HATS Melody Makers

Whether or not a panto, play or musical is in production, there’s rarely a time of year when the Hockwold Amateur Theatrical Society (HATS) in Norfolk is ‘resting’.

Especially since 2018 -- when Sue Perry, a HATS management committee member, developed and ran with an idea for an entertainment programme to commemorate two very important UK anniversaries. 

Although she couldn’t know it at the time, her concept for a one-off programme would turn into much more: a source of new revenue for HATS, a way to keep HATS members engaged throughout non-production periods and also draw those members who might not participate in the group’s stage productions to a new vehicle for performing. (“I can’t really take credit for members joining who are usually behind the scenes, for planning to get them out of their shells,” Perry insists. “That was just a happy by-product!”)

And voila! HATS’ performing group the Melody Makers was created, making their debut that year by performing variety musical programmes primarily at residential care homes in Norfolk and Suffolk. 

Fast forward three years and long spells of Covid-19 pandemic lockdown later, HATS’ Melody Makers are now making music once more, adding new homes and a local church to their informal circuit.

“We all really like singing,” Perry says. “And we love it when we get a good response from the audience. A lot of them are dementia patients, so they might look like they’re not interested or like they’re asleep or they don’t smile. But usually we’re told, and sometimes patients join in, and it’s lovely to see them enjoying themselves and enjoying what we’re doing.”

In addition to reaping the rewards of their enjoyment of singing and pleasure in entertaining others, the Melody Makers charge an hourly rate to perform, with all proceeds going to HATS. So far, the revenues have helped the group buy basic sound equipment, for instance.

Asked what generated the Melody Makers’ start, Perry shared the group’s history. 

The centenary of World War I Armistice Day 1918 as well as the 100th birthday of the Royal Air Force stirred an idea: why not put together an entertainment programme in honour of these events that HATS could take outside of their traditional venue, Hockwold’s village hall. 

“I asked the committees if any of them had any interest, and quite a few of them were interested,” Perry recalls. “And it went from there, really.”

Perry rang residential care homes nearby to gauge interest, and “we had about four to start with”, she says. 

Through 2019 and the beginning of 2020, the group was in demand. But the global pandemic shut down operations until this past summer. Rehearsals started up once more in July. And now they’re back, having already performed two gigs in early autumn, with more booked.

There are group numbers, solos and some movement, too. Often the programmes have a theme, which will be reflected in their performance outfits. Perry also designs small badges for each theme.

What does the future hold for the Melody Makers? “We’re all enjoying it,” Perry says. “I’m hoping we’ll improve our sound as we go on, getting used to using the microphones and getting our voices and the music in balance. It is brilliant to see all our singers gaining in confidence!”

The full corps of HATS will resume performing in Spring 2022 with A Royale Variety Show.