The Professional Community Thespian

Lee Sheppard suggested that I write a post on “Community Theatre? Why bother?

Before I start this post, I would like to state one thing and make it perfectly clear. I do not consider myself to be a brilliant actor, just a good one. I do it because it fires something inside that I thrive off. It’s like a drug addiction, including withdrawals if I abstain for too long. Now I want to take my craft to a new level and posting articles like this helps me to reflect and process, giving me a fresh perspective on things as I try and explain them to anyone who reads these posts.

Community Theatre. It has a bad rap in general circles. Looked down upon by mainstream media and often considered the poor man’s theatre.

True. Community Theatre is often populated by people who are just doing it because it’s fun and don’t see it as a professional thing, just a hobby. True, there is no money to be made and thus you can’t pay the bills with it. True. You more frequently find totally green and difficult actors than you would do in professional theatre, which can make performances interesting.

Regardless, I have a soft-spot for Community Theatre. It gave me my start, helped me overcome my self-confidence issues, and I learnt a lot from my time, and still do. For all the negative connotations associated with Community Theatre, there are many more positive ones that go over looked.

Shakespeare in Community Theatre
Shakespeare in Community Theatre

I started doing theatre before I contemplated formal training. It was a way of testing my liking for the activity. I worked with a vast array of different people. Some extremely talented from whom I learnt a lot about stage craft. Others who were rather difficult (talented or not) who taught me a lot about tolerance. Fresh green actors with stars in their eyes who usually had a thousand and one questions, taught me patience and the joy in passing on what I had learnt. I have worked with dozens of professionals who love theatre so much that they are willing to do it for love alone.

Through Community Theatre, I have learnt more about theatre than I think any course could ever teach me, from the darker aspects to the brighter ones. Comparatively, professional theatre is somewhat insulated from these extremes. The highs are less high and the lows are somewhat muted. Professional theatre, on average, seems to be more constructed and less passionate. That is not to say it is without passion. Far from it. I have just found that the passion that comes from Community Theatre is more raw and natural.

From the Wings
From the Wings

The debate between Community (Amateur) and Professional is one that has raged on for years, and one that I have waded in on frequently. I personally believe that Community Theatre should not be regarded in the way it appears to be. This particular negative outlook I think is something rather special to Australia, which sort of makes sense considering the strong national focus on sport and politics. I know that in the UK, this opinion is not shared to the same degree, with Community Theatres forming the cultural hub of many communities, and many celebrities being more than willing to participate in a local pantomime or similar.

A little while back, I mentioned that I believed I learnt more than any course could. I have done some formal training in Theatre at different stages of my life, including University. I did audition for WA’s Performing Arts Academy (WAPAA) and was turned down three years running. This was disappointing and personally I questioned why. Fortunately for me, a few of my more learned Community Theatre friends encouraged me to find out why. This I did, expecting to hear that I was simply not good enough, or too old, or something not enough. I didn’t expect to be told that I was too good.

Well, that wasn’t quite the way it was phrased. I was told that I was “too trained.” I already knew the techniques and had a solid craft that they felt I would not benefit from their courses. It was very much like the time I applied for a Computer Sales job to be told that with my Computing Science degree, I would probably get bored… I wouldn’t have applied if I had thought that!

Back to theatre however, I thought “Too Trained?” I’ve only done Community Theatre. What training have I done? Now I’d like to say that that was the moment I realised, but it wasn’t. I took up Theatre Units at Uni as a Minor to the last years of my Computing degree. I did this for a year and found that I didn’t really learn anything new, just some terms for things that I was already doing. I was finally able to explain things that I was already doing in terms that “professionals” understood.

It was towards the end of this period, and a few rare opportunities to work with some very talented and focused individuals, that I realised why I was “too trained.” As Yoda once said to Luke, I had learned all I needed to learn. All that was left was to refine, expand and perfect, a process that should never end.

So if you were to ask me, “Community Theatre? Why bother?” Be prepared to hear me talk, at length on why you should bother.

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