The thrill of the performance; the love of the audience; the transience of the onstage moments that can’t be compared to anything else in our lives…
…We’ve all got our reasons for loving the sound and feel of our feet on a stage.
But the experience of doing a show, particularly one that wears its ‘community theatre’ badge proudly, extends well beyond the proscenium arch.
We have shied, in recent years, away from the term ‘community theatre.’ It gave way to the ‘amateur’ theatre scene, which seemed to crumble away into this now prevalent idea of ‘non-professional.’ But these synonyms have missed a key part of what makes this amateur non-professional theatre (see how silly that looks?) so appealing.
There is a theory in community building circles (yes, that’s a thing…) called the Third Place Theory. It suggests that most people have three key physical locations that provide a sense of definition to their lives.
The first place, obviously, is the home. The second is the workplace. The third place is the most important; it anchors you, it creates and reinforces friendships, it fosters creative development and, here’s that word again, it builds a sense of community.
For most people reading this website, that third place is, or has at some time been, the theatre.
The specific address of the venue may change, but the theatres are combined into a single place by the sounds of the rehearsal, the catch-ups outside, the constant reminders to help with ticket sales and glow of people playing Words With Friends against people sitting only a metre from them.
Try to remember the first show you ever did in community theatre. The rush of being on stage was instantly addictive, but it didn’t remotely compare to the joy of having discovered a place where people are as crazy, loud, and desperate for attention as you. You were devastated the morning after the final night cast party not because you weren’t going to step back out onto the stage, but because of all the people you’d felt like you’d suddenly left behind (exacerbated by the fact that, for many of us, these first shows existed in an ancient time that predated Facebook…).
So you do another show with a few of the same people, and a whole lot more new ones, the friendship equivalent of a sourdough. You audition for another show before the previous one has finished, sometimes simply because your friends are auditioning. The show itself, seemingly irrelevant.
Of course, something tends to happen along the way. You make the decision to do less shows or to be more selective about your choices. And soon, you select your shows based more on the creative journey than the social aspects.
But it’s vital for us to remember that we are a community, and part of the responsibility of having seniority in a community, even if it’s only by virtue of time served, is welcoming new people into it.
I’m writing about this because I have a very good friend who has only recently entered the non-professional/amateur/community theatre world. He’s already done many things in his life, including stand-up comedy, professional breakfast radio and writing for TV. He’s been to the places many people start in community theatre to get to, and yet he’s completely smitten by it. He’s doing that same thing we all did: going from show to show because you’ve discovered that ‘third place’ and simply can’t imagine living without it.
Seeing his enthusiasm, hearing his stories, it reminds me of why I fell in love with it in the first place. I look at my friends today, friends I’ve had for a decade and a half, and I marvel at how many of them I met in those rehearsal rooms.
I look at him and I envy the fact that he isn’t fussed enough by all the potential negatives to even bother auditioning for a show. He does it because he can’t imagine not doing it. And even though I know it won’t last forever for him, I’m pleased to think in a year’s time, someone will be doing their first show with my friend and will make the same discovery we all once did.
So the next time someone inadvertently calls what you do ‘community theatre,’ don’t cringe quite so quickly. It’s not a reflection of the level of art you’re trying to create, it’s a testament to magic of the experience.
Tristan is a former editor of Theatre People.