Amateur Repertoires

  • Jane Milling
  • Nadine Holdsworth
  • Helen Nicholson


This chapter argues that amateur theatre plays a vital role in sustaining a national theatrical repertoire. Tracing the way that amateur theatre has championed new writing and playwrights through the twentieth century, the chapter looks at how the thousands of amateur productions currently staged each year support professional playwrights, publishers and performance rights holders. The success of Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls illustrates some of the ways in which amateur theatre can extend the life of a play temporally and geographically. The chapter argues that as curators of local and accessible seasons of work, amateur theatre groups are both local taste-makers and, through their choices about what to keep in production, they also contribute to the making of national dramatic canons. More than building the habit of theatre-going in local audiences, amateur theatre groups build their audiences’ dramatic expertise. The chapter concludes by examining some of the distinctive qualities of the new play writing within the amateur sector.


Repertoire Playwright Taste Canon Audience New writing 


  1. Alexander, Isabella. 2010. ‘Neither Bolt nor Chain, Iron Safe Nor Watchman Can Prevent the Theft of Words’: The Birth of the Performing Right in Britain. In Privilege and Property: Essays on the History of Copyright, ed. Ronan Deazley, Martin Kretschmer, and Lionel Bently, 321–346. Cambridge: Open Book.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Altieri, Charles. 1983. An Idea and Ideal of a Literary Canon. Critical Inquiry 10: 37–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Angelaki, Vicky. 2013. Contemporary British Theatre: Breaking New Ground. London: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arts Council England. 2000. The Next Stage: Towards a National Policy for Theatre in England. London: Arts Council England.Google Scholar
  5. Arts Council of Great Britain. 1960. Fifteenth Annual Report 1959–1960. London: Arts Council of Great Britain.Google Scholar
  6. ———. 1970. The Theatre Today in England and Wales. London: Arts Council of Great Britain.Google Scholar
  7. Aston, Elaine, and Elin Diamond, eds. 2009. The Cambridge Companion to Caryl Churchill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Aston, Elaine, and Geraldine Harris. 2012. A Good Night Out for the Girls. London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  9. Balme, Christopher B. 2014. The Theatrical Public Sphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Barrett, Daniel. 1999. Play Publication, Readers, and the ‘Decline’ of Victorian Drama. Book History 2: 173–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Billington, Michael. 1996. Harold Pinter. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
  12. Bishop, George W., ed. 1929. The Amateur Dramatic Yearbook and Community Theatre Handbook 1928–9. London: A&C Black.Google Scholar
  13. Bolton, Jacqueline. 2012. Capitalizing (on) New Writing: New Play Development in 1990s. Studies in Theatre and Performance 32 (2): 209–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Boyden, Peter. 2000. Roles and Functions of the English Regional Producing Theatres: Final Report to the Arts Council England. Bristol: Peter Boyden Associates.Google Scholar
  15. Bradley, Ian. 2005. Oh Joy! Oh Rapture! The Enduring Phenomenon of Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. British Drama League. 1945. Twenty-Five Years of the British Drama League. Oxford: Alden Press.Google Scholar
  17. Brown, Ian, and Rob Brannen. 1996. When Theatre Was for All: The Cork Report, After Ten Years. New Theatre Quarterly 12: 367–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Brownlee, David, David Edgar, Wendy Haines, Clare Ollerhead, and Dan Rebellato. 2015. British Theatre Repertoire 2013. London: Arts Council England.Google Scholar
  19. Burton, Sarah. 2011. How to Put on a Community Play. London: Aurora Metro.Google Scholar
  20. Cellier, François, and Cunningham Bridgeman. 1914. Gilbert and Sullivan and Their Operas. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.Google Scholar
  21. Chambers, Colin, ed. 2002. The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre. London: Continuum.Google Scholar
  22. Chan, Tak Wing, and John H. Goldthorpe. 2005. The Social Stratification of Theatre, Dance and Cinema Attendance. Cultural Trends 14 (3): 193–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Churchill, Caryl. 1985. Introduction. In Plays 1. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  24. Cork, Kenneth. 1986. Theatre IS for All: Report of the Inquiry into Professional Theatre in England Under the Chairmanship of Sir Kenneth Cork. London: Arts Council of Great Britain.Google Scholar
  25. Corman, Brian. 1992. What Is the Canon of English Drama, 1660–1737? Eighteenth-Century Studies 26 (2): 307–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Cotes, Peter. 1949. No Star Nonsense: A Challenging Declaration of Faith in the Essentials of Tomorrow’s Theatre. London: Theatre Book Club.Google Scholar
  27. ———. 1957. A Handbook for the Amateur Theatre. London: Oldbourne Press.Google Scholar
