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Randy Bowser

theatre raps

about community theatre

2005 Thoughts about "professionalism"

40 years of intensive involvement with the American community theatre scene have given me many of the peak experiences in my life.

Let me share ideas and observations that I hope will help inspire you in your theatrical endeavors.

The FIRST "theatre rap" in this series touches on some of the challenges of being actors and directors in amateur theatre.

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.

The FOURTH installment is a fun quiz for amateur actors.

The FIFTH rap is a thought provoking quiz aimed at directors.

The SIXTH installment is "Affirmations For Actors.".


As we start a new year, and continue our involvement with community theatre, it's a good time to think about that much used word "professional," and see if new inspiration can gleaned from the term.


"Professionalism" has come to mean many different things, perhaps to the point that the term no longer has much meaning. Here are some of the conflicting connotations I've most often heard in relation to the concept of professionalism:

Clearly, as seen from these contradictory statements, "professional" and "professionalism" have come to be vague and unclear designations. Is it useful to use these words at all?

Despite the common uses and misuses of these words, there is still the basic and concrete designation of theatre "professionals" as being members of the show business industry: So the subject will come up, and I think we would do well to re-think this issue here at the start of a new year when we can look at everything with fresh eyes.

What does the concept of "being professional" mean to us in community theatre?

Theoretically, the professional has a stringent work ethic, in part dictated by the labor unions he/she belongs to, and by the "9 to 5" nature of their jobs in theatre. Also theoretically, the professional has training and experience which informs their work so that they are as productive and effective as possible. In comparison, the amateur simply doesn't have the time and resources to work so steadily at the craft.


None of the self-evident "givens" of the professional's attributes addresses the issues of talent and dedication.

One can assume that the professional was motivated to make theatre his/her life's work because of a dedication to developing and using talent which was probably discovered early in life. It doesn't seem logical that a professional actor, for instance, is someone who actually was hoping to be a brick layer, and somehow happened to end up on stage.

"Many are called but few are chosen" is certainly a true maxim in theatre. Those who have careers in theatre generally started out as talented amateurs who felt compelled to make theatre the center of their lives, and managed to accomplish their goals.

All of that still begs the question, "are professionals, as a rule, more 'talented' than amateurs?"

I think it's safe to say that the general public believes this is true.

A very common obstacle for the amateur actor in his/her home town, is that the general population tends to think, "If he's that good, he'd be a pro" and "How can someone in 'Podunk, Anywhere' actually be a talented actor worth admiring?" and "How can a theatre company in a small town produce work in any way comparable to a pro theatre?"

As unfair as the common prejudice against amateur theatre is, it's usually what many people are talking about when they are comparing professionals with amateurs.


While admitting that the terms "pro" and "amateur" have fuzzy, confusing meanings, I believe that participants in amateur theatre are well advised to utilize identifiably "professional" work habits such as the rules found in labor union guide lines, and outlined in books about the functioning of pro theatres.

A list of some of the pro actor's attitudes includes:


People with professional experience can have difficulty adapting to a community theatre setting. The fault for this lies on both sides of the fence: Amateurs without professional backgrounds can be defensive and suspicious of a newcomer with pro credentials, and pros who have either retired or given up the grind of theatre as a career, can easily have a lack of patience for the status quo at the average community theatre.

The ideal solution for the above-described situation would be for the "old guard" group of amateurs to let down their defenses and let themselves learn from the pro (ex-pro?) who is joining their group; and for the pro to have patience, and enthusiasm for helping to raise the "professionalism quotient" at the theatre. In reality, this isn't easily done. Hopefully, with the right combination of personalities, of tact, and insight, both the professional newcomer to a group and the group he's joining can benefit from the marriage.

BEWARE OF ACTING THEORIES touted to you as being "what the pros do." There are some techniques which many pro actors will have in common from their training, but approaches vary wildly and perhaps more than in any profession, there are countless snake-oil acting coaches who profess to "make a professional" out of its students.

It's my observation that many acting coaches are inadequate performers, and can be as lost in rehearsals as a newcomer. The teacher who can truly be helpful as an acting coach is extremely rare.

USING "PROFESSIONAL" AS A SALES GIMMIC-- Here's what can be seen as an unfortunate approach for a theatre group to take--To announce that what will be setting their troupe apart from other local groups is that they will be "Professional." In a few large cities, of course it is possible to start small theatres under union contracts, and for everyone involved to be paid professionals.

But the vast majority of theatres in America are amateur, and they are in medium to small sized towns. For a group to think that there will be enough actual, bonafide professionals in a given location to get their new troupe going, is a pipe dream. If they go ahead with producing a season of plays, continuing to promote their organization as "professional" while actually using the same part-time talent that community theatres utilize---well, it's a rather absurd and pointless thing, to insist that giving the actors gas money somehow justifies the group's designation of "professional."

This is an example of "professional" being used not only improperly, but as an advertising gimmic to theoretically dazzle the audience with a superiority they supposedly possess, simply by using the "professional" designation.

Here's a completely different problem adding to the confusion ---There are community theatre participants in every part of the country who, with a self-defeating kind of reverse snobbery, are proud to say they do Not want to strive for being "professional," and in fact, seem to take pride in being UN-professional in their work habits and in the results they present their audiences. I would encourage everyone to avoid this kind of "amateur mindset" which just helps perpetuate the bad reputation that amateurs and community theatre has in some people's minds.

Let's remember what the word AMATEUR actually means: Someone who is enthusiastic about their endeavors. Someone who loves a certain area of pursuit, and applies all their energy to it, whether or not they are being paid for their efforts.

I wouldn't mind if I never hear the word "professional" used again, in reference to an individual's or an organization's quality of work. What we should be concerned with is our amount of passion for theatre art.

If some people choose to think that a high level of dedication makes one "professional"--fine. If some patrons are so snobbish to think that an amateur production can never truly be wonderful (and there Are plenty of folks like that), then it's their loss.

As participants in community theatre, let's spend less time thinking about the categories of amateur and professional, and re-dedicate ourselves to simply being the best we can be. Whether we be "amateurs" or "professionals," it's only honest, true dedication that will make us artists.

Randy Bowser

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