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Big C, Little C

December 3, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I want to go as an actor.

I am not doing this for money, nor for fame (though I would welcome both), and I want to balance performing with the other important things in my life like my family and my job. I realize that if I did want to be a full-time professional actor, I would have to radically alter my life, and the odds would still be long. I do not want to do that — I love my life, in part because I’ve been lucky enough to balance all these important things.

I like working with professional companies because of the quality of the work and of my peers, but I do not want to limit myself by staying away from non-professional companies that also do exceptional work. I am currently doing my second show with a non-professional theater that is more serious, and have better facilities, than some of the professional companies I have worked with.

Basically what I want to do is quality work in interesting plays working with talented people who take theater seriously. If money is part of the deal, that’s great, but it’s not essential. The hard part is finding out which non-professional theaters are serious.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of “community theater”. The first is made up of people like me — those who have come to love the craft (either as actors or as directors, producers, technical designers, costumers, and all the rest), but who for whatever reason are not pursuing it as a primary vocation. We see ourselves as theater artists, and doing the best work is most important. We show up on time, respect our directors, and treat every role as if it were a paid role. One friend calls this “Big ‘C'” community theater.

The second kind, “Little ‘C'”, is what makes the term “community theater” a pejorative in the ear of many, and makes prospective audiences wary. These troupes are less interested in producing good work than in having a good time. These companies tend to have the same group of actors and directors involved in every show, regardless of talent of fitness for the part, and have more relaxed standards both on-stage and backstage. These companies are about groups of friends who love doing shows together getting together to have fun, with the end result not as important as the joy of the process.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that second kind — as long as you are in on the fun. If that is your form of pleasure, and your way of hanging out with your buddies, great. But it is hard to do serious work with such groups, hard for a director to impose discipline, and hard to get an audience to turn out for what often come out as slapdash productions.

“Amateur” need not mean “amateurish”. I love my castmates and fellow theater artists, but I want to do serious work.

The conundrum: How can you tell which community theater is doing real work, and which is basically a drama club for grown-ups? And, how can the serious companies convince a skeptical public that their shows are as good as those at a small professional company, even though it’s “community theater”?

Peter Sig

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2013 8:28 am

    As far as telling which companies are serious, I’d have to think that going to see one of their productions would be the best way to tell. If you’re sitting in the audience and impressed by the work, that didn’t happen from 3 months of fooling around at rehearsals.

  2. December 3, 2013 2:37 pm

    I agree with the Redheaded Actress. I’ve started listing theatre companies I want to see, in order to find out whether or not I’d like to work with them.

    I’ve also had to learn about a lot of companies through trial and error. This obviously is not the most ideal way. Now when I’m looking for auditions, I take the time to explore their website (whether or not they have one is a huge), see their history, check out clips if they have them, and what experience the directors/company members have. I don’t always look this extensively, but find that when all of this information is present, I’m more likely to want to work with them

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