It’s time for all of us to step up and help out.

It amazes me that year after year we continue to debate issues such as the guild nominations… ‘How the hell did (insert show here) get nominated?’ or ‘I can’t believe I wasn’t nominated for…’or ‘What the hell were the judges thinking?’

Six months earlier it was ‘F#@*, why the hell did that stupid director not cast me?’ or ‘I can’t believe John Doe got that role over me’ or ‘I hope what’s his name burns in hell!!!!’

There is a high degree of probability that three months prior to this you were saying to yourself (or anyone who would listen)… ‘Why would ABC Theatre company be stupid enough to choose that show?’ or ‘That idea is never going to work’ or ‘Why the hell is nobody doing a show I want to be in?’.

Sound familiar? Odds are all of you have thoughts at least remotely close to one of the above comments. It’s sad but it’s true. As a community we have lost our reason for doing what we do and more importantly we have lost sight of the bigger picture. Why are we in theatre in the first place? To begin with it was because we loved it and more importantly we loved the social experience that it provided us. Today there is the ever growing scent of bitchiness in the air and most of us are guilty of it; I certainly am guilty of it.

My reasons for getting into theatre I remember clearly…but are those early motivations still what they are today? When at 18 I walked in to my first audition my motives were clear… I was there for an escape from my life, I hated uni, I felt like I no longer knew who my friends were and I was struggling to shake the depression that had plagued my earlier teenage years.

Nine years, twenty four shows and countless cast parties later I am better for every single experience. My closest friends, my fondest memories, relationships (be they good or bad), my constantly improving artistic ability, my state of mind, all the better because of this wonderful community that we have created.
But our beautiful little theatre world is in peril. It is slowly dying and we only have ourselves to blame. We are killing it.

I have been sitting on this article for nearly three months, unwilling to publish it until I felt like the timing was right. As we head towards our night of nights I am going to call on all of you, individual, company and importantly the Victorian Music Theatre Guild to stand up and unite, to stop our constant bickering and to save the amateur theatre community from extinction. It is my hope that this article will spark debate and ultimately force all of us to put aside our petty differences and jump into action and force some positive change.
The approaching Armageddon that I speak of has a cause, an effect and hopefully (with a united effort) a solution.

So just what exactly am I referring to?

The cause:

Increasingly over the years our collective egos have gotten out of control. We complain, stab in the back and more importantly many of us (again I am happy to cite myself as an example) simply think we are more important than anyone else and what we are involved in. We have decided that we must always shoot for a leading role and that the ensemble of a show is not worthy of our time. We have given up on jumping on committee or helping to build sets or crew for a company we love. Of course why would we bother to assist a company at the basic level when there is an endless supply of new companies that we could continue to fuel our egos with?

I remember building sets, being on committees, crewing, running follow spots and actually turning up for bump out! Do I do these things anymore? Not really, or at least less and less frequently. Why be loyal to the company that I did my first six shows with when I can simply run down the road to the next company, jump up on stage and bask under the spot light?

The flow on effects are an increased amount of negativity in our community and I now have to stop and ask myself…are my motives the same as when I first got in to this world, that has in turn given so much to me? And is it right for me and everyone else for that matter to continue to take without giving back?

There is an abundance of take in the theatre world at the moment and very little give and this is having a very negative effect on our companies.

The effect:

Many of our wonderful companies are dying and I don’t just mean they are losing their sense of fun and excitement.

No this call to arms is because as I write this there are many more companies on the verge of financial collapse than you may be aware of. The problem is widespread and it is serious. I am not just talking about our smaller boutique companies either mind you; I also refer to some of our biggest and oldest companies too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that certain companies (be they big or small) are immune, because no company is.

The loss of community whilst we search for our own personal ego boost is responsible and without immediate change I guarantee that we are going to see a plethora of companies become insolvent and close during 2011. This is not an extremist view point anymore; it is a stone cold reality.

Our companies are under resourced and alarmingly undermanned. Companies that once had committees of 10-15 people are now struggling to run with 5 or less at the helm. As our company founders retire or simply get to old to build sets Gen’s X,Y,Z are not stepping up to take over. An overabundance of new companies (form the ‘we can do it on our own’ generations) have also contributed to such an alarming increase in competition for ticket sales that companies just aren’t getting enough ‘bums on seats’. Think about it… who is going to see XYZ’s Into the Woods when ABC, DEF, GHI and JKL theatre companies have produced it in the same year? Short of the guild judges who in their right mind is going to go and watch ninety amateur productions in a single year?

The answer is nobody. We have spread ourselves so thinly already that the sheer abundance of companies in Melbourne is slowly killing off the ones that were once financially viable.
As community spirit diminishes in favour of personal gain, new companies are increasing competition and as the cost of theatre continues to rise we are backing our entire community into a huge hole.

The solution

Surely there has to be one. The purpose of this article is certainly not to offer a definitive answer, rather to get the ball rolling. Certainly realising that constant increases in the number of companies producing theatre is a problem as well as the loss of any sort of loyalty to companies is another. The solution is up to all of us, so let’s get the conversation started.

CALL TO ARMS:

It’s time to step up and save community theatre. Fellow thespians, committees and the Music Theatre Guild of Victoria it is time for us to do something about the situation that presents itself. We cannot leave it to others any longer.

As a collective we must work towards saving the theatre community and we must unite rather than see ourselves as constant competitors. It’s time to drop the bitchiness.

As the guild awards approach I want this topic to be on everyone’s mind and I want the conversations to begin to take place and for us to start to form a united approach. Discussions need to be had and companies need to get together to work towards a solution. If we really are united as a guild of companies then let’s prove it.

And to all of us ego maniacs out there I beg you. Get back in touch with the companies you love and help out. Give something back. Help crew a show, work the bar or simply usher when you can.

Only we can save our companies and all it takes is for you to put up your hand to do so.

 

Michael Butler
 

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