
Dario Knight is a writer, director and producer based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. He is the Theatre & Marketing Manager at Queens Park Arts Centre, where he also runs the in-house theatre company Unbound. His directorial work includes Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Twelfth Night, Pinter’s Betrayal and Caryl Churchill’s A Number and Far Away. He has written and produced a series of successful pantomimes for the venue, and has contributed material to various shows by the Unbound Sketchbook comedy team. This year's panto is The Sword in the Stone, which runs from 7th – 30th December. It’s written by Dario and directed by Lara Pipistrelle. Tickets available from the Queens Park website.
Inconveniences become trivial when you’re working with like-minded people on things you’re all passionate about.