Put 'Community' Back in Community Theatre

Sarah Cagle

  • Student Columnist 

Recently, my local community theatre celebrated their 20th anniversary and I, amongst many other performers of various ages and skill levels, had the honor of performing at and attending their celebratory gala. I have only been with this theatre company for less than three years but I had felt like I'd been part of the family for many years longer. It truly got me thinking about how important it is to have a theatre community that is not only accepting and friendly but one that is nurturing and always there for you.

One of the things that I've always admired about this particular theatre company is that from the moment you step in their theater, you feel welcomed and at home. There are no cliques, everyone's a family, and they're always willing to lend a helping hand, even at auditions when it might seem that everyone's fighting each other for the "best role".

Now, I'm not saying all this to brag about how awesome my theatre company is. I'm saying this to demonstrate the kind of atmosphere all theatre companies should strive for because I know all too well what it feels like when a company isn't as welcoming or nurturing, and it can be very detrimental to the student's love of theatre.

Unfortunately, I have had many experiences with poor community theatre atmospheres, especially in teen shows and given how a lot of students struggle with fitting in and making friends at school, I always thought it was important for the theatre to be the place where everyone belonged.

My very first show was a children's show, aged 5-18, and the one of the things I remember most about that experience was how coarse and strict our director was. He spent more time setting rules and focusing on the technical side of theatre, than cultivating a proper environment for children to learn to love it. While I am grateful for the knowledge I gained from him about being a professional in any situation, I also can't seem to forget him shouting at little kids because they just couldn't understand the dance he was trying to teach them.

Despite this, I still managed to love performing and auditioned for the upcoming family show and was faced with a director who didn't even bother to show up to most of the rehearsals. She either left us up to our own devices or made the vocal director lead many of our rehearsals.

I also have memories of being in a show where I was ignored by the entire cast unless talking to me was 100% necessary because I was new. I often sat alone whenever I wasn't on stage and for the first time in my life, I dreaded attending rehearsals. 

 Woodside Community Theatre

Woodside Community Theatre

It wasn't until I entered the theater of the company I'm with now that I truly learned what a theatre family felt like. It wasn't until our director invited us to sit in and watch lead-only rehearsals that the barriers of cliques were broken. It wasn't until she would have us watch clips from broadway shows to understand the content we were performing, that a love of theatre and broadway was truly cultivated. It wasn't until people put aside their ego and their pride to welcome the new kid, that true friendships were formed.

So, I say we put the "community" back in community theatre, we welcome the new kids, we help others feel more comfortable at auditions, even if it takes away the focus from yours because the theatre community is why a lot of people fall in love with theatre to begin with.