Published on 30 April 2012

Where We Dream, West Bromwich Operatic Society and the Fine Art of Musical Theatre is now available to download here. This page is a record of the original idea, which has evolved since the start in March 2011.

Where We Dream: the original outline

Amateur theatre has been part of our cultural and social life for so long that it is easily taken for granted, especially by those not directly involved. Worse, it is sometimes portrayed as the faintly embarrassing hobby of the egotistical and the untalented, not least in the professional arts world.

It was partly to challenge this out-dated and condescending image that I asked West Bromwich Operatic Society (WBOS) if they would allow me to tell their story. I wanted to create a portrait of amateur theatre today, through the prism of a single company putting on one show, to understand the important place it has in so many people’s lives.By chance, WBOS were just starting to rehearse The Producers, Mel Brooks’s affectionate and very funny satire of Broadway musicals. It was an irresistible opportunity to tell the story of a group of people putting on a show – about a group of people putting on a show.

So, in July last year, I began to attend rehearsals and talk to company members. One of my early interviews was with Marjorie Smith, a founder member who had appeared in Maid of the Mountains in 1938 and had fascinating insights into the amateur theatre in the pre-war years. The youngest person I spoke to was studying for her A-levels, doing schoolwork while waiting for the rehearsal to start.

And between those poles were all sorts of people of different ages and backgrounds united by their love of performing theatre. A whole social history emerged from their memories. The company has performed in many different theatres since the Plaza in West Bromwich was converted into a cinema in the early 1960s and then finally demolished. They have seen the town itself fall on hard times and work towards recovery. They have gone from singing operetta to musicals, adopting radio microphones and computers, and marketing their shows online. Over the years, they have got stronger and more ambitious, able to play 1,000 seat theatres like the Birmingham Alexandra in and the Wolverhampton Grand, always striving to fulfil the promise made in their earliest programmes: ‘an amateur company with professional standards’.

And The Producers certainly did achieve that promise at the Alex in November 2011. It was a joyous production, silly, camp and full of good tunes that had the audience laughing with delight. I have often sat through less accomplished, and much less enjoyable, professional shows.

The story of the production, of WBOS itself and of the place of amateur theatre in the changing life of West Bromwich, is told in a new book published by Multistory on 1 May 2012. The book includes photographs by Kate Jackson and François Matarasso, and  a 15-minute film by Ben Wigley, in which members reflect on what the company means to them. The book also asks how meaningful is the division between amateurs and professionals, suggesting that it is better to see the whole theatre and arts world as a complex ecology in which every element is mutually supportive.

Where We Dream was presented for the first time to WBOS members and guests at The Public in West Bromwich on 30 April 2012. There were the usual speeches and readings from the book but the evening’s highlight were songs from The Producers reprised by Simon, Leon and Rachel and a moving, full chorus performance of the closing number from Titanic, which WBOS had performed in Wolverhampton a week before. It was a special privilege to be able to present Marjorie Smith with a bouquet at the end of the evening.

Where We Dream was made possible by Multistory, a West Bromwich based arts organisation, and funded by Arts Council England and Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council.

To order a copy of Where We Dream, as a book and DVD package, please contact Caron Wright at  Multistory:

The cost is  £7.00 including postage (UK) or £10 (outside UK).

This Regular Marvel was completed in May 2012: the book is available on the downloads page.

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