Should Community Theatre Be Reviewed at All?

Anne Collin

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist

A couple of weeks ago, OnStage featured a column about reviewing community theatre honestly. This week, we look at whether or not it should be reviewed at all. Here is a take from our new writer, Anne Collin. 

As a lifelong musician and performer, there came a time in my early adulthood when I had to make an important decision regarding the direction in which to steer my career. It’s a choice that I’m sure every artist faces at one point or another: was I to suffer for my art, or settle down into a more stable job in order to pay the bills? There are those of us who decide to take that leap of faith and move to the big city with a few cardboard boxes and a dream while humming “What I Did For Love,” and there are those of us who take a more pragmatic approach and funnel our passion into a hobby or a second job when time permits. I was one of the latter. I took the road more frequently traveled and became a music teacher, figuring that with my love of both music and children, I would have something approximating the best of both worlds. 

After several years in my chosen career, it became glaringly apparent to me that I needed to perform. The ache in my chest whenever I attended live theater let me know that I just had to sing. Being a teacher is wonderful, but I still needed to fulfill my creative longings. Luckily for me, Connecticut has a thriving local theater scene and a plethora of other performance opportunities, from coffee house open mics to professional choruses. I quickly hit my stride and made my way back to the place that has always been my second home: the stage.

I soon found that while I don’t know how it feels to perform for a crowd of thousands, it still feels pretty darn good to perform for a more modest audience. Even being recognized in public once in a blue moon for a show that I did makes me happy. I can’t say that I only do it for the applause, but live theater can’t exist without an audience, and performers certainly crave that approval.

I had done many shows before I finally did a show that got reviewed. The review appeared in a local online publication, and it was truly thrilling to see my solo described as “beautiful and poignant.” I’ll never forget those words! However, while the review in general was largely complimentary, some of the cast and crew were disgruntled because of the author’s few points of criticism. This put me in a somewhat difficult place, as someone who had been praised. I didn’t want anyone’s feelings to be hurt (and the author certainly didn’t pan anyone’s efforts; he nestled criticism in between praise, just as I do with my students). Still, I was happy that the author had been honest about the things in our production that he felt needed work, because to me it made his praise more valid. 

I’ve heard some people say that community theater shouldn’t be reviewed because the performers are all volunteers who are doing it “for fun.” While fun is certainly one of my objectives when I perform, I also take it a little more seriously. It matters to me whether or not our show is actually a quality piece of work. I would rather be the weakest player in a phenomenal show than the strongest one in a lackluster production. I hope to bring my audiences genuine enjoyment, whether they paid $20 or $120 for admission. And I respect a critic who is going to tell the truth about their experience more than one who makes no mention of weak points for fear of the repercussions. I don’t think it’s necessary to smear a specific actor or group, but I appreciate eloquent and diplomatic feedback.

Now that I am dipping my toes into the water of writing reviews myself, I am acutely aware that I am entering a delicate situation. I am still fairly active as a performer, and I don’t want to burn any bridges or offend anyone I might want to work with in the future. Still, I don’t want to write sugarcoated reviews full of insipid and weak compliments. My review is my endorsement of a production, and I like to believe that I possess enough integrity and grace to be honest without being harsh or biting. I hope that my constructive criticism will be received in the genuine nature it is intended, and that it will make my accompanying authentic praise more meaningful.

Photo: Lakeland Community Theatre