Six Things to Know About Community Theater

Kathy Landers

My involvement with community theater began when I was 7 and saw my second-grade teacher moonlighting as a perky teenager in Bye Bye Birdie at our local not-for-profit playhouse. At that moment, despite a total and complete lack of talent (well, not complete . . . I’m a beast on the kazoo), I sold my soul to the THEE AH TAHR and have never looked back. Here’s why.

  1. Community theater provides exposure and opportunities to art to those far from the Great White Way. Geographically and financially, community theater is way more accessible than Broadway or even national touring companies.
  2. Community theater fosters a sense of pride and solidarity within the community at large. It is a chance for people from all over town to come together and say: “Look what we’ve got right here. We are awesome!” Your local theater company is an ambassador of your town. It represents the people, the businesses and the heartbeat of your community. It’s a living, breathing portrait of who we are at our best: when we work together — for good.
  3. Community theater is your community. These are your neighbors: your pharmacist, your Sunday school teacher, your Olive Garden hostess, your electrician, etc. People you see and interact with every single day being brave and vulnerable enough to let you in on their other lives, their hidden talents, their truths. That’s just so cool.
  4. Community theater is actually pretty good stuff and a great bang for your buck. So true, chances are you’re not going to see million-dollar chandeliers crash or multilevel moving set pieces transform like Optimus Prime at your local movie theater. But you will see some beautiful sets and costumes, energizing production numbers, incomparable theater magic, uplifting characters and heartbreaking songs all for about the same as you’d spend on one movie ticket, a popcorn combo and a post show fro-yo. But live in living color.
  5. Community theater has a place for you regardless of age, gender, race, identification or skill set. No sing, no dance, no problem. We need carpenters, tech nerds, salesmen, seamstresses, bartenders, painters, problem solvers, shoppers, writers, artists, photographers, hair and makeup artists, clerical wizards, computer geniuses, researchers, marketers, electricians, coffee makers, cookie bakers, and much more. And we don’t care if you’re old, gay or ugly. If you can breathe and your pulse is tangible, we will find a way to use your talents and be grateful as hell for them.
  6. Community theater is a community in and of itself. You will become part of a family that has your back on and way, way off the stage. For better or worse. In sickness and in health. Resistance is futile. Not that you will agree with everybody all the time. And the drama is not always limited to the show. But that’s not how DNA-generated families work either, and frankly. you don’t have to climb in bed with or have Thanksgiving dinner with your theater family, so . . .

I could tell you story after story about how being involved in community theater has added color and magic to my life, but I’d rather you go find out for yourself. Call them. Google them. Buy a ticket. Work a shift. Run a spotlight. Sing a song. The thing is this. Get to know your community theater and you will get to know, and love, your community.

Landers is a blogger and volunteer at the Henegar Center for the Arts. You can find more of her Four Minute Musings at http://fourminutemusings.blogspot.com/

All in the Timing

Laughs! Romance! Wordplay!

For its first staged show, For the Whim Productions (FTW) presents David Ives’ hilarious and offbeat collection of comedic one acts, All in the Timing. Performances will be April 25-28 at Appel Farm Arts & Music Center in Elmer, NJ. Tickets available here: http://www.forthewhimtickets.com

All in the Timing is a collection of one-act comedies by American playwright David Ives, written between 1987 and 1993. It premiered Off-Broadway in 1993 at Primary Stages, and was revived there in 2013. It was first published as a collection of six plays; however, the current collection contains fourteen. The short plays focus on language and wordplay, existentialist perspectives on life and its meaning, as well as complications involved in romantic relationships.

This FTW production will include:

  • Sure Thing: A man (Joe Dugan) and a woman (Meghan Moses) meet for the first time in a cafe, where they have an awkward meeting continually reset each time they say the wrong thing, until, finally, they romantically connect.
  • Words, Words, Words: Three chimpanzees (Joe Dugan, Jim Dennis, Bobbi Kukal), named after famous authors and expected to write Hamlet, for the most part waste time engaging in pointless banter, while occasionally inspired to make grandiose literary allusions.
  • The Universal Language: A man (Andrew Jarema) welcomes a shy woman (Carey Walden) into his language-learning course, in which he only speaks the invented language Unamunda; however, things become more complicated as he begins to fall in love with her.
  • The Philadelphia: At a restaurant, a man (Andrew Jarema) is informed by a friend (Joe Dugan) that his frustrating day is the result of his entrapment in an annoying pocket of reality, called a “Philadelphia,” in which he will only be fulfilled by asking for the opposites of what he wants. (also with Meghan Moses)
  • Variations on the Death of Trotsky: In comic fashion, revolutionary Leon Trotsky (Jim Dennis) dies over and over again from a mountain-climber’s axe-wound received many hours prior. His wife (Bobbi Kukal) comforts him while the murderous gardener (Andrew Jarema) looks on.
  • Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread: In the style of the postmodern composer, Philip Glass (Jim Dennis) visits a baker (Joe Dugan), while a past love (Carey Walden) receives comfort from a friend (Meghan Moses).

Show Cast

Bobbi Kukal, Andrew Jarema, Carey Walden
Joe Dugan, Meghan Moses, Jim Dennis

The Expectation of Community Theatres to Produce Professional Work

Back in the day, as we say, theatre was produced in New York, tested in out of town tryouts, then taken to a theatre along the great white way for hopefully a long popular run.  Later, if lucky, there might be a tour of a show to limited big cities. This limited reach of live theatre left much of the country without the ability to see live theatre, unless they were part of the few lucky ones that could travel.

This is where the Regional Theatre system began.  Larger theatre companies were created in major cities to produce their own work for their region.  This exposed much more of the nation to live theatre, but certainly not all, and there was really very little opportunity for would be performers to get involved, test their craft, work.