  28. Davis, Tracy C. 2009. Nineteenth Century Repertoires. Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film 36 (2): 6–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Davis, Tracy C., and Christopher B. Balme. 2015. A Cultural History of Theatre: A Prospectus. Theatre Survey 56 (3): 402–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Dobson, Michael. 2011. Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Dodd, Fiona, Andrew Graves, and Karen Taws. 2008. Our Creative Talent: The Voluntary and Amateur Arts in England. London: DCMS.Google Scholar
  32. Dorney, Kate, ed. 2013. Played in Britain: Modern Theatre in 100 Plays. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  33. Downs, Harold. 1926. Theatre and Stage. London: Pitman.Google Scholar
  34. Edgar, David. 2013. Playwriting Studies: Twenty Years On. Contemporary Theatre Review 23 (2): 99–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Edgar, David, Dan Rebellato, Janelle Reinelt, Steve Waters, and Julie Wilkinson. 2009. Writ Large: New Writing on the English Stage 2003–09. London: British Theatre Consortium.Google Scholar
  36. Elsam, Paul. 2010. Harold Pinter’s the Birthday Party: The ‘Lost’ Second Production. Studies in Theatre and Performance 30 (3): 257–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. ———. 2013. Stephen Joseph, Theatre Pioneer and Provocateur. London: Bloomsbury Methuen.Google Scholar
  38. Green, Michael. 1964. The Art of Coarse Acting. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  39. Guillory, John. 2013. Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  40. Gunn, John, and Barbara Bingham. 1957. Acting for You. London: Lutterworth Press.Google Scholar
  41. Joseph, Tony. 1994. D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1875–1982: An Unofficial History. London: Bunthorne Books.Google Scholar
  42. Kelly, Mary. 1939. Village Theatre. London: Thomas Nelson.Google Scholar
  43. ———. 1948. Group Play-Making. London: G.G. Harrap.Google Scholar
  44. Kerman, Joseph. 1983. A Few Canonic Variations. Critical Inquiry 10: 107–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lowerson, John. 2005. Amateur Operatics: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  46. McCaffery, Michael. 1988. Directing a Play. London: Phaidon.Google Scholar
  47. Meth, Jonathan. 2004. Commissioning New Work: A Good Practice Guide for Amateur Theatre Companies and Playwrights. London: Arts Council England.Google Scholar
  48. Naylor, Richard, Bethany Lewis, Caterina Branzanti, Graham Devlin, and Alan Dix. 2016. Analysis of Theatre in England. London: Arts Council England.Google Scholar
  49. Newton, Robert. 1967. A Creative Approach to Amateur Theatre. London: J. Garnett Miller.Google Scholar
  50. Purdom, C. B. 1930. Producing Plays: A Handbook for Producers and Players. New York: E.P. Dutton.Google Scholar
  51. Radosavljević, Duska. 2013. Theatre-Making: The Interplay between Text and Performance in the 21st Century. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  52. Rebellato, Dan. 1999. 1956 and All That. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  53. Roach, Joseph. 1996. Cities of the Dead. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Rowell, George, and Anthony Jackson. 1984. The Repertory Movement: A History of Regional Theatre in Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Saunders, Graham. 2012. Prizes for Modernity in the Provinces: The Arts Council’s 1950–1951 Regional Playwriting Competition. History Research 2 (2): 73–109.Google Scholar
  56. Schoch, Richard. 2016. Writing the History of the British Stage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Sharman, Helen E. 2004. Directing Amateur Theatre. London: A&C Black.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shipley, Michael. 2015. New Writing. Little Theatre Guild Newsletter, November 9.Google Scholar
  59. Sladen-Smith, Francis. 1933. The Amateur Producer’s Handbook. London: Thomas Nelson.Google Scholar
  60. Taylor, George. 1976. History of the Amateur Theatre. Melksham: Colin Venton White Horse Library.Google Scholar
  61. Taylor, Diana. 2003. The Archive and the Repertoire. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tomlin, Liz. 2015. British Theatre Companies 1995–2014. London: Bloomsbury.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Turner, Cathy, and Synne Behrndt. 2007. Dramaturgy and Performance. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  64. Wallis, Mick. 2000. Unlocking the Secret Soul: Mary Kelly, Pioneer of Village Theatre. New Theatre Quarterly 16 (4): 347–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Worthen, William B. 2010. Drama: Between Poetry and Performance. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  66. Zarhy-Levo, Yael. 2008. Making of Theatrical Reputations. Iowa City: Iowa University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jane Milling
    • 1
  • Nadine Holdsworth
    • 2
  • Helen Nicholson
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of DramaUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  2. 2.School of Theatre and Performance StudiesUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK
  3. 3.Department of Drama, Theatre and DanceRoyal Holloway, University of LondonEghamUK

Personalised recommendations