Getting Involved in Community Theatre

I saw my first community theatre production when I was 15 years old, a dress rehearsal of Michel Tremblay’s Albertine in Five Times. I had been invited through a local youth theatre class that I had joined just a few weeks before, and I was working my way through my first high school drama course so I was still about as green to the theatre as you could get. But I can still remember the giddy rush of emotions and the butterflies in my stomach as I walked home after the performance that night. I had gotten my first taste of the true power and passion of live theatre, and from then on I was hooked.

Today, I run my own community theatre company, with hundreds of members of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life, and while it’s a lot work and a lot of stress one of the most rewarding parts of my job is getting to see and hear about all the reasons people have for getting involved in community theatre, and how community theatre has changed their lives.

Some people get into community theatre by accident, like the father who drove his child to an audition and wound up getting a part, or the sister who got recruited to fill a role at the last second because someone dropped out and she just happened to be the right age. There are people who come out to a show to support a friend or family member and love the experience so much that they want to try it for themselves. There are people who have just moved to the area and are looking for a place to meet new friends, and there are a whole host of people who get involved in community theatre not out of a desire to perform but because they have desperately-needed technical skills in construction, painting, sewing or audio engineering and have been recruited to help out backstage.

Community Theatre draws in people from all sorts of professions and activities. Musicians, singers, dancers, magicians, mimes, jugglers, buskers and stand-up comics are all natural fits for the stage, and many professionals in these areas often come to community theatre to hone their skills and broaden their horizons. Public speakers, auctioneers, preachers, professors, teachers and business executives are also drawn to community theatre, using their experiences onstage to improve their public speaking, presentation and non-verbal communication skills. Painters, sculptors, potters, weavers, fashion designers and multi-media artists all have a natural attraction to the design elements of live theatre, and often enjoy the challenge of applying their skills to the new and unique demands of this medium.

But the beauty of community theatre is that everyone is welcome, so beyond the more predictable “community theatre types” our company has members from a wide variety of backgrounds, who work in professions you might not associate with an interest in the theatre. In just one particular show our cast and crew consisted of a dentist, a bird-bander, a community college student, an administrative assistant, a used car Salesman, a tool-and-die maker and a dishwasher at East Side Mario’s. Anyone can get involved in community theatre!

Sometimes entire families will get involved as a way to volunteer in their community and spend time together doing something fun. Many of our members are ambitious young people who want to pursue professional careers and are looking for as much experience as they can get before heading off to university. Others are “empty-nesters” or retirees who have suddenly found themselves with some time on their hands and are finally getting the chance to pursue a lifelong dream.

One of the most rewarding things is watching someone who’s very shy and withdrawn open up over the course of rehearsing a play. Often very timid people who would be too nervous to speak to even a very small group of friends can open up on stage, and sing and dance or do silly things in front of an audience of hundreds of people. At the end of the show when the audience erupts in applause these are the people who feel it the most. The confidence and sense of accomplishment they feel at that moment is often the catalyst for great changes in their life – making friends, excelling in their jobs, or for some even having the courage to entertain the notion of falling in love.

Sadly, not everyone gets into community theatre for good and noble reasons. Some overworked, under-appreciated housewives simply need a place to escape to for a little while, and community theatre has become the refuge for many a husband or wife trapped in a loveless marriage. Sometimes we’re no more than a babysitting service for neglected children, and for some people both young and old I’ve often suspected that we’re nothing more than a brief respite from an abusive reality at home. And once someone is involved in a show there can be trouble too, when people find it difficult to balance their commitments to the show with their commitments to the spouses and families.

At the absolute worst some people come out to community theatre and wind up having an extra-marital affair with a fellow cast member. Obviously, this usually ends badly for everyone involved, and watching marriages fall apart because you just happened to cast two people in a given show is one of the most difficult, most depressing moments in a director’s career, and something that I find personally very challenging to overcome.

But on the whole, getting involved in community theatre is very, very good for you. It’s an excellent way to meet new people, stay active, build-up your self-esteem, learn new skills, improve your memory, help your community and feel great about yourself. Those butterflies in my stomach that I felt after watching my first community theatre performance all those years ago may have died down a bit, but they have never went away, and the thrills and excitement they gave me that night are a natural high that is completely and totally free and open to us all.