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Everything You Need To Know About Community Theatre

Everything You Need To Know About Community Theatre

Actors ages 6-60 often get their start on the local stage whether it be church, school, or community theatre. Stepping out of your comfort zone and in to the spotlight can be daunting, especially when you don't know what to fully expect. This guide is all you need to know about community theatre from a seasoned performer. Most community theatres are low pressure environments and excellent places to get some theatre experience in as they tend to be more forgiving and can relieve some of the stress that new actors feel when taking on a role. For example, you most likely won't be chewed out if you're a little late getting off book or if you can't pick up the choreography at lightning speed. People understand that no one is getting paid, everyone has other jobs and commitments, and you'll do the best you can with the resources you have.

How To Find A Community Theatre

How do you find the best community theatre for you as an actor? I've been working in community theatre since elementary school, and the best advice I can give on this would be to find the community theatre where you feel like you're family. If an environment is full of people who are full of themselves (even by community theatre standards) it makes it stressful for anyone involved and can cause people to turn away from the community theatre. Once I graduated college in 2015 I moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota because I was excited to work in their growing theatre scene, but in the summer of 2016 I spotted an audition notice just down the way for the Mitchell Area Community Theatre for Little Mermaid. After that I have consistently done shows with Mitchell because they became my theatre family. They're always excited to see you walk in for auditions, they message you outside of shows, and even come support you in other shows you take on. Surround yourself with a community theatre environment like that, and you will thrive and have fun.

Now at this point you're probably thinking that if you befriend the right people you don't have to audition for upcoming community theatre productions because they'll just cast you, right? No. Auditioning for community theatre, while more laid back, is still a process every actor must go through. Since it's community theatre I can sing from the show right? Again no. While it isn't exactly frowned upon most directors don't want to hear the same 3 songs from everyone auditioning. Auditions are a lot like final exams for students, excruciating and stressful, but they're also a challenge to embrace. If you fail this time, there will always be another chance to audition.

Auditioning For Community Theatre

When you go in to your audition, for whichever show you are going for, here a few things to do to make sure you make a good impression and leave you feeling confident:

1. Avoid picking a song from the show (For example: If they're doing Grease. Ladies do not sing Sandra Dee, Gentleman avoid Sandy and Beauty School Drop Out). Choose a song in a similar style to the show you're auditioning for that showcases your vocal range and your acting ability.

2. After you've picked your song make sure you go in prepared with everything they asked for and more. Have a second song ready just in case.

3. Try to wear an outfit that makes you feel confident and is comfortable as this will help to steady your nerves (and don't forget to breathe).

Let's talk about the always semi-awkward dance auditions. Make sure you wear proper attire that allows for movement and do not hide in the back. If they can't see you, they likely won't cast you. Granted, most dance auditions I've gone to they've made us rotate our rows so no matter what, you will be seen. If that worries you because you can't quite recall everything right off the bat, be confident. If you make a mistake do not stop. Roll with it. That's something I have had to learn to do because it was ruining my casting chances. It's still a challenge to not react to a mistake, but trust me if you treat it like you meant to do it you'll be fine.

Last but not least, never let the talent of the other people auditioning freak you out and make you begin to doubt your own abilities. You don't know what the creative team is looking for and it could very well be something you have. After auditions you could very well get a call back for a certain character or characters depending on what the creative team saw when you came in. If you do get a call back, just relax, have fun, and try to do what the creative team asks you to do. After call backs the wait begins.

The Rehearsal Process for Community Theatre

A couple of days pass and then the cast list is posted. Yes, that is your name up on the cast list! Whether it be an ensemble role, a minor role, or the lead your schedule will now fill up with rehearsals, tech, and performances for, at least, the next two months. The first rehearsal will generally be a read through where you get to meet the rest of the cast. After that the blocking and/or music rehearsals begin. A few quick common sense points to make before we continue on:

1. Show up on time for your rehearsals unless you explicitly let the creative team know you're going to be late/not be there so they don't waste rehearsal time trying to track you down. This honestly cannot be stressed enough. You are a part of a team. Being late without a reason gives the impression you feel your time is more valuable than others'. If you are an integral part of that evenings rehearsal, they might use the advance notice to alter the schedule and rehearse something else instead.

