"The theater has to impose itself on the public, and not the public on the theater… The word 'Art' should be written everywhere, in the auditorium and in the dressing rooms, before the word 'Business' gets written there." – Federico Garcia Lorca

I remember the first professional musical I attended. It was in Auckland, the mid-nineties and I was not yet in high school. My father took me; I remember the lights, the dancing, the costumes and the sheer energy that emanated from the cast. Of course, I had been to many a movie-musical in the cinemas, but this was different, the people were real, the actors were right in front of you and the exciting aura each character projected enveloped me with warmth like a Snuggie in winter. Theatergoing is a communal act, movie going a solitary one. What was even more exciting was the knowledge that there was no ‘takes’ or chances to do over, what happened on stage happened in full view. I remember the chorus dancing in the aisles to "Shout" and feeling the rush of wind as the girls’ poodle skirts flew by me. The experience was magical; I shared it with my father and left wanting to be up there too.

Over the years, since moving to Tasmania, I have flown to Melbourne for many a professional show from The Lion King to Wicked, from The Phantom of the Opera with Anthony Warlow to The Boy from Oz with Hugh Jackman. I have laughed 'til I cried in Avenue Q, danced in my seat at Hairspray and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, marvelled at the sets of Mary Poppins and am about to see Jersey Boys in Sydney. Each show has left me in awe; whether it be from the million-dollar costumes, the interchanging sets, the characters flying above your head on wires, the illusions or simply the chance to be so close to a person who has graced the pages of magazines and cinema. Nothing beats professional theatre, except the cost.

In Tasmania, touring shows are few and far between and the chance of getting a professional musical the likes of those seen at The Princess Theatre in Melbourne or the Capitol Theatre in Sydney are never a feature on my island home. It’s like Santa forgetting your chimney at Christmas. So, to get to these shows my partner and I pay for: petrol to drive one and three quarter hours to Launceston, the flights to Melbourne and back, accommodation for one or two nights, meals and transfers as well as the tickets; usually in excess of $120 each to the show we are seeing. Bearing in mind, my partner is six foot seven and we believe if we are paying all that we should get a decent view! All in all, a weekend like this would set us back close to $800. Indulging in this passion is certainly not a cheap hobby.

Over the last 6 years, during my short but growing musical theatre hobby-career and being involved in many an amateur show, I have begun to ponder the professional vs. amateur musicals rift. Having been on a committee where budgets are set out, the cost of putting on an 8 – 12 performance show is daunting for a not-for-profit organisation, certainly compared with the multi-million dollar professional shows. I began to notice the difference between our $28 dollar tickets and the $70 – $150+ tickets for professional shows and how it felt to be in the audience of both. In a professional show, the audience is taken away in the magic of costume, sets and in some cases, CGI and pyrotechnics, to a completely different world. In the back of my mind, I think of the actors, this is their job, they are getting paid to do this show 8 times a week; this is their career.

I have a career, I am a full time Physiotherapist with schizophrenic tendencies to morph into an all-singing all-dancing musical theatre hobbyist. I don’t get paid for the 6 months of rehearsals, the set making, the program development, the help with choreography or the 8 – 12 (sometimes more!) hours a week I spend rehearsing or the performances themselves. Neither do my friends. I often source my own costumes with my fellow cast members and pull props from my own home. I sing my harmonies in the shower and the car, I practice dance moves in my head and while cleaning the house. Then its show time, the rehearsals 'til midnight every night of bump in week (because the theatre costs are too expensive for us to practice in it any earlier) while trying to manage to work 9 – 5 without coming down with the dreaded ‘theatre flu.’ Certainly not a glamorous theatre lifestyle. So why do we do it? Why do you put yourself through it ‘for nothing?’ I am often asked these questions and my reply is simply this: because I love it.

So what makes a show good? Is it the multi-million dollar costumes? Is it the origami sets or the surreal lighting and projections? Is it the famous performers and actors belting tunes and professional dancers wowing you with moves? Or is it the passion for the art itself? For me, it’s the latter. I will never stop attending professional shows; they satisfy a need within my musical theatre passion. But, my heart belongs forever with the world of amateur theatre where the cast and crew do it for the sheer love of it. It’s the kind of love that an audience sees and feels and the kind of love that brings a community together. A non-professional theatre is, simply, one comprised of people who do not derive their income from it and do not spend most of their time engaged in it. We charge our fee to cover costs and to have just enough to put on that next show and so that "everyone regardless of race, creed, class or criminal history" (in the words of my last show Urinetown) gets a chance to experience what musical theatre is all about. As an audience member, you can sit back and watch friends and family, fathers, mothers, school mates, the barman at the local pub, your school teacher or your local member of parliament transform into characters and reveal talents you never knew they had. Confidence grows, passion is revealed, future stars are born and people are given a chance to witness laughter and applause for their first time on stage. Its community spirit in its rawest form, a cast that works to put on a show for nothing but simply to entertain the masses and do something they love.

Professional shows may have all the glitz and glamour but when it comes down to it, a cast who don’t have to compete for roles to secure a salary will always have a different vibe. I put it out there to the amateur theatre companies who feel the need to charge ticket prices at professional rates and who continue to alienate our low socioeconomic population and those who can’t afford to travel or to attend professional theatre to remember why we do what we do. To those theatre companies who don’t pay their actors and can’t justify the profits, I shake my head.

Tasmania continues to thrive off its vast and extensive amateur theatre community. We serve a purpose: to provide an opportunity for the masses. Oscar Wilde once said: “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” Community and amateur theatre are the link to make this a possibility and a right for everyone. I will forever dwell in the love I get from bringing theatre to my community and will continue to reap the rewards: self confidence, satisfaction and the joy of bringing art and happiness to the people.

All the world's a stage and the men and women on it merely players. Everyone should have the chance to experience it and to realise their own potential to be a part of it.

Long live community theatre.


Kirsty has always had an affinity and passion for all things musical. Finding a calling in playing piano from age 4 while adopting the exterior of a jock she kept her passion hidden for years until moving to Burnie, Tasmania from her home town of Auckland in 2005. Kirsty is a qualified Musculoskeletal and Paediatric Physiotherapist and ex-elite triathlete and swimmer. In 2006 Kirsty made her stage debut in the dance troupe for The King and I with Burnie Musical Society and has never looked back going on to Pirates of Penzance, Oliver!, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and as Grace Farrell in Annie with Burnie Musical Society and more recently Urinetown with Devonport Choral Society. She has experienced theatre throughout Tasmaniaas well as frequently attending major shows in Melbourne. Community theatre in Tasmania has exceeded all expectations allowing people to experience the joy of musicals and first timers to have a go while supporting seasoned performers. Kirsty sings back up vocals with a local band, dances jazz and hip hop and enjoys the irreplacable friendship and support that only a small community can bring. Her shining moment was finally meeting her idol, Jason Robert Brown in person this year and she hopes you enjoy the taste of Tassie and what theatre in Tasmania brings!

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