Places, everyone! Here’s Calamity Ben

Next week I will be taking part in my third musical at the Ipswich Regent. Donning my dancing shoes – yes, I have dancing shoes what of it? – putting on my make-up and costume and warming up my excellent singing voice.

Hey, some people’s hobby is fishing or trainspotting. It’s not that bad. Some people’s hobby is fishing and amateur dramatics – that’s pretty bad. I wouldn’t want to meet that guy unless I had pre-arranged a phone call to get me out of it after 20 minutes.

It’s Calamity Jane time for Ipswich Operatic and Dramatic Society and the show is looking and sounding great. Our leading lady is stunning, talented, everything you could want. Our second leading lady is stunning, talented, everything you could want.

Our leading man is fine if you like that sort of thing and I suppose he is talented; apparently more talented than me but I didn’t want that part anyway, I only auditioned for a laugh and I’m too busy with my awesome band.

The musical director is great. The choreography is great. The director is great. Even the costumes are great. Everything is great. (It would have been better if they had a blonde guy about 30 who writes for a newspaper as the leading man but, whatever... whatever, let’s move on. People shouldn’t dwell on this stuff. It doesn’t bother me.)

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Previously in my grand acting career I’ve played a Nazi, a vicar and now a cowboy, although it is a cross-dressing cowboy which is just my luck, really.

The one time I get to be a cowboy and they throw this cross-dressing business into it. I feel like I’ve been elected prime minister but I have to carry an ugly Cleggian weight around my neck, ruining the experience and making my term as cowboy ultimately pointless and completely forgetful.

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Amateur dramatics is a funny world. If you are not part of it you are probably imagining wobbly scenery and the sound trumpets make when they are not blown correctly. Perhaps even poor performances or bad singing.

If you are part of that world you know this couldn’t be further from the truth. You know that the orchestras are astonishing, you know the production values are second to none and you know that you should have got that part the other person got because you are definitely better.

Amateur musicals are often a local alternative to West End shows and the only real differences are the ticket price and the fact you don’t have to put up with trendy London people and their stupid flat caps when you go to watch.

The ones I have seen have always blown me away because they look and sound incredible. But you can have all the lighting and sound in the world, if you don’t have the cast to back them up you don’t have a show.

The performances are the one thing that surprise people who don’t see a lot of amateur theatre. There is some amazing talent in amateur shows and the best thing is you know those performing want to be there.

They aren’t a group of angry West End actors, idly ploughing through their 100th performance before they can run back stage and satisfy their drink problem. You get to see a group of eager people, excitedly doing five shows before they can run back stage and satisfy their drink problem.

Sometimes the only difference between amateurs and professionals is that amateurs tend to have families, friends, people skills and they don’t treat every stranger with a sense of suspicion. Sometimes.

Then there are the hundreds of behind the scenes people who do all the work behind the scenes. Obviously I don’t know who any of them are, I don’t talk to them; I’m an actor, but the show you see on stage is a tiny part of the massive am-dram machine.

Auditions, music auditions, dance auditions then the six months of rehearsals all of which build up to opening night.

So if you fancy seeing my excellent singing (not my words, the words of my mother) and a leading man who is actually very good, then come along between April 13 and 16 at the Regent, Ipswich. It’s worth coming just to see if I’m drunk that night.

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