2. If you do end up missing a rehearsal take the initiative to find out what you missed and get caught up before you have another.

3. Speaking of taking notes, always have a pencil on hand at rehearsals. You will need to jot down stage directions and notes as they happen throughout rehearsal. Don't wait until the end or you may forget things. The creative team will be annoyed if they have to tell you a second or even a third time.

4. You will be expected to practice and review on your own time. Showing up to a rehearsal unprepared is unfair to the rest of the cast and the creative team. Block out a small pocket of time a few times a week to go over what you've learned during rehearsals.

5. Don't take constructive criticisms of your performance personally. A lot of first-timers will get upset if the director or choreographer corrects them or asks them to change something they are doing. They are just trying to make the show the best they know it can be, and their approach may not be the same as yours. Keep your chin up, listen to them, and take everything in stride as you apply their notes to the best of your ability. They are there to help you.

6. Whether you're playing the leading man/lady or a tree, give it 110% of your efforts. Every person who is part of the show is integral to the final product. If you want to be cast in larger roles, show the creative team you can handle more by being the best at whatever you're given and doing it with a smile. The best way to bond with members of the creative team, I have found, is to get involved with backstage tasks when you have downtime. Making props, helping build or strike the set, marking up the floor or even just tidying up the stage or rehearsal space are all good options.

Opening A Community Theatre Show

The week before you open is what theatre people loving call hell week when in reality it's just tech. It's finally bringing all the aspects of the show together. Blocking, lights, sound, costumes, props, and set. Prepare yourself for late nights right up until the curtain rises on opening night. Emotions run high, everyone is tired, but a little patience goes a long way. Tech week rehearsals are where anything that can go wrong usually does, but by the time opening night rolls around everything is working as it should be. Do anything you can to stay healthy during this time. The stress, lack of sleep, and physical demands will take their toll on you. I would recommend not taking on any other commitments during this time. During rehearsals, tech week, and even performances always have a water bottle with you so you don't pass out or get sick from dehydration as it gets very warm on stage and in the dressing rooms. During tech, it may get difficult to find time to eat. Eat before you get in to costume. Do not eat in your costume. If your costume designer or stage manager finds out, you will live to regret it. Also, a major note as someone who has been on both sides of the stage, treat your backstage crew with respect. They are the unsung heroes of every production. They work just as hard as the cast onstage and are often unrecognized for what they've done. Be sure to thank them any chance you get.

As you check off the days on your calendar suddenly opening night has arrived! Once you know performance dates and when the tickets go on sale let your friends and family know. The sooner they book their tickets the better chance you have of having some friendly faces in the audience to help give you some extra energy during the show. Give every performance the same energy that you give on opening night. Every audience member paid for their tickets and they deserve the same show that the opening night crowd received. Much like with auditions if something goes wrong or you mess up, don't let it break your focus. Treat it like it was intentional and keep going. It's highly unlikely the audience will even realize it or remember it, but one way to prevent mistakes is to keep track of your cues. It's very easy to get distracted backstage or in the dressing rooms, and there's nothing worse than an angry stage manager tracking you down.

Are you shaking a bit? Not to worry! Nerves are completely normal and even expected. Channel that energy into each performance. To keep yourself from panicking just take everything one scene at a time. Breaking the show down into smaller chunks for yourself will make it less frightening and more manageable. Usually when the nerves hit is when you suddenly realize you need to use the restroom. If that's the case, try to use the restroom before the show starts and at intermission. I know that sounds silly, but it can mess up your focus if you need to go. Plus, trying to go to the restroom with your costume on can be really tough.

Is there a really funny part that you've been waiting for the audience to hear and you can't wait to hear them laugh so you break focus just the tiniest bit to listen and...they don't react. Don't freak out! Some audiences are more reactive than others. It doesn't mean they didn't find it funny or enjoyable - they might just be more reserved than your other audiences. They might even laugh at parts that you wouldn't have thought to be comical.

It's easy to get caught up in the chaos that is community theatre, but once closing night hits you'll feel a sense of loss. What are you going to do now? The same thing you've done every time. You begin the cycle all over again. Whether it be your first show or your thirtieth, enjoy each moment and each experience for the pure magic that is live theatre.



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From This Author Ashlee Reck