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Sunday, February 10, 2013

SERVING THE HUMAN RACE or WHY COMMUNITY THEATER?

(Yes, you too can graduate from Community Theatre U!)
(Brief Digression--- whether you spell the word "theater" or "theatre", grammatically speaking, is fine.  Some people make distinctions between the spelling of the words, such as "theater" is a venue and "theatre" is an artform, or sport, but, while it is fine to feel like a smartypants with these distinctions, they don't really come from general vocabulary usage.  I'll write more on this some other time).

Today at Theater is a Sport, I had planned to write some audition tips for people wanting to get involved with community theater. 

I changed my mind. 

I thought to myself, before helping people land parts in their local community theater, perhaps I should write a bit about WHY community theater even exists, and its role in our culture, and, even, the vital role it plays in the very notion of what it means to be a human.  (Don't worry--- lowering the pretentious meter soon... please keep reading).

Community Theater, as a term, literally derived from the concept of theater being designed specifically for a certain community of people.  That makes sense, right?  According to my research, Community Theater in America was a branch of the Little Theater Movement circa 1912 (which merits a blog post of its own).  Nowadays, I think most people identify the term "Community Theater" as being "non-professional" theater, or theater in the "amateur" market.  Please don't be offended by the terms "amateur" or non-professional"--- I have spent a good part of my life being an "amateur" actor, and all I mean by this is that I provide acting services without being given money for my services.  That's all it means.  If you're an amateur actor, it just means you love acting enough to do it for free.

I'd like to spend another second on the initial concept, however:  theater designed specifically for a certain community of people.  What a lovely notion that is!  How it makes my heart glow and lips stretch into a smile!  A community of people putting on a show for a community of people!  What better show of a community's strength is there than gathering together to share a "communal" experience as audience and storytellers, sharing the same energy of the room, giving and taking from one another, and, most of all, simultaneously being part of a moment in time with one another, a special, rare moment in time that can never be repeated?  What better definition of community is there than this group of storytellers and audience becoming a single unit, where every single person's connection to the story enriches and completes the outcome?

Why does community theater exist?  The human race needs stories!

Why does community theater exist when there are so many other ways to find stories (movies, tv, the internet, etc.)?  I'll tell you why--- because not only does the human race need stories, it needs that connection you can only attain when you are part of sharing that distinct moment, live and in person, with no real barrier between you and the storyteller.  We are a world that is becoming obsessed with screens (says the fellow whose words you are reading from a screen), but these screens, while often valuable, create a layer of protection from what can truly be an amazing, cathartic experience (whether through laughter or tears).  Let that layer drop, and trust me, you share a mutual vulnerability with the performers that will touch you in a way that the screens cannot.  And this connection through the removal of layers is a profound and noble experience.  I truly believe this. 

Why should anyone care about "amateur" or Community Theater?  Shouldn't we just save our money for  a Broadway show (or at least an Equity Regional Theater)?
I will always encourage people to attend a Broadway show if they have the means.  I will always recommend people to attend their nearby Regional Theater, or professional summer stock, or touring shows, all of it.  It is a great way to spend your time, broaden your horizons, and be moved by gifted performers, directors, writers, and technicians.

Having said this, I must STRONGLY tell you my firm belief is that without thriving community theaters across the country, and, indeed, the world, professional theater would, and will, starve and ultimately die.

You might think I'm crazy for believing this, which is okay.  I am a little crazy, and am still determining whether it is a character fault or one of my finest graces (feel free to comment below with your opinion).

The reason I strongly believe this, however, is because COMMUNITIES ARE THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF CIVILIZATION.  Before we fix the State, we fix the Town.  Amateur theaters, like school and community theaters, is where a love for the craft (and sport) begins.  It is where a child (like I was once was) watches their parents (like mine) transform into other people.  It is where you see your best friend shine like a star playing Felix in "The Odd Couple".  It is where you see the shy local teenager who works at her father's hardware store become "Thoroughly Modern Millie".  And this is a kind of magic.  To see people you know, people you've grown up with, people who check out your groceries or give you your annual physical cast off their every day lives to tell you a story.  

It is at this level that you become hungry for more stories, it is at this level where you might think, "Huh--- maybe I should save up to take the family to see a Broadway show".  Or, even if you never can afford to do so, you have still enriched your life by experiencing theater at the community level.

That's my answer to "Why community theater?"

And I cannot state strongly enough that whether your community theater performs in a church basement with minimal lights and settings, or is a 300-seat auditorium with nice lights and sound equipment (like my hometown community theater, The Center Theatre, which you will see a picture of below), it is VITAL you remember that your purpose is TO SERVE YOUR COMMUNITY.  I will spend time on this blog about developing a community theater, attaining non-profit status, building an audience, yada, yada, yada, but I will continue to return to this soapbox:  your first, and most important goal, is TO SERVE YOUR COMMUNITY, and by proxy, SERVE HUMANITY.  The reason I harp on this is because this intention is what elevates all theater, including Community Theater, to an art.  Because all art serves humanity.  It is what makes it vital and noble.

Later this week, I will write a post about why people should get involved with community theater, and some tips for auditioning.  Tune in tomorrow to read a post about my HERO WORSHIP of a playwright that I believe truly proves that theater is a sport, and, don't miss Tuesday's post where I will begin my online playwriting tutorial.

Until then, please feel free to leave comments or questions in the box below, or e-mail me at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com

If you would like to see my playwright page on facebook and become a fan, follow, this link: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bobby-Keniston-Playwright-Page/148232788536601

If you would like to learn more about Community Theater across the country, I recommend visiting the American Association of Community Theatre's website, which is here:  http://www.aact.org/

Okay, so until next time, please remember:  Theater is a Sport. 


Picture of The Center Theatre, in Dover-Foxcroft, ME, courtesy of their website: 

2 comments:

  1. Great job Bobby! I am a community theater actress, and proud of it . Please note ACTRESS. Never ever call me an actor. I am secure in being female. Long live community theater!

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    1. Thanks! And thank you for acting in community theater!

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