Friday, June 12, 2015

In Defense of Community Theater!



Here is an edited post from Howard Sherman (09/27/2012) that Claudia Metz has brought to our attention:

“I would like everyone to stop using "community theater" as a punch line or punching bag.

As people with a vested interest in building and sustaining interest in theater, pretty much everyone in the business is supportive of and in many cases evangelical for arts education. We applaud academic drama programs and productions from kindergarten to graduate school, recognizing that such programs can give voice to the next generation of artists as well as the next generation of audiences. We decry funding cuts to such programs for their impact on creative as well as intellectual development. Of late, there is also recognition that these programs may offer refuge to those who seem "different" from student bodies at large, safe havens from predatory classmates ("bully" seems a bit tame these days) among those similarly inclined, close-knit teams for those who shy away from sports.

But once school is over, those whose lives and careers take them away from the arts, but whose love of performing doesn't abate, become part of a maligned yet integral part of the theatrical ecosystem which, when spoken of by most professionals and media voices, is summarily disparaged. Why on earth does this happen, and why is it allowed to propagate?

While I'm quite certain there are some fairly sophisticated community theater groups, I'll cede the point that a great deal of the work done in community theater likely doesn't measure up to professional, or perhaps even collegiate, standards. But that's not the point of it. If the participants wanted to be professionals, they might be pursuing those goals; perhaps some of them did, and didn't succeed. But I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that the majority of the participants in community theater never sought a professional theater career, and are happy to be teachers, dentists, attorneys, mechanics, stay-at-home parents or what have you.

The fact is, community theater is a hobby, a passion and an outlet for people who truly love theater; it's the bowling league, the weekly pick-up basketball game, the book group for the performance minded. The participants are, I'm willing to bet, ticket buyers at local theaters, tourists who flock to Broadway or national tours, parents who encourage creativity in their own children. In some cases they may even provide the only theater their community gets to see. They are the people we need.

We are part of an industry that constantly worries about its future, but can be our own worst enemy. By slagging community theater, we're undercutting our own best interests and evidencing our own cultural elitism; by allowing others to do so we join the juvenile yet dangerous bullies who taunted us in high school -- by doing the same to adults whose only wrong is to enjoy doing that which we've made our careers. Even if you've never uttered a word against community theater, but merely have never given it a moment's thought, you are doing it disservice. Is theater so healthy that we can afford to be so blithely arrogant?

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