Pocahontas Players Heacham and ‘Alice in Jumbleland’ Pantomime

  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.

Photo by Justine Carter

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