In the past thirteen years I’ve had various jobs. I’ve been a fish filleter, reporter, nun, mayoress, shoe shop assistant, cheerleader and on several occasions I’ve been an evil henchman/sidekick. I’ve been rich and poor, won money and lost money. I’ve been engaged, married and had a child go off to war.
And I’m only 24 years old!
That’s the joy of being a member of Dewsbury Arts Group; each different production I get involved with gives me a chance to be or do something more exciting and interesting than the last time. Each new season has a variety of plays that let the people involved with them have a few weeks of escapism. It feels like an exciting double life sometimes; I forget that my job sees me sitting on my backside for 8 hours a day, staring at a computer screen. Instead I can throw on a costume and jump on stage and something happens that lets me run away on an adventure – even if it is only for an evening before I have to return to reality.
As a fairly active and some would say “gobby” 11 year old (now most would confirm I’m still as “gobby” if not slightly worse), my mum was stuck for something to direct all my energy at. One of her friends suggested I join DAG and I (nor my mum) have ever looked back. I was supported and coached through the Youth Classes and then as I got older slowly made more friends through the Group in the Adult section whilst taking part in productions and other Arts Group activities. I will never forget the day David Wood took the first Youth Class I ever attended and told all of us there that we were now a part of the Group, we had paid our membership and now this was our Group, where we belonged. As I didn’t particularly enjoy school I used to think of the Youth Classes on a Saturday morning as a “treat” for making it through another week. I could see my friends, have a laugh, learn new skills and take part in plays.
I love the ethos of the Youth section – anyone who wants to be involved gets to be involved. If someone wants to act in a youth play, they can do. Youth members aren’t auditioned so only “the best” get to act; everyone has the chance to experience what it’s like to be on stage in front of an audience. That’s what I like about DAG compared to some other youth clubs, we don’t charge extortionate fees and it’s very inclusive. I now help (Alex would probably say hinder!) with the Youth classes. I like seeing the youth members when they first arrive, too nervous to talk to the person sat next to them, and then when they move up to the advanced group we can’t shut them up! As well as teaching stage skills the youth classes are great for helping boost confidence and self esteem.
I think one of my favourite memories was when I was asked if I would like to go to Germany with DAG when we took “The Good Companions” on tour when I was 15 years old. It was the first time I had been away from my parents abroad and that was when I really thought “I’ve found somewhere I fit in”; I felt like I had been accepted as part of the Group. I remember it taking a full day to put up the stage in the outdoor car park we were using as our venue. We took our time setting the lights and sound and made sure the costume area was ready to be used. The weather was glorious all day; many of us caught the sun and enjoyed sitting outside to eat our lunches.
However, come evening time and 20 minutes into the first act, the heavens opened. I have never seen rain bounce so high off the ground. The actors persevered but the stage became a slippery death-trap and our production had to be abandoned. What took an entire day to put up took a couple of hours to load back into the vans before we all headed inside for a warming glass of peach schnapps. That’s team work!
The main reason why I keep going to the Arts Group is the friends I have made there. They range from the youth members right through to the OAPs; everyone mucks in together. I love that I can go down to Lower Peel Street and there will always be someone there to talk to. I have learnt so much from all the members of DAG, someone is always there to offer advice should it be needed. I’ve been directed by some brilliant people who have been patient with me when I felt I have struggled and have taught me so much. They taught me the discipline I needed and also to enjoy what we do.
I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people by trying to make them laugh. Being a part of productions gives me a great opportunity to do this and also do something that I greatly care about. An old man came up to me in the pub the other day and told me both he and his wife enjoyed my performance in “Ladies’ Day”, a play we put on last year. It meant the world to me that someone remembered a production and enjoyed it so much they told me about it a year later; that I had been a part of something that had made someone smile and enjoy the same escapism I felt by being on that stage.
Dewsbury Arts Group is about to celebrate its 50th Anniversary and I think that speaks volumes about the type of group it is. The group has only lasted so long because of the dedication of its audiences, members and patrons, the professionalism in which it approaches the productions it puts on and the friendships that are at its foundation.
I look forward to the next 50 years…