Hemel Hempstead AMateur dramatics Society (HHAMS)

“Imagine creating something and giving it both consciousness and a rectum. What sick joke is this? And then Jesus has the audacity to say ‘consider the lily.’ Yes, it’s easy when you’re a lily, sans-bum-hole. I did consider the lily and then I shat myself.”

– Raph Shirley, Hemel Hempstead, 2011.

When you’re a busy busyness man you wear many different hats (try to remember that I just set up the word hats for in a minute). Computer programmer yes, computer gamer yes, computer owner… oui, but I release my creative juices in the form of being technical director of the Hemel Hempstead Amateur Theatrical Society; The HHATS (remember?). It’s actually called HHAMS but I don’t wear many hams so it’s harder to fit in, joke-wize. I’ve been wanting to talk about something that happened with HHATS/HHAMS/HHADS for a while now, but so far the emotions have just been too fucking raw.

It is the 2011 Autumn season. A cool wind tickles an oak tree, like a lover tickles his woman during the sex act. The production is Noel Coward’s Private Lives. I’d never heard of it, but I had heard of Noel Coward. The script was formulaic yes, but the (my) lighting design was radical to say the least (it was fucking radical). The venue was The John Smithingwaite Hall. It was a three nighter and on opening night the cast were in a frenzy of conceited theatrical buzz. Line runs and high jinx and irritatingly good spirits all round. You know the sort; great fun when you’re on the inside, sickening when viewed from outside. Like one of Eddie Murphie’s fat suits.

I’d always suspected that am-dram-socs were little more than flimsy covers for provincial swinging clubs for the actors, but that night I wondered if there was more to it than just middle aged infidelity inappropriately on display to the naive sub-twenty members. They dreamed of playing the HH dome the young fools. I’d often take them for a McFlurry and tell them the truth that ‘every creature on this earth dies alone’. A speech no less profound for having been lifted from the over-rated Donnie Darko film. I’d go on to tell them that realizing Donnie Darko is not good is just a necessary step on the path to maturity. Truth is, when you’re one of the Kidz like me (taking an admittedly broad 5 to 31 age range) you dream crazy dreams like that every day, except the night time dreams, which are mainly sexual: The original Catwoman, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oy vey: the realization that even your fantasies have dated badly. I digress.

So anyways, I’m running the lights in the fourth scene and it occurs that this lighting job has been proficient at best. So I start to mix it up a bit. Disco lights and strobes, mirror balls and pyrotechnics. Yearly budgets in seconds. Blackouts over punchlines. Snow machines over set ups. Before I know it I’ve barged the seventeen year old beside me off the sound desk and I’ve taken control of the audience’s ears as well. Zoo sound effects and techno beats at full volume. The Stage manager’s in my ear “what are you doing? Could you stop doing that? I think someone is having an epileptic fit.” I say “believe me Kate you’ll understand when you hit 16.” I’m lookin’ at the audience reaction – they’re bewildered, they’re ecstatic. True, some of them don’t like it, but they gots to admit that it is a truly unique vision, an experiment in to what is possible in a theater.

The show finishes, the bows are taken, the audience leaves. I run down the stairs and in to the dressing room. Bunches and bunches of flowers await me, I’m hugging the flowers to my tingling flesh – I rush out into the car park, where the cast have gathered to smoke and discuss the evenings events. The Leading Lady (LL) approaches dramatically, and says “those are for me you stupid fucking idiot”. “No need to swear.” I think… and say. “Where we goin’ now?”. LL, stares at me, mouth open. Barely able to conceal how impressed she was with the lights. I’ve always been good at judging moods, but I’m not sure what the vibe is here. I decide to go for it. I lean forward to kiss her but she puts her hand on my chest and says “fuck off.” I run in to the darkness, and in to the night, and in to an oak tree (same one), and am informed by email that I am fired from HHATS for 6 months, and that I “ruined” the evening.

I obey their dictat (except for one drunken final show where I sneak in to the audience on closing night and steal the microphone while that same dreadful leading woman thanks her husband for being ‘a rock’, and I tell the baying crowds how narrow minded they would seem to aliens if they landed on earth and what a slapper the leading lady is, and my beret disguise droops off my indignant face as I realize my life behind the lights must end, and it is time to walk… befront of the lights).