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By Jeff Thomson

A third national lockdown might be thought to have crushed all local optimism. Lockdowns have certainly bludgeoned both individuals and our differing arts communities into the ground but among the privations, postponements, cancellations and crises there are examples of community resilience and spirit.

The Godalming Theatre Group (GTG) is one of our local drama societies that has faced lockdown challenges head on. GTG has supporters far beyond the town.   Members can be found in Farnham, Farnborough, Woking, Alton and Guildford and I learned from GTG Chair-person Denise Hodgkiss they currently provide active links for over 1,500 members and supporters. Predictably some are in contact several times a week while others dip in and out as they wish.  


Hodgkiss told me: “As a committee GTG identified both a need and duty to maintain links with as many members and supporters as we could.  A significant number live in outlying villages and so we shifted our contact emphasis to an on-line facility.  This additionally presented challenges, some of our members needed computer tuition and a specific encouragement to link with Zoom.  But we’ve got there!”

A natural conclusion might be that any Drama Society, when denied direct social contact and inter-action, would wither under lockdown conditions.  


One key issue the GTG committee faced was the ongoing justification of membership subscriptions – a vital income stream that contributes to the on-going costs of scene storage, costume and lighting maintenance etc.  This was overcome when introducing weekly quizzes, play readings and a renewed emphasis on the newsletter.  I learned these links are increasingly valued, additionally offering a neighbourly forum that underpins morale.  The play readings led to the sharing of ideas and the informal circulation of Borough information. But more was to come.


During the second lockdown, a short evening of entertainment was ‘beamed’ to Joigny in northern France. Joigny is twinned with Godalming and was itself coming to terms with severe lockdown conditions.  The Godalming gesture was well received.  


Some weeks later, when UK guidance relaxed, Zoom auditions for the play ‘Two’ by Jim Cartwright were announced. Those successfully cast went into both Zoom and socially-distanced rehearsals.   The rehearsal programme meticulously kept to HMG guidance during the period of filming; careful editing made inter-actions that didn’t actually occur seem real.   An on-line premier raised £3,000 for the Godalming Food Bank.

Recently retired from teaching, Denise Hodgkiss had hoped to spend more time with her son and daughter and grandchildren,

“This hasn’t been possible and I have found that difficult, in fact very difficult not to be with them, but fortunately there is plenty to be getting on with.” 

I learned the GTG Youth Group, led by Madeleine Gibb and David Dray, continues with a popular weekly i-pad programme for a dozen or more keen young people and asked if there were any particular lessons GTG or she might wish to share?  There was a pause, “Yes, be ambitious; be more ambitious, you don’t know how far you can stretch until you make that effort!”

Councillor Penny Rivers, Mayor of Godalming, has recognised the efforts GTG and Denise Hodgkiss continue to make.  In a recent letter she wrote, ‘Volunteers transform our town into a community that benefits all.  Volunteers often work long hours unseen and unrecognised and so it is my immense pleasure and privilege to grant you a Town Mayor’s Award for Volunteers.’

It is an award well earned. 

ARTICLE FOR NODA (National Operatic and Dramatic Association) | JANUARY 2021


By Spencer Cummins, GTG Director


Lockdown? OK, a new direction! GTG wanted members to experience something close to a professional filmed production: auditions on camera, filming on location, cast call times, a shooting schedule, professional camera and lighting, plus a sound man with a boom mic!

TWO, by Jim Cartwright was the perfect vehicle: a beautifully written two hander, set in a pub, with one man and one woman playing multiple parts (fourteen in total). However, with permission we transformed it to 14 actors playing the roles through duologues and monologues, thereby suiting social distancing.

Cast confirmed, there followed an online read-through in preparation for live rehearsals to begin. Then, new government regulations – the rule of six was announced… all plans scuppered? No! Undeterred, online rehearsals followed -  challenging everyone; no moving around to explore lines, or finding different ways to play the scene!

By reducing the crew to just three – director, camera, sound, we could still film the scenes separately on location. We soon realised that early, meticulous learning of lines, is crucial for one take monologues and pick-ups for new camera positions; allowing the creative team to concentrate on the technical side. Filming set for two weeks tipped into a third one before the play was ‘in the can’.

The actors were superb: tackling new challenges head on such as continuity with props and actions, performing multiple takes and indeed talking to camera for the first time! Very different techniques to stage work.

After editing, the film was available for viewing online for one day only, as per our digital rights. Free to watch, we encouraged donations to a local charity –  Godalming Community Store. The effort, trials and tribulations were rewarded tenfold by the appreciation and generosity of our audience who donated over £3000.

I was extremely proud to direct this GTG project and would highly recommend TWO for other groups looking for either a Zoom or filmed production. It was a fantastic way to offer our members an exciting new challenge at a time when no live theatre performances were possible.  

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