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Saturday, April 20, 2013

How To Bring Theatre to a Community

My Student, Claire Hamlin, sent this to me.  I like it.  (Note:  Theater is a Sport is in no way affiliated with HBO or Game of Thrones)
Hello ladies and genltemen, and welcome to Theater is a Sport, where I talk about why theater is an important part of our lives and culture, and, of course, why theater is a sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I am an actor, writer, director, and all-around drama-geek, and I have spent most of my life either writing for the stage or acting on one.  This blog is intended to share a little bit of what I've learned along the way.  Now, I want to stress that my advice is no the only advice on the subjects I choose--- it is all just stuff that has worked for me.

Today, I would like to talk about how to bring theatre to a community.  I've talked often about why it is important, so, why not move on to how to go for it... Remember, I am talking about community theater in this post, non-Equity.  I am also talking about a group putting on their very first show, before things move into areas of applying for non-profit status or not, etc.

1.  People who are interested in putting on a show
2.  A script, either original or a published script available for licensing
3.  And extension of number one--- actors, a director, and any other staff that is required.
4.  Some simple marketing
5.  Time
6.  Some money
7.  a location to perform and a location to rehearse
8.  A name for your group (this is somewhat optional, but a very good idea)

1.  Fancy lights
2.  Fancy costumes
3.  Expensive sets and props
4.  An actual theater (the building)
5.  A stage

So let's go through some of these points one at a time, shall we?  Let's start with THINGS YOU WILL NEED:

Unless you want to start by putting on a one person show (and, yes, plenty of them exist), and take care of every single detail yourself (which is a lot of work), it is a good idea to have a group of friends and like-minded people to help you put on a show.  Who do you choose to help you in this endeavor?  Well, that's simple:  people who are interested, and, if possible, people who's thoughts on theatre are similar to your own.  People with the same aesthetic sensibilities is a plus, people who are into the same kinds of play, etc.  It is also nice to work with people who have had some experience with theater, either onstage or offstage, in any of the major elements of the craft.  At the same time, it is also a plus to have nice people who may have no experience, but who are eager to learn and grow and just help out all-around.  I can't tell you how valuable someone eager to learn is to a production--- they put their heart into it every time, because everything is new to them.
This group of people is going to end up feeling like an extended family.  You are going to be depending on each other a great deal in this endeavor, leaning on one another, and working hard.  So it is important that you all accept one another and your quirks.
A final note:  it is a good idea to have a group of people who's intention truly is "putting on a show" and not some grander, vaporous goal of single-handedly providing culture to a community.  Remember, the job is to put on a show for the audience, not to feel superior to the audience (or your co-workers).  This is important.

Script selection is important for the very first show you decide to present to a community.  This group of people you have brought together should all be interested and somewhat excited about whatever script is chosen to produce.  Once you have decided on a script, you need to license it and pay royalties for it.  If it is an original by a local playwright, maybe they'd be interested in waiving any kind of royalties for the joy of having it produced, who knows?  In any case, make sure you work out an arrangement with the playwright of an unpublished script.

Yes, you will need actors and a director, obviously.  If you are starting with your group and want to take care of it all in-house for the first production, that is quite all right.  Otherwise, put in a press release about having auditions, and secure a space to have auditions for actors (Church and Library basements are pretty cheap for this kind of thing, or, if you have connections to a school where you could use a room for free, go for it... in fact, any space you can use for free is a good idea, outside of a residence {only use a residence as a last resort})   So, you've got actors.  The director most likely is the person who wanted to start this whole thing to begin with... not necessarily, of course, but I would assume it is at least someone from this initial group of people.  You also need to determine, based on your location for performance and budget, if you will need lighting people, set construction people, box office people to sell tickets and baked goods, costume people, etc.  If this is a bare bones project, and there's nothing wrong with that at all, most likely everybody involved is going to be helping out with all of these things.  There is a great joy to Theater by Any Means Necessary.

Again, this depends on the venue and the goals you wish to achieve.  If the goal is as simple as making your money back with maybe a little extra to bank for another production down the road, your marketing does not have to be a huge endeavor, but work should be put into it--- posters, of course, press releases, maybe even a simple, cheap ad in the local paper, fliers, Facebook event pages, e-mails to everyone you know, and any opportunity for exposure, pretty much.  If a reporter wants to interview and photograph you as you rehearse, say yes, obviously.  If you have a hometown radio station, even if "Nobody listens to it!", see if you can get an on-air interview.  If it is appropriate in content, advertise through school announcements at the local institutions of learning.  Get everyone who is part of the project involved in speading the word.

5.  TIME
Don't scrimp on this, because it doesn't cost you anything, and it is very important.  Your first venture may not have a lot going for it, but what it does have is time.  Take the time to rehearse, take the time to set things up as they should be.  Don't feel the need to go from auditions to perfomance in two weeks.  It's community theater, remember--- you're not trying to make backers their money back as quickly as possible.  You're trying to help bring some art to the community, so it is important to make sure that it is polished art that people can appeciate.  Don't rush.  Do it right.

Yes, you will need some money.  How much depends, yet again, on your location and your goals.  If you are performing in a Church basement or Library community room, the rental is probably rather inexpensive.  If you are trying to rent a big theater with professional quality lights, a huge stage, and 250 seats, your rental fee is going to be very high.  I suggest for the first venture to start small:  Granges, Legion Halls, maybe using a local school stage, are all fine ways to begin introducing your community to your theater group.  They are cheaper (maybe even free upfront for some of them), and that's not a bad thing.  The less overhead the better.  REMEMBER:  expansion comes later, if at all.  It is no less noble to have a play in a drained out swimming pool than it is to have it in a fancy schmancy theater (don't get me wrong--- those are nice too, but no more noble).
Other expenses, again, dependent upon goals:  set pieces, costumes, royalties for the script (probably pretty cheap if you're in a small locale), posters, fliers.  Note:  no one should be getting paid in your first venture.  This is a labor of love, remember.  Also, it is important to get as many things like set pieces, props, costumes, etc., donated if possible.  That's why it is good to have a wide variety of people with a wide variety of skill sets in your group.
Don't be afraid to make it cheap (more on that later).  Be rich with time and precision, but it's okay to be cheap with other things.

As I have suggested, it can humble locations, and there is nothing wrong with that.   I personally think it is exciting to perform theater in locations that you wouldn't necessarily first think of to perform theater.  Maybe put it on in a public park, or in an vast parking lot, who knows?  Point is, you do need a place.  For rehearsals, again, I would recommend reaching out local schools, Churches, and other kind organizations with many rooms that might be able to let you use a space for little or no money. 

Yeah, maybe this isn't required, but it is good to brand yourselves right from the start. 

Okay.  On to things you don't need:


Here's the thing:  audiences like to use their imaginations.  Shakespeare knew it, just look at the first speech in Henry V if you don't believe me.  The most important thing about your first production is to put on a solid show with honest, relatable performances by people who obviously care about it.  Get your audiences used to that right from the beginning so they always appreciate it... because, honestly, that's what matters.  Flashy razzle dazzle is nice and enertaining, but it doesn't hit the heart the way honest theatre does.  The flashiness if for expansion, and to heighten the honesty and vision, not to substitute it.  And you go do it without.

Thanks for tuning into Theater is a Sport.  Hope you found this all a bit intersting. 
If you want to learn more about my plays, check out,, and, and search for me, Bobby Keniston.  Read some samples.  Have fun. 

See you tomorrow, and remember--- theater is a sport, and honesty is better than razzle dazzle money any day when it comes to putting on a show for your community.

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