Gilbert & Sullivan "virtual orchestra"

"Raps" archives---PART TWO

Randy Bowser

theatre raps

about community theatre

making community theatre great

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

I know many people nation-wide can say the same thing about the hundreds of hours they have donated to help make theatre happen in their communities- that their efforts in amateur theatre have provided some of their most rewarding achievements.

Pentacle Theatre™, in Salem, Oregon, has been the primary venue for my theatrical involvement for the last ten years. The organization was recently presented The Governor's Award for excellence in the arts. While a "typical" community theatre in many ways, the award indicates that Pentacle™ is good example of a community theatre which is successful on several fronts.

The various websites I have created and maintain have Pentacle™ productions as their subjects. They began as reference sources for people working on shows I directed at the theatre, and after the shows were closed, the sites became archival in nature, and, I hope, inspiration for other community theatre people.

This particular page is the first of several "raps" about amateur theatre that I want to be helpful additions to these ever-growing internet resources I am maintaining.

Set Your Standards High

To help make community theatre "great"--that is my motto and chief motivation for helping out at a theatre such as Pentacle.™

A community may not expect "professional" standards at their local theatre, and some participants in a community theatre may only have the desire "to have fun" as their goal when getting involved in their local little theatre.

But there can be a higher goal, with higher standards, and therein lies the exciting potential, and sometimes difficult challenge, of the amateur theatre scene.

Helping Inexperienced People To Be Great

Because the nature of "little theatre" is both "amateur" and "community" oriented, it is a given that many inexperienced people will become involved.

Everyone has an innate attraction to the idea of being an actor, and the desire to get up on a stage is the most common motivation for an inexperienced person to get involved in their local theatre.

Unlike any other art and craft one can think of, there is a seemingly universal feeling that without training or preparation, one can jump into a play and be an effective actor. To be a storyteller, an actor, is a primal urge. That we can act is an innate feeling that lingers from childhood when all of us were "naturals" at performing.

But people don't expect to design a beautiful, functional building without years of training in architecture, nor do they think they can dance in a ballet without years of instruction.

Perhaps it's because acting's tool of expression is Ourselves, there is a natural tendency to think the only requirement for being an actor is the courage to get up in front of an audience and that our unique personalities will automatically spill out and captivate an audience.

Neophytes are constantly having this fantasy derailed when they do manage to get cast in a show, and they face realities such as the need to rehearse, of building a character, having an effective on-stage technique etc. Sometimes the illusion is quickly burst, and through hard work the neophyte emerges with having both a very rewarding personal experience and of presenting a very enjoyable performance.

But sometimes the newcomer has trouble realizing that they need to overcome their handicap of having no training. Rehearsals can become fraught with arguments, misunderstandings, and the experience is then tarnished for everyone involved, and the resulting show is less than acceptable.

At Pentacle™, such newcomers are rather routinely replaced when they have been cast in large roles which they end up not being able to handle. Other theatres don't find the practice of firing acting volunteers to be very community-minded, so let the "hopeless amateur" go on with the show, and the results are often of the sort which help give amateur theatre the bad name it has in some circles.


--Directors: At auditions, be thorough in explaining what the expectations are for people who are cast and who sign up to be in the crew.

--Actors: Only audition for a show if you are prepared to make the show your #1 priority, clearing your calendar of other activities

--Directors: At auditions, the first read through and on through the rehearsal schedule, continue to help educate the company on the rules of theatre etiquette-ie: silence off stage, not directing each other, never missing a rehearsal etc.

--Actors: Open yourselves to the "secret" of creating good, effective theatre---that the hard work involved IS "the fun" of doing a play.

--Directors: Respect the unique potential of everyone in your cast. Avoid the mistaken notion that a director is someone who dictates every moment of a given actor's performance, but as per the above suggestion, be prepared to assist the newcomer as much as possible

--Actors: Understand that "theatre etiquette" is mostly common sense courtesy. For instance, talking in the rehearsal space when off-stage does serious damage to the focus needed by those working on stage. TO DIRECTORS AND ACTORS: Mutual respect is essential. This doesn't mean that the rehearsal process will always be peaceful and "happy." It may mean that the most respectful thing at a given moment is for firm and even abrasive interaction to take place.

You are all involved in a dynamic, cooperative creative effort, and as such, it isn't a tea party--it's a highly charged arena where the more you can bring of your passion to the project, the more success you will have in communicating with the people you are doing a show for--your final collaborators, the audience.

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

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