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Community Theater: A True Story
In Essence - What is
community theatre? This entity aims directly to theatrical performance made in relation to particular communities—its usage includes theatre made by, with, and for a town. Many community theatres are successful, non-profit organizations with a large active membership and many times has a full-time professional staff.
This is the accepted definition of (a) community theater. But in all reality, (a) community theater (according to a former member) is the connection made by the entire troupe--actors; writers; set designers, builders; program designers; stand-in actors; sound and music tech's; lighting tech's; directors, producers and finally, and arguably the most-important facet of this wonderful civic genre, the people who love local theater and support the various theatrical troupes in our country.
That same theater vet said that community theater is also considered a group of faceless, unknown souls who labor for long lengths of time in try-out's; casting and rehearsals and eventual stage productions for a particular script. The key word connected to community theater would be "labor."
Community Theater From Inside Out
can be very scary and stressful if you are a first-timer like I was in June, 1993, when three wonderful friends and I formed our hometown's second community theater: Bevill State Community College that was an evolution from The Marion County Little Theater that started the local theater arena in my hometown, Hamilton, Ala.
The MCLT had reasonable success with theater in our town, and although this is not a knock on the rural northwest Alabama town of Hamilton, the town is small and very conservative, so if any theater company were to have "some" degree of success, it would be considered a great achievement.
I am not going to insult my dear, best friend, James Lesley "Les" Walters, the Managing editor of the Journal Record, the bi-weekly county-wide newspaper of Marion County, for Walters himself was once a member of (the) Marion Co. Little Theater in 1979 and did a great job being that he had drawn from his theater experience from Troy State University. So Walters was a natural in the arena of community theater.
"We will do this play even if there is only one person in the audience. Why? Because that one person paid their hard-earned money to get to see this theater troupe. And we (this theater company) is not about making commitments then turning tail."— Sylvia Johnston, theater producer
Then in 1992
Walters and myself were asked by a local theatrical producer, Sylvia Johnston, Guin, Ala., (who knew community theater inside and out), to write for her and the Marion Co. Little Theater, an original script, but using established characters as seen in the iconic "Andy Griffith Show."
The idea sounded great. And with regular citizens being cast from the "Griffith" characters, "Barney Fife," "Andy Taylor," "Aunt Bea," and other "Griffith" members who appeared in the 1960s in "Taylor's" hometown: "Mayberry," N.C., it seemingly felt like this was headed for instant success. But talk and doing are placed at two different spectrum entirely. I would see and know quickly what this one statement really meant in the weeks to come beginning in June, 1992.
While Walters and I were designing our script "out of the gate," Johnston who was recruiting area citizens for this project. This was an exciting time for Walters and myself along with Johnston and her local contacts that were so helpful in making our script, "The Seige of Mayberry," a success.
This play did see big audiences and three friends and I saw the direction that this theater company was going, we decided to form a new community theater company by the name of The Kudzu Playhouse. Sure, it was a funny name, but my dear friend, Bro. Clint Padgett, a local pastor, Hamilton, Ala., (who is now retired and he and his wife are living in Shelby, N.C.), gave us that name in our first orgaizational meeting.
My other friends in Kudu were Tommy Roby, a community theater vet along with Exie Williford who was "gangbusters" in the roles that she did with us. As a fitting footnote, Williford and husband, Steve, now live in Birmingham, Ala., and she is a member of a noted community theater in Jefferson County. Kudzu and all of us agreed in the beginning to give all of our proceeds to established charites such as St. Jude's Children's Hospital; American Cancer Society and others.
This was what we loved while in the Kudzu Playhouse which is still disbanded and I hoped one day to form a comeback, but with personal health issues and other venues, that became humanly impossible.
What Does Community Theater Do
- for a person? Well if you haven't looked at joining a group of amateur thespians, then look at what I found out when I joined my first community theater:
- Community theater is great therapy for people who are of low confidence. And by interacting with other amateur actors, a person's self-confidence will build as a play goes forward.
- Community theater I found out, is an important social venue. I saw this happen in my hometown because I learned that not everyone loves to watch television or go out of town to dine. There are still a lot of people in our country who still love and support community theater.
- Community theater is a great way to be of help to someone else who loves acting and doing other things in the theater. Community theater is a great vehicle for a person who's talents are writing; singing; dancing and even producing.
What Should a Newcomer Expect
when joining (a) community theater? The answers I hope will be of help to you if you are entertaining the idea of being a member of (a) community theater.
- Excitement will start early when you are asked to try-out for roles in (a) community theater's script. But be advised that if your try-out (or audition) is successful, this excitement that you now feel will most certainly turn into stress due to the repeition of your lines while meshing with other theater newcomers as the group evolves into a smooth-running group to make the characters come alive on stage. Talk to the director (who is most times a newcomer) and tell him/her about how the stress might be too overwhelmed for you. Do this in the early going as the director may change your role to a lesser role or even the part of a worker behind the stage to make productions work.
- Criticism from your contemporaries may sound that "you" are under attack, but remember. This is not harsh criticism, but constructive criticism to help you grow in your confidence of your role that you have been given. Listen carefully to what the director, producer, writer or other theater members are saying and use these sometimes-hurtful words (to you) to help you go further in the area of community theater.
