about community theatre
Let me share ideas and observations that I hope will help inspire you in your theatrical endeavors.
The SECOND "theatre rap" continues with advice and information for actors and directors.
The THIRD installment goes back to basics with "Theatre 101" aimed at newbies and as a brush-up for those with experience.
"Art" versus "Business" is a theme we often read about in connection with the film industry. "The guys in the front office" are concerned about the bottom-line, the profit margin, while the creative teams producing the product, the movies, are often portrayed as artistically sensitive types who are loathe to think of their work as part of a money-making machine.
That isn't a fair picture of the film industry, but for the sake of illustration--
An amateur theatre can be a microcosm of Hollywood and the other "money-driven" branches of the entertainment industry: Turning a profit in order to stay afloat is always a key issue which is constantly being balanced with the theatre's hope of being artistically important and valid in their communities.
While not easy to keep in balance, these two seemingly opposite goals---to make money and to create art---can be the source of as much conflict in a community theatre as it is in a high-power movie studio. But not always for the business-like reasons that are seen on the surface---Read on:
...As with all human interaction, the interaction of egos is actually the key issue, beyond theoretical questions of "art versus business."
Most community theatres which enjoy success have governing board of directors. They are the group of volunteers dedicated to the smooth operation and fiscal health of a theatre, and it is at their meetings where the melting pot of financial and artistic considerations comes to a boil---hopefully with the results of producing tasty stews.
I know there are many amateur theatre participants like me, whose primary interest is in the actual production of shows, and who may feel they wouldn't care to be a board member.
Indeed, what I would prefer is for a board to hand me a key to the theatre, tell me to "make a show for us" and leave me to the process.
But reality is that directors, and actors to a lesser degree, need to work with governing boards, and though the procedures will differ from theatre to theatre, the constant questions are "how to function well with the decision makers?" and "how to avoid personality conflicts?"
As I suggested above, a large part of your challenge in working with a theatre group boils down to being sensitive to the psychological dynamic of egos and personalities. The stated agenda of a governing board will be about fiscal resonsibility, art versus business, planning for the future growth of the theatre etc.--and that theoretically sound agenda will be filtered through the board members' personalities and personal feelings towards the theatre's membership they are meant to represent.
Decision making by committee can really drive me crazy. The process can be overly protracted, and important pieces of busines can be shelved time and time again. Much time is burned up with committee members taking the floor to express their opinions, and it would be far too idealistic to think that personal issues don't complicate the process further.
It almost makes me wish that community theatres were run by despots who call all the shots---at least decisions could be made more quickly. But would that be community theatre?
YES it IS possble--one of the best theatres I ever worked with did NOT have a governing board. It was a privately owned theatre which still managed to be a "community theatre" with all its volunteers being citizens from the town where it was located. The owners made all the decisions, from selecting plays to over-seeing auditions.
BUT that theatre is not typical. You most likely will join a group which does have a governing board you will need to work with.
Drawing on experiences I have had, here's some food for thought for those of you wanting to smooth your line of communicaton to the governing board you work with:
Seeing themselves as the collective "producer" of the theatre's productions, their egos can be sensitive to perceived threats to their positions of power, so avoid triggering that response.
Example from my experience: A rare opportunity was available for a cast album CD to be produced of a musical I directed. The recording had to be done within a month of the show's closing, or the full cast wouldn't have been available.
Believing that there was no question about what an excellent source of publicity, prestige and income the album would provide the theatre, I organized the recording session and proceeded before having the official sanction of the governing board. DANGER WILL ROBINSON!
It was only after hundreds of volunteer hours had been put into production of the album that it became clear the board resented having been left out of the decision making process. It didn't matter that the necessary time schedule didn't allow for the usual protracted discussion at the board's monthly meeting.
The board ended up cancelling the release of the CD, leaving behind a large group of perplexed and angry volunteers. This particular board didn't ever adequately explain their decision to the membership, because the "reasons" were apparently due to ego considerations---not the sort of un-business-like, non-community-minded way of functioning that a board would care to publicly admit.
It's very debatable whether or not a board should have such a policy, but it's typical, and you must be prepared.--Once again, try to understand that your artistic convictions can be interpreted as challenges to a governing board's collective ego.
...and the list could go on. Each theatre group will present its unique challenges as new members try to discover the best way to function with a theatre's establishment.
But beneath the group's rules and procedures, there are always the easily disturbed waters of egos, and it can be difficult to predict when your conduct can be seen as too outside of the status quo.
Community theatre remains a theoretically rewarding venue where newcomers, pros, governing board members, all mutually co-exist, and where it can truly be said The Play's The Thing---not Our Ego's The Thing!
Proceed with caution!
FEEL FREE TO SEND EMAIL to offer your thoughts. The intention is for these pages of "theatre raps" to explore as many topics as possible re: Making community theatre GREAT! ~~Randy Bowser