BWW Blog: Questions Behind Running a Community Theatre
I found myself wondering about the accepted definition of community theatre and like so many in this day and age, I googled it. The following definition was on several pages I viewed, "Community theatre refers to theatrical performance made in relation to particular communities-its usage includes theatre made by, with, and for a community."
We all have our thoughts on what community theatre is and what it should be but when we get down to the heart of it, community theatre is there for the community. I know for years I would question the release of every season. "Why did they pick that show? Oklahoma? I really wanted them to do Rent!" I would go through every season and just look at it from my viewpoint. Not seeing what was best for the theatre or understanding what the community was looking for as a whole. A community made up of both patrons and performers. So how does a community theatre balance creating theatre "by", "with", and "for" their community? Companies have to ask themselves three questions.
What does the community want to see?
What does the community need to see?
What do community actors want to participate in?
These three questions may seem simple on the surface but they lead to many a sleepless night for community theatre executives. So how do theatres go about answering these questions?
What does the community want to see? Theatres have to pay attention to their demographics, look at the successful shows in past seasons, and listen to audience and community feedback. If they've had successful runs of the Rodgers and Hammerstein collection and families are lining up around the block for The Music Man tickets chances are they have a patron base that adores the classics. Adding these shows to their season may make local actors groan but that doesn't mean they shouldn't do them. These shows not only make it possible for the theatre to do edgier works but the theatre is also fulfilling one of it's main functions, giving the community what it wants to see.
What does a community need to see? This comes down to the mission of the theatre company. The theatre has to know what they are striving for and add shows to their season that successfully drive that mission to their patrons. By adding new works or promoting theatre for social change theatre can educate the community about issues taking place in society. These shows might now always bring in the most money but if the show is a part of the theatres mission and artistically credible it can go a long way with word of mouth. These shows might not balance the budget but they do keep the artist goals of the company in focus.
What do community actors want to participate in? Theatres have to keep in mind that community theatre actors are not paid for the hours of work they put into productions. This does not mean that theatres should take it easy on them; it means that they need to ensure a healthy and safe environment for these performers that encourages growth both artistically and personally. I have watched community theatre actors not audition for their dream roles based solely on an unprofessional director or a theatre that does not hold its staff to professional standards. For many actors the show title matters less to them than the experience. It is a theatre company's responsibility to hire staff that creates a creative environment for actors.
At the heart of it all community theatre cannot exist with out the participation and support of the community! So what can you do? As a patron make sure you support the types of shows that you want to see by attending productions that fit that genre. As an actor if you are looking for a positive experience in a production look for directors that will push you and companies that nourish a creative rehearsal process. Community Theatres are here to produce "theatre made by, with, and for a community." We can't do that without you!