- Let-Down's are normal for the community theater member. I know. I tried-out for the role of "Brisco Darling," who was legendary actor, Denver Pyle, on the "Andy Griffith Show," and although I had only three lines, I was prepared to give this minimal amount of dialogue my all, but as the play went on, the producer changed me from this minimal role to the part of "Barney Fife," who most everyone knew as the late Don Knotts. Was I scared? Yes. Was I let-down for being now having to learn new lines and mannerisms that accompanied the character? Yes. But with some relaxation and letting my self-confidence build by talking to the producer and other theater vets, I was glad (in the end) that I did this role.
- Anticipation like let down's are also normal. As you meet for your rehearsal schedule, your anticipation will build as the date that your play will be on stage, but remember this: anticipation is the first cousin of "nervousness," so beware of those pre-stage jitters and just relax and do the very best that you can. Another nugget of wisdom that I learned (from that same theater vet), you and your local community theater company are not professionals, so you will not be shouldered with your agent, public relations firm, etc., just you. Do your very best and above all, let your community theater be a fun experience. No one likes an uptight actor and this includes your fellow actors as well as your audience.
- Failure happens to even the professional community theater companies that we see on Broadway. But allowing one to dwell on a failure, no matter what the failure was, will only drag you down as your role in your play continues to evolve. Expect someone, hopefully not someone who is in a scene "playing off" of you, just up and quits. For this is normal for community theater. And no matter how much stressing that the play's director advises just how important it is to honor the role that you were chosen for, someone will just cease from being at rehearsals. I know this from experience. In a later production, I was asked to direct a play and in the early going, things were fine. But a few weeks prior to going on stage, a person who was key to our production, did not attend rehearsal for a few times and I began to worry. I called this person and this was the actual words he said to me: "You know that next date where we (the theater group) will perform?" I said yes. "Well, on that date, I am going to be sick," the newbie replied. I instantly asked him, "so you are a soothsayer? You can see three weeks into the future?" What I am getting at is always be prepared for failure if you are involved with community theater.
Things For a Newcomer to Community Theater
not to do if you are serious about being a productive member of any community theater organization.
- Fun and Games are fine in their place, but if you are working with a role in a community theater production, do not be prey for those who are not as dedicated as you and will pull pranks on you and others behind-the-stage and these high-jinks are very dangerous as it pertains to the success or failure of a theater play. If you are in the role of the director, be sure that you know for certain who is pulling the prank(s). Sometimes an envious theater member may resort to such childish antics to make a fool out of a person who may have exeeded the one who has become envious of the sudden attention or other things. If the pranks continue, be discreet in telling the troublemakers that this is the only warning they will get and the next instance will mean being turned out of the group.
- Up-staging another amateur theater member is taboo and will only lead to harsh feelings if you are guilty of this jealousy-based act. If there is trouble brewing, stop it if you are in the position of director or even one of the community theater actors. Positivity is key to a successful theater production. Learning how to work with one another in rehearsals as well as on stage will help you if you continue to help your local community theater.
- Making Excuses as to why you cannot adhere to the rehearsal schedule can be thought of as childish and petty. If your community theater group has all agreed on rehearsal dates and checked your calendars ahead of time, then if no problems arise, you and your other actors should do your best to honor that commitment. Making flimsy excuses just to go to a concert instead of rehearsing is harmful not only to you, but other theater members. One rehearsal missed means you have missed (probably) a vital piece of direction to the script or something just as important. If you have a sickness or some serious obstacle, call the director and talk it over with them. Believe me, being honest with the members of a communtiy theater will go a long way in doing a stage production.
- Beware of the two most detrimental adversaries to community theater: Attention from others and fame. Both go hand-in-hand and if one does not bridle that most-dangerous human entity, ego, what was once an humble-hearted newcomer to community theater, is not a diva and prima donna and cannot get along with anyone. Sure, this is harsh. But it is true. A moderate amount of attention and even fame is fine if kept in their places. But watch it.
- Talking Down to other theater members about what the director has told you about your role or production can be either harmful or useful. But if you have the mindset that your director is not as talented as you, then you are headed for problems with the entire theater organization. Egotism if not cropped, can hurt you in many ways besides community theater. Learn to be supportive of your director as well as other actors. Others will benefit from your selfless attitude.
- Expressing Your Feelings of (your) failure to peform your role, betrayal (by another actor) or just angry at because your civic center or city hall was not packed with audience members. I say again. This is not Broadway, but maybe a small town and unless your managing director has checked (ahead of time) about a football game or concert scheduled for the very same time and date of your play, you cannot blame anyone but yourself. And if your community theater is not in competiton with the audience for other events and you do not get a large support, be thankful that you and your theater company held it together and did the play anyway.
- And in closing, I to share something that our first director, Sylvia Johnston, told us backstage prior to us performing our first "Mayberry Under Seige," production. Someone made the remark to us that "there is hardly anyone sitting in the chairs out there. (I) think that we should cancel."
- Johnston quickly replied, "yes, we will perform this production--even if there is just one member in our audience. Why? Because that one person paid their hard-earned money to see this play and we are not about making commitments and turning tail and running. Besides, we all can use this as a public full-dress rehearsal."
And that one thing that Johnston said stuck with me as well as my friends. Because keeping a person (or community theater's) word is vital to the integrity of the person, community theater, or any place you happen to be in life.
"To tell everyone the truth about Community Theater, if you think that all you do in a group such as Community Theater is laugh, tell jokes and stories, you have a cold reckoning coming. You will work and work again. And when you think that you cannot work anymore, you have to work even more."— (Me) Kenny Avery
© 2017 Kenneth Avery