Sunday, June 10, 2012

On the Merits of Community Theatre

A rehearsal still from my 2008 production of The Skin of Our Teeth
The Antoinette Perry (or 'Tony') Awards are wrapping up as I write this post. I did not watch them, nor have I for a long time. I don't watch them because Broadway is completely irrelevant to the vast majority of Americans, especially those who love the theatre. Excuse me, The Theatre. 

Yes, Broadway can be wonderful. I've seen some amazing shows on Broadway. I was in the audience for the final performance of the full original cast of Kiss of the Spiderwoman (amazing, by the way). I first saw one of my favorite comedies about theatre, Noises Off, on Broadway. I sat in the second row, in the seat next to where the character Sally Simpson would eventually join the audience in The Who's Tommy. I've seen the original casts of Pippin; Timbuktu; The Wiz; The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Hurly Burly; Victor/Victoria; Wicked; Xanadu; Rent; Aida; The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? and dozens more plays and musicals. I've seen Broadway revivals of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; West Side Story; Candide; A Midsummer Night's Dream; Richard III;  and many more. But how many of us have access to Broadway, especially at today's ticket prices? A top-tier musical can cost $150 or more. That's not including transportation to New York, parking and a meal. Add taxes and tips, and an evening on Broadway can easily cost several hundred bucks. These days, I can barely afford a movie ticket, let alone a ticket to a major Broadway show.

What's the alternative? Well, you might be lucky enough to live in a city where the traveling company of a show might play (still exorbitant). But most likely, if you love the theatre, you're going to see your local community theatres' shows. And that's a good thing. For every professional regional company (whose prices can be almost as out of reach as Broadway), there are probably 10 community theatre companies who charge less than $20 a ticket. And many of them do truly terrific work. Case in point: This past Friday I saw an absolutely delightful and expertly-executed community theatre production of The Drowsy Chaperone. The cast was excellent across the board, the direction was dead-on and the production values were rather spectacular. Yes, of course there are plenty of truly awful community theatre companies out there. But there are also plenty of truly awful professional theatre companies, as well. Trust me, I've seen (and even been party to) some truly wretched 'professional' shows.

Having done my share of both professional and community theatre, I have to say, I much prefer the latter. People who perform, direct and otherwise create for community theatre do what they do because they truly love the theatre. That's not to say that professionals don't love what they do but professional theatre is a profit-driven business. The cast and crew may love what they do, but their primary goal is to make money. Community theatre companies are mostly non-profit organizations whose sole intent is to provide entertainment for the community at large and allow creative outlets for local actors, designers, technicians and craftspeople. Whether they do it well or not, doesn't really matter (though a job well-done is always better than the alternative). The fact that they do it at all, makes it worth doing.

I started this blog almost four years ago in an attempt to document the process of putting on a community theatre production of The Skin of Our Teeth for Shakespeare '70 and the Thornton Wilder Society's first annual conference at The College of New Jersey in 2008. My 'Steampunk' inspired concept for the show was embraced by both the company and the conference attendees, which only served to validate not only my own artistic sensibilities, but led credence to the existence and artistic value of community theatre in general. 

Here's the thing: If you live in or near New York and can afford to see Broadway shows, by all means, do so. Many shows have lotteries for folks who can't afford the regular ticket price and discounted tickets are always available at the TKTS booths at Duffy Square and Battery Park (which is how I could afford many of the shows I've seen on Broadway). If you don't live near or in Manhattan, I urge you to please support your local theatre companies. They have just as much passion, drive and artistic integrity as the companies who have millions to spend and you can see original and differing interpretations of so many plays and musicals.

Remember - Art Can't Hurt You.

More, anon.


Stephen said...

I am rather careless about tossing off the phrase- "like community theatre" about situations where people are petty. I have done my fair share.

Stephen said...

I have watched the Tony Awards for 40+ years because I love to see the numbers from the season's musicals & because I want to win a Tony.

Even in Portland, Oregon, a night of 2 good seats for a play, plus dinner & drinks can make for a $250 evening. & I always feel that if I am paying $60-$90 for a ticket, the piece better be damn good.