The Pocahontas Players is an amateur drama group in Heacham, which started in 1995 with their first production, ‘Parallel Lines’ Janice Curtis and Jeannie Tooley are the founder members of the group, who previously belonged to ‘Sedgeford Amateur Dramatics’. Jane Knight was also one of the three founder members, but unfortunately passed away about three years after the Pocahontas Players first started up.
Janice and Jeannie decided that they wanted to start their own drama group after being part of the Sedgeford group for around three years. Janice always wanted to be on the stage, so Janice and Jeannie decided to create a breakaway group. Therefore, they arranged a meeting at Heacham Public Hall to discuss names for the group and how to start it off. The obvious name for the group to them was ‘Pocahontas Players’.
When the Pocahontas Players started off there was absolutely nothing in the Public Hall. Only a ‘tatty’ pair of curtains which were soaked, the back curtain which, when drawn, fell into strips and the back wall was smashed up. As well as being destroyed, the back wall had a piece of hardboard which contained posters of all the groups that had been in Heacham Public Hall from previous years. For instance, in the 1960s all the top line groups were around the local area and performed here. One of these groups was, “The Animals” who were number one in the charts when they performed here.
Until the Pocahontas Players started using the hall again for their shows and productions, the hall had been left unused for several years.
As there was nothing in the hall that could be put to use by the Players, they had to start from scratch with equipment and essentials to make the hall look modern again. The first donation received by the Pocahontas Players was kindly given by the Heacham Parish Council, being the sum of £50. With this money, the group made some equipment, such as stands, and progressed on over the years from there. From each show, they have gained sponsorship and more donations, enabling them to get new equipment such as microphones and new chairs.
One of the group’s sponsors in particular is Mick Jennings. He has sponsored the group throughout every production they have performed and even helped with things like raffle tickets, raffle prizes, advertising and donations.
In 2001, Janice Curtis’ mum bought the group some lights which were critical for their performances, coming to a grand total of £800.
The first production the group performed – ‘Parallel Lines’ contained wooden chairs for the audience to sit on. These particular chairs had lots of little holes in them, which wasn’t amazing! There also weren’t enough chairs to seat the audience because there were more people turning up as each show went on. Whilst these chairs were still in action, the group could only sell around seventy tickets because there quite simply weren’t enough chairs for any more than that number to sit on. In that particular play, there were around 15-18 members who took part.
As the group carried on, there was one terrific performance that created the best turnout the Pocahontas Players had ever had in their time. Therefore, they had to use the plastic garden chairs as well as the wooden ones to seat everybody who came, which of course caused plenty of chaos as you can imagine!
In the Players’ old days, they didn’t have any singers, so all of the cast used to sing one song together at some point during the performance..
Gradually the players have added and developed equipment and props to what they have today. The group’s current seating can take up to a maximum of two hundred people. They now have a full theatrical light set up, every single person who performs on the stage with lines is radio mic’d, whereas, beforehand there was a microphone that was passed around to everybody in turn, which didn’t work out for the group.
Each production conducted by the players never uses the same backdrop. Every new production performed has a brand new backdrop.
One of the key things that Janice and Dave Curtis told me was “We never use the same costumes.”
The Pocahontas Players are very good at getting members who stay for an extremely long time and make an impact on family generations. One of their members was supposed to perform in their first play but was unable to do this due to personal issues, but came back the second year. The member has now performed in every play since then and has gone on to have three children of his own. These children are now part of the Pocahontas Players themselves and they absolutely love it!
On the first week of the players’ discussion on a new performance, they sit in a circle and read through the play. Following on from this, the next three weeks consist of auditions for the pantomime. The audition panel will then mark the individual out of ten for stage presence, voice (if singing) and other factors that must demonstrate a good ability.
The majority of the players’ performances now contain about thirty-five to forty-five members; this will vary depending on which show it is.
The Pocahontas Players are always looking for backstage crew to join them in their performances, as the stage holds more interest for most people who take part in the performances.
Janice and Dave Curtis told me, “One of the nicest things about working with the individuals in the Pocahontas Players is that we see them all grow up.”
Therefore, every so often they get the members to write around two hundred words to go into the programme about themselves and their time through being part of the Pocahontas Players.
The Pocahontas Players don’t just give people the chance to perform, they boost their members’ confidence and help them achieve their goals.
In the programme for the performance ‘Alice in Jumbleland’ some of the cast wrote a few words.
Laura Thomas said, “One of the best things about this group is that people of all ages and backgrounds are connected by the same passion for the stage, and I have met many wonderful people over the years, including some of those who I now consider to be my best friends. The Pocahontas Players never judged my youth or lack of experience and gave me the opportunity to take on roles which helped my confidence grow in leaps and bounds – they believed in me, as they do everyone who steps through their door.”
Becca Whybrow said, “Being just thirteen when I first joined it helped tremendously with my confidence, I wouldn’t be who I am today without the support and friendship from the Pocahontas Players; from pushing me to audition big parts on stage, to supporting me through job interviews and other life experiences.”
Two people are worldwide entertainment managers who have been through the Pocahontas Players. They both built their confidence through the players and worked themselves up to where they are today.
I attended one of the four opportunities to watch ‘Alice in Jumbleland’ at the Public Hall in Heacham. ‘Alice in Jumbleland’ is a story written by the script writer, Jimma Race. Alice follows the White Rabbit into the world of the Queen of Hearts, Jumbleland. She agrees to help the White Rabbit on the quest he has been sent on by the queen, which requires him to return to the ‘Human World’ to collect certain things that the Queen needs. Whilst on this journey, they encounter characters from the Wild West, New York, Egypt and the Jungle and of course not to forget, Futuristic Freda. (The Queen’s soothsayer).
Peter Everingham wrote in the programme for the show. He is the director of the shows performed by the Pocahontas Players. He noted that, interestingly, there are at least six members of the cast who took part in the original productions 18 years ago!
The Pocahontas Players would like to thank Peter Oakes and Jenny, Mick Jennings and the Jutsum Family for their very generous donations which help keep the drama group in providing live entertainment for Heacham and the surrounding area to enjoy. Also, a huge thank you to Heacham Youth and Community Trust for their continued support.
This production was dedicated to the one and only “May Ada Rose Race” 1920-2016, who was the players number one fan and supporter since they began in 1995.
The next production will be presented around the months of May/June, entitled “Who Were You With Last Night?” Written by Janice Curtis. (2017). Make sure to keep an eye open for advertising, dates and ticket sales!
If you are interested in joining the Pocahontas Players, be sure to call 01485 570402 for details.
Remember, whatever your abilities are there will be something you can do to help with the next great show!
You can keep up with the players by visiting their website – www.pocahontasplayers.co.uk
Paris Larham, Heacham Newsletter