In common with many professional performers, I've been known to have the occasional disparaging word to say about amateurs - especially that particular breed of amateurs who believe with all their hearts that, had life been different, they too could have made a living treading the boards, dancing, singing or whatever-it-is. I might have been heard expressing the opinion that there are amateurs, and then there are bloody amateurs. I stand by this. Not all amateurs are created equal, and not all have that insufferable habit of wafting about, behaving in the way that they think think professionals do, but I came to that understanding only in recent years...
To be clear, I am not confusing trained with professional. I know lots of very gifted professional performers who are largely self-taught. Professional and trained are not interchangeable words. Professional is a lifestyle and an attitude, trained or not. Amateurs can be trained and might be very talented, but that doesn't mean they'd make it in the professional world. (In truth you've got to be more or less certifiable to want to live in the professional world). But I digress...
I discovered the difference between amateurs (tick, VG) and bloody amateurs (deduct a million house points) when I co-founded The VU Sound in 2008. VU is a huge contemporary choir based in Worcester, and it represents my first-ever excursion into the world of working with amateurs. I have to tell you, the first 18 months weren't easy. I went home after every rehearsal swearing that I was never going to do it again. I didn't understand why the choir members didn't think, look or act like professionals, and it drove me mad. I questioned why I was doing the job when I got no real satisfaction out of it. Then one day after a show, several of the ladies of the choir came up to me in tears, and what they said changed my perspective and my oh-so-superior professional opinion. What they said was "Thank you so much for letting me be in VU, it has completely changed my life".
You see, I thought that the choir members were just coming along to sing songs each week, perhaps meet some new friends and then go home and forget about it until the following week. That turned out not to be true. Certainly, new friendships were formed. Marriages were saved. Illnesses were recovered from. Lives were transformed, and a truly amazing camaraderie was established. In the intervening years I have learned to change my approach when working with this particular group of amateurs. I no longer expect them to behave or think like professionals, but I teach them as best I can not only how to sing expressively and with good technique but also how to conduct themselves like professionals in performance and rehearsal situations. I set the bar very high and I expect them to jump over it - with assistance. I make demands on them in terms of commitment, and those demands are always met. To the very best of their ability, this wonderful group of people delivers. They rarely complain, they never consider giving less than their best, or not doing everything that is asked of them. They don't make excuses, they have an incredible work ethic, and best of all they don't believe for one second that they are or could have been professionals. And that's a good thing. Their amateur status should be accepted for what it is and celebrated. But there will be no wafting about being pretentious. Not on my watch.
Has the experience changed my mind about amateurs in general? Nope. Do I want ever to work with amateurs again? Not really, and especially not if they come in the "Coulda been a contender" mould. But this particular group of people have been a joy to work with and have taught me many things, for which I thank them. So if you come to see the production of Jesus Christ Superstar in Gloucester Cathedral which features VU as a 100-strong acting / singing chorus, what you will see is 100 unpaid performers being honest, passionate and committed to the job at hand. Not wannabes. Not fake professionals. And certainly not bloody amateurs.
my castle, my game, my rules
My occasional thoughts, rants, updates and perspectives various. Definitely not the opinions of the BBC.