Then, along with more open options for royalty permissions to produce plays came Community Theatre.  Smaller cities and towns everywhere started creating their own small theatre guilds and groups that encouraged community members to come out and be in a show, or help backstage, or help paint, run the box office, sell the tickets and more.  They were truly a community event with community members and family members coming out to support their friends and loved ones in the show. Obviously these were not the most polished productions much of the time. Sets, costumes, props were created out of what they had or could acquire and designed and finished by amateurs.  Direction and performance was a place of learning and of finding a creative outlet for the people involved. They typically had no training, little if any experience, but maybe some innate talent and guts to rely on. It was community on and off stage with all the encouragement and wide eyes that came with it.

Well here we are now, many many years later, with community theatre mixed with small and large professional theatres, with the lines often very blurry.  Does pay mean you’re pro? Does it also require a certain level of expertise or training? Theatres are abundant in cities and sometimes even in small towns… sometimes with more theatres than talent to support them.

Expectations have changed as well.  Audiences go to theatre expecting a high quality show, even if it’s a community theatre where every member is a volunteer.  The audience often has no connection to the cast or crew involved. It’s no longer the community gathering on stage and off that it once was, cheering on your friends up there on stage doing their best acting, singing, dancing.  It now is often much more. We expect a higher standard, a professional production, a level of talent on par with other theatres where performers are paid, more experienced, with years of training.

To attempt to deliver this high quality of production, the people involved rehearse evenings after work, weekends away from their family, countless hours, sometimes for a couple months or even more. Since the hours of rehearsal are shorter per day, rehearsals are spread out longer as they compete with work schedules and lives.  In the professional theatre, where a performer is being paid full time, they rehearse for 8 hours a day as their job. They don’t have to work first, THEN go to rehearsal and work more. So rehearsal periods in number of weeks can be shorter often than community theatre. Maybe they rehearse 4 weeks, then perform 4 weeks, then move on to the next show.  Community theatre also relies on volunteers putting in long hours on the production side building sets, hanging lights and so forth. These volunteers are often hard to find these days, unlike professional theatre with paid staff members in these roles.

So how do these compare?  With the commitment to countless hours on top of our every day lives, exhaustion that often leads to illness, and passion fueled work that often leads to absolute joy.

Community theatre involvement is huge.  Arguably I’d say it’s far more of a strain than that of professional theatre involvement, though of course the pros likely paid their dues over the years, got the training, worked extremely hard.

It boils down to an appreciation of the work of these people, driven by their love of this collaborative art form, of performing or designing or supporting in numerous ways.  I hope that audiences can imagine the work that they have undertaken for weeks and weeks to bring that show to life. In our current model of all kinds of theatres blurring the lines of professional to community, coupled with the work of just getting audiences to come to the shows, supporting the theatre with ticket purchases and donations, attention should be paid to this extreme dedication and passion.

From the community theatres are born the future Hollywood stars and Broadway performers.  Let’s show them our deep appreciation and support on their journey.

Patrick Spike - Marketing Director of Arts People

 

Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration.

FTW First Venue Announcement

For the Whim Productions (FTW) is thrilled to announce that the Clare Rostan Appel Theatre at Appel Farm Arts & Music Center of Elmer, NJ will be the venue for FTW’s first staged production. Be on the lookout for more details regarding our first show!

Appel Farm Arts & Music Center began as a private summer arts camp in 1960 – the dream of Albert and Clare Appel. Albert and Clare were musicians and professional arts educators who wanted to create a summer camp where the local rural community (and their own artistically-inclined children) could learn about and participate in the arts and where they could interact with like-minded peers and mentors. For nearly 60 years, Appel Farm Arts & Music Center has been transforming lives through the arts and its mission has grown to include year-round programming. Through on-site arts education programs, outreach to schools and community-based partnerships, Appel Farm provides people of all ages, cultures and economic backgrounds with a supportive, cooperative environment in which to explore the fine and performing arts. The theatre seats over 200 patrons and is outfitted with state-of-the-art LED lighting.

“Appel Farm has such great facilities and seems like such a good fit with our current and future plans and our production ideas,” says FTW Artistic Director, Heidi Dugan. “We hope this is the beginning of a long relationship.”

FTW will soon announce its first production, cast and ticketing information. Like and follow our social media accounts for all our latest news.

Introducing our Artistic Director: Heidi Dugan

Heidi Headshot
Heidi Dugan, Artistic Director

Heidi Dugan has her BA in Communication Arts: Video Production from Allegheny College as well as her MA in English Literature from Rutgers University. She has over twenty years experience working on and around the stage, including production management, stage management, performance, and directing. She brings a strong technical background and a deep understanding of character and literary analysis to her theatrical productions. Directorial credits include shows such as The Crucible, Sweeney Todd, A Streetcar Named Desire, Spamalot (Asst. Dir.), Damn Yankees (Asst. Dir.). In 2018, she directed a production of Extremities to benefit Services Empowering the Rights of Victims, resulting in greater visibility as well as a sizable donation for the organization. Stage management and performance credits include Les Misérables, All in the Timing, Murder in the Cathedral, Grease, Rent, Inherit the Wind, Bye Bye Birdie, Hamlet, Moon Over Buffalo, The Wizard of Oz, The Addams Family, Annie, Mousetrap, Blithe Spirit, Steel Magnolias, August: Osage County, Our American Cousin, The Importance of Being Earnest, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Company, Scapin, and The Snow Queen. She is a wife, mother and works as a middle school technology teacher and debate team coach. She loves travel, planning events, hosting parties, knitting and playing board games.