Why I do Community Theatre

Let me set the stage for you:

It is Tuesday, February 16. I'm battling through the second week of a cough and cold brought on from attending KCACTF (nasty, germ-ridden br-- ... nevermind). I receive a voicemail just before I start my 2pm class. It's an accompanist that came through for me for a very last minute gig. She happens to be the artistic director to a local Community Theatre company that specializes in Dinner Theatre. The message states they have lost an actor and are in need of a replacement for the final four performances and would like my assistance in finding a student to fill this role. After class I call back and speak with the artistic director. As it was, the person they lost was their company president and the actor playing the role of Anthony Cairo in Noir Suspicions (it's a pretty hefty part). I sent out a message to my theatre students asking if anyone was available to do this gig. The thing here is that I know how stressful learning a gig on the fly can be and my students are all in tech for the first show of our season. There's no way I can comfortably send one of my students in on this project.

So I said, "I'll do it."

I receive the script Wednesday, attend a rehearsal on Thursday, and am off book by Saturday afternoon ready for that night's performance. We did a show Saturday and Sunday night with two more weekends to go. And I am having a blast!

Unfortunately, community theatre gets a pretty bad rap:

It's unpaid work.
Sometimes the work ethic is poor.
Many of the people involved are inexperienced.
It's a hobby for some so accountability to a higher standard can get muddied.

Yet somehow, as a trained actor and educator I refuse to shy away from community theatre. And I won't ask my students to shy away from it either.

Why is that?

Acting is acting. It is what you give it. No matter how high or low the production quality, the acting is still something us actors have to bring to the table. It is our work to bring the characters to life. Whether we have amazing lighting or wonderful costumes or work alongside fellow professional actors, it is our singular job to tell the story and bring the script to life.

We can read as many books as we want and take as many classes as we can afford, but the true training for an experiential art like acting is done by doing. Actors are do-ers. Community Theatre provides a free venue for us to practice our craft and develop our art. In this environment, we are free to challenge ourselves and take risks. 

But it is not for the faint of heart. It can be very frustrating. As a good actor, you can't be lazy. The answers will not be handed to you. You won't have a dramaturg explaining the historical context of your material. You won't have a costume designer helping you discover the movement and posture of your character. You may not even have a director to tell you where to go once you're on stage. It's all on you.

That may be frightening to some, but I think it is a chance to discover. It is an opportunity to explore vulnerability and depth. It is in that space where we learn to find true accountability for what we do on stage. Stage actors and film actors alike need to act. The venue should not matter. Sometimes, the script doesn't even matter. Can you take a character and make it real for the audience? Can you find authenticity in any environment? I believe that is the mark of a true actor.

The cherry on top of my circumstance was receiving an email from a community member who attended this weekend's performance. She sang my praises for coming in and filling this role, doing a wonderful job, and being there for a company in a tough time so we could all present enjoyable art for our audience.

Part of me took on the role just to prove to myself and my students that I could still do it. Along the way I realized there wasn't a doubt in my mind that I could. The true testament was whether or not I would allow myself to grow from it. That's why I act. In any venue. I don't do it for the applause, though it sure does feel nice when your accomplishments are commended.

I do it for growth.