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A Friendly Community?

June 20, 2013

Independent arts consultant and self-described “theatre pundit” Howard Sherman, late of the American Theatre Wing and scads of regional theaters, recently mentioned on Twitter that a Huffington Post piece he wrote in September 2012 is again making the rounds. The essay, “Theater the Theater Community Disdains,” is worth your time.

What is this hated form of theater? It’s community theater, of course, the place where most of us get started, the dusty small town that we turn our backs on and vow never to visit again once we make it big. This is an attitude for big egos and small minds.

Sherman wrote that “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.” He concedes 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 it is ” a hobby, a passion and an outlet for people who truly love theater.”

Sherman argues that community theater practitioners are likely to be professional theater patrons and also “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.” Certainly community theater does aid in arts education — Sherman notes that playwright Sarah Ruhl has credited her parents’ community theater experiences with helping to turn her on to the stage.

I will not further quote Mr. Sherman’s fine essay — read it yourself. I will add, though, that community theater is not just for those who started out with a love of theater early in life, did their shows in high school and college, maybe even made a brief professional go of it, then moved on to different vocations. It is an essential entry point for those like me, who did not discover theater until the age that many of those Sherman refers to are walking away from it — those who started out on a different path and made their first tentative baby steps onto the boards in their 30s or later.

I am making my first cautious steps from community theater into professional performance, and I’m glad of it — I want to make acting a larger part of my life, and do work on a different scale. But it was community theater that gave me the basic skills and confidence to get started, as well as providing the relationships to get on my way. And I have been blessed to participate in at least one community theater show that was of a higher caliber than some professional shows I have seen.

Peter Sig

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 20, 2013 1:32 pm

    Thanks so much for your appreciation of my essay about respecting community theatre. In point of fact, I wrote it first for my own blog in February 2012 and put it on Huffington Post months later; for some reason, HuffPo chose to showcase it again last week, and then just yesterday alone over 1,000 people read it on my site. It would seem to be of perennial interest.

    As to your point about community theatre as a springboard to a professional career, I regret giving it short shrift in the piece and you’re not the first person to make such a comment. When I wrote (quickly, 16 months ago) I was thinking of the many adults who surrounded teenaged me in my own community theatre days, and didn’t fully explore all of the ways it integrates into the theatrical ecosystem. It has something for everyone, and I hope that comes through.

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