- OnStage New York Columnist
I’ve had the pleasure of working with many wonderful community theatres over the past several years. We’ve worked on some excellent productions together, and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. However, I’ve noticed that a few of these theatres I’ve worked with – as well as a few others whose shows I’ve seen as an audience member – had a small element of hypocrisy in what their mission supposedly was. Many of these theatres take pride in saying things such as “Here at [insert theatre’s name here] everyone has a chance to shine!” or “We want everyone to feel welcome here!” or “We help every star reach its full potential!”, just to give you a basic idea. Yet at these same theatres, which take pride in saying how inclusive and welcoming they are toward many people, I couldn’t help but notice something: Many of them also cast the exact same people in the lead roles of nearly every show that they do.
It is the same at nearly every production that these particular community theatres keep putting on. The actor who plays Fred Graham in Kiss Me Kate is the same actor who played Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. The actor who plays Chip in 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is the same actor who played Evan in 13. I could offer more examples, but you get the idea. The lead actor in this year’s production is the same as the lead actor in last year’s production. When you think about it, it does call into question just how “inclusive” these community theatres really are. You would think that a theatre that supposedly believes in those things would consider other actors for other roles, as well.
Some of you might be asking “Why does this even matter?” If you are someone who is passionate about community theatre, and are someone who thinks it can and should be a home for all kinds of people who are looking for a place to express their artistic side – or even just a place to have friends and feel welcome – than this should be a fairly big problem for all of you. I personally believe that’s what theatre can and should be, particularly at the community level, and that’s why I believe that those theatres that share this view of mine should practice what they preach.
There are some who would argue that none of this is relevant to being a great community theatre. These people, particularly directors, argue that all that really matters is casting the right person for the right role, and as long as that same person is talented enough, there is no reason why they shouldn’t keep casting him or her in the same kinds of roles for each new production. If you are one of the community theatres out there that does happen to pride in their talent over inclusiveness, then this would obviously make sense. However, to the theatres I previously referred to, which take pride in fairness and inclusiveness, this only serves to make them look hypocritical. If these theatres have more than just three or four talents actors (more or less) who usually audition for them, do they really need to stick with giving the leads to the same people over and over?
So if you just so happen to be one of the theatres out there that doesn’t care so much about inclusivity, and only about the quality of a production, that’s perfectly fine. If that’s what you are in it for, this article doesn’t relate to you so much. However, to those community theatres whose stated mission is to make everyone feel welcome and let everyone have a chance to shine, I offer this bit of advice for you: Please, if you really want to be fair and welcoming to all performers, maybe give more of them a chance at having the opportunity to shine. Perhaps you should try, for lack of a better phrase, “spreading the wealth”. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find out that they were better for that role than the actor you normally go with.
Photo: Inspiration Stage