It all started when I was six years old. I had been involved in preforming arts for four years by that time since I started dance when I was two, but it was not until then that my parents noticed my flair for dramatics. They then decided to have me audition for the Wizard of Oz at a local theatre and I scored a role as a “principal munchkin” and I fell in love with being on that stage, not as myself like in a dance recital, but as a completely different person.
Over the past few years, I have noticed a few people online downing community theatre, which really irks me. One of the most common reasons I have heard for people bashing it is that they aren’t as good as their Broadway/West End counterparts. But here’s the thing: they aren’t supposed to be. The definition of “community theatre” from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is “the activity of acting in or producing a play in a theater for enjoyment and not as a job”. The people who partake in community theatre productions do it because they love it; not because they are getting paid to do it. I drive forty-five minutes to the closest theatre and stay there for many hours because I love the people there with me and the art we create.
So many people around the world have had beautiful experiences within its realm, whether they happen because they were part of the cast and crew or because they were part of the audience. So many performers have left their small-town stage and made their dreams come true by earning a chance to be on Broadway. Although for many, that dream may not become a reality, there are still many incredible features of community theatre that many people overlook when they harshly criticize it.
First, these theaters create an atmosphere that you would not be able to find on a Broadway stage. Many people who participate community theatre, myself included, have done so since a very young age. Personally, I started when I was six, but I know of people who have been on those stages since they were literal infants. Community theatres tend to have recurring cast members. Especially in my theatre, since we are such a small area it is possible to spend years with the same group of people, which I have done. This in turn causes people to form very close bonds with each other. Because of school, I have not been able to be in shows very often, but most recently I was in Willy Wonka, in which I portrayed Mrs. Gloop. That was in 2016. Still to this day, we have a group chat and we talk regularly. We all keep up with each other’s achievements and support each other in times of hardship, as we recently lost a member of our group unexpectedly. I will be friends with these people for the rest of my days and I am so grateful for that experience because I never would have met some of my absolute best friends if I had not participated in these shows.
Along the same lines, I love seeing “regulars” in the audience and also being a “regular’ at other theatres in the area. I live in what could be described as a small town, so there is a very tightknit theatre community. There are people who go see every show, no matter what it is. If I am not in the current show, I still try to go see it if I can work it into my schedule. We also try to get groups together and go support other theatres at their shows. It is really uplifting to see people from another theatre come to your show and tell you how much they enjoyed it.
The final thing I'll mention which I love is the opportunity for growth that it bestows upon its participants. Most people start out in the chorus before moving up to supporting roles and then lead roles. However, those are not the only positions that need to be filled. Community theatre is a good way to delve into all aspects of the trade. In the past years, I have not only been on stage but backstage as well. I was the stage manager for a production of Snoopy in 2014. One guy I know started off as a chorus member and has now directed 2 shows. Another guy’s sister dragged him along once and he now does lighting for the majority of shows the theatre puts on.
In closing, do not be so quick to judge a community theatre production of your favorite Broadway show. While they may not have the budget or the extensive training that a professional theatre has, they have just as much passion that they put into the production. These people have taken time out of their busy lives and gone to countless rehearsals so they could put on a show for you. In the end, it does not matter if their sets are perfect, or if the costumes looked a little cheap. All that matters is that everyone involved- the performers, crew, and audience- enjoyed the experience that the art of theatre created.