Dear Community Theatre, Stop Doing "Mame", It's Time to be Brave

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Editor-in-Chief

First of all, let me just say that with the title of this piece, I'm not calling out a specific community theatre that happens to be doing Mame. I just picked a random popular musical that I know a lot of community theatres out there are doing this year. And that's the point of this column. 

Near my hometown a local theatre, The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, is producing the play Bent by Martin Sherman. The play centers on the story of Max, a well-known playboy of Berlin finds himself along with his boyfriend, Rudy, on the run from the SS. To their detriment the men are captured and taken to a Nazi labor camp. Denying his relationship with Rudy and his homosexuality, Max is branded as Jewish, which is regarded as cleaner. There he also meets his new friend and future love Horst who shows him how to acknowledge who he really is. 

The show is powerful and also at times, hard to watch.  But they'e also unforgettable. The comments and reviews I'm seeing about this production are incredible. Which is why I believe more community theatres need to do material like this. 

In 2017, we've seen the knowledge and understanding between cultures erode due to biased and "fake" news. Speculation becomes fact and assumptions when it comes to gender, race, sexuality, body image, etc, are thrown wildly about on social media, especially coming from our leaders. People seem to be bolder in saying how much they hate someone else rather than respecting each other. 

So where does theatre fit into all this? Theatre can entertain but it can also enlighten and educate. When the lights of Broadway are thousands of miles away, community theatres need to pick up the torch and produce material that sheds light on different perspectives and lifestyles. 

Is it a risk? Sure. I'm also not saying that doing boundary pushing work is all a theatre should do. It's more than fine to throw in some popular "chestnuts" in there. If you're done the leg work to build a loyal audience base, they will come to anything you produce. 

Make them laugh, make them sing and make them think once and a while. If you're in the process of picking a season right now, be bold, and select pieces that can help address some very real issues in the world. 

Photo: Bhatt Studios