from Randy Bowser, director of "Metropolis"
AT PENTACLE THEATRE IN SALEM, OREGON
in admiration of community theatre participants the world over
I think that is also true of others who worked on Pentacle Theatre's production of this one-of-a-kind musical.
This site is sprinkled with background information of how the film "Metropolis" has been a force in my life since I was a young teen.
To have the privilege of paying homage to that great film, by directing a production of the Joe Brooks and Dusty Hughes dramatic musical, is a perfect example of how life can sometimes offer us rare and golden opportunities.
As with all worthwhile projects, the experience of assembling a talented cast of amateurs, and wrangling every resource possible to make "Metropolis" an outstanding production, had its difficult and sometimes disappointing aspects.
Directors in non-professional theatre all over the world face challenges that can at times make it seem impossible for high quality work to be produced. Of course, wonderful shows are possible in the amateur realm. At what cost?
Even the most talented performers in the amateur universe can be handicapped with under-developed skills that demand a great deal of time and patience from a director.
A large percentage of people cast in amateur productions are people with little or nothing more than a fantasy they want to fulfill of being on the stage. They can be the most difficult to motivate and to help develop an acceptable performance. Some end up giving wonderful "diamond-in-the-rough" performances which audiences respond well to. Some never grasp what it means to "Be" on stage, and so contribute to the kind of "amateurish community theatre" product that gives the little theatre movement a bad image in many people's minds.
The long hard hours of work a good play demands usually come as an unpleasant surprise to the inexperienced people who find themselves in a community theatre show. The director tries to instill an attitude that "the hard work IS the fun of theatre"--but the unrealistic, overly glamorized fantasy which many bring to a project never includes visions of the blood, sweat, and tears that are required.
Even the core members of a community theatre--the folks who are the most consistently involved in a given group, can unconsciously subscribe to the "it's only community theatre" mentality which maintains a status quo of unprofessional, un-polished productions which aren't enjoyed much beyond the immediate familites of those involved.
Volunteers who work on the back stage technical elements of amateur shows are sometimes the least willing to put in the time and energy needed for high quality work. There is often an attitude of "you have to appreciate me, I'm a volunteer"---even when very sub-standard work is being put out.
Thank heavens there are always numbers of very hard-working, talented "techies" in a community theatre, and like the most talented directors and actors, become the most over-worked members of the group, because of their reliability.
Sometimes volunteers say that there would be a greater degree of true commitment in amateur theatre if paychecks were involved. Theatre is supposed to be an Art that its participants HAVE to do in order to be fulfilled. But I'm afraid it's the lack of money that brings some people to feel they shouldn't be expected to work as diligently as their professional counterparts.
Those of us who expect more out of our community theatre experiences, can end up being seen as "overly demanding" and even as "pretentious" for constantly striving for greater professionalism.
This is all on my mind, because in the midst of all the glorious heights reached by "Metropolis" at Pentacle, there were these conflicting energies, which made it a bitter-sweet experience for me:
--Performances were sold out
--Every audience rose in a standing ovation for all 17 performances
--Reviews were total raves
--The local paper gave more coverage to the show than any in Pentacle's history
--Letters-to-the-Editor also raved about the show
--Fellow Directors and actors made little or no comment on the show
--The theatre's Board of Directors demonstrated little or no appreciation for the unprecedented success of the show
--A disgruntled ex-cast member, who didn't like being critized for his lack of commitment to the production, and so quit the show, spread and continues to spread as much negative gossip about the show's director as possible
--The cast, which was happy and proud to have worked so hard for such great resuls, ended up including a few who felt they had to complain to the theatre's Board of Directors about the supposedly overly-harsh manner in which the director worked. "He expects too much" was the general tone of their complaints.
The challenge of doing amteur musical theatre is large, and while having a great artistic and financial success like "Metropolis" is gratifing on several levels, there is a wearying effect the negatives can have on one's psyche.
I write this to help people who have wondered, why I am no longer directing shows at Pentacle Theatre.
I write this in sympathy with other directors in community theatres who also can feel so bruised by the struggles it takes to put on a special production that rises above the average.
I have nothing but amazed admiration for those who are able to stick things out and who continue directing under the conditions of community theatre where "the least amount of work possible" is too often the motto.
So, I am simultaneously thrilled with "Metropolis" and defeated by the unfortunate animosities a successful production like this can egender. I'm simultaneously grateful for those who participated in the show and genuninely had a good time, and deeply saddened that my theatre peers are unable to lend me their moral support. I'm simultaneously pleased the public found "Metropolis" to be the best production ever mounted at Pentacle, and exhausted from the battles it took to get it on the boards.
In closing, I freely admit that a stronger person would be able to let the difficulties roll off their back. Perhaps I just have too vivid a fantasy of a community theatre which is truly a Community of talented mutually supportive artists. Perhaps I just haven't found the coping and surviving skills needed by a director in an environment where every man apparently has to be for himself. I don't like being an island.
Long live "Metropolis"---and thank you, Universe, for the amazing trip.