The Dangerous Complicities in Community Theatre


Since starting this blog in May of 2014, from time to time we have reported and commented on various unethical behavior happening in community theatres all over the world. From copying set designs without permission to whitewashing shows to sexual harassment, if it's reported to us, we're likely going to comment on it. 

While my commentary has likely made me persona non grata at theatres in Bridgeport, CT, Shreveport, LA, Donegal, Ireland or Brisbane, Australia, I'm 100% fine that. 

However, I have noticed something that is becoming a larger problem. It's a virus that seems to be creeping into the communities these local theatre inhabit which, I feel, can lead to catastrophic results. It's called complicity. 

I've noticed that when certain unethical behavior is reported on, the folks who either deny that they are happening or vigorously defend them are the ones involved with the theatres themselves. I could understand this if there was a question of accuracy with the reports or a gray area of right and wrong on the issue but these issues are usually obvious to pick a side on. 

Is copying set designs from someone else without permission right or wrong? 

Is casting white performers in roles of color over performers of color right or wrong? 

Is sexually harassing or abusing individuals in a theatre right or wrong? 

While I believe in nuance and context, there shouldn't be a struggle to answer these. Yet, I see so many people take the opposite sides if their own community theatre is involved. It seems to be wrong when it's someone else's theatre but fine if it happens in ours. 

Now I understand why people do this. They want to defend their own and stay in the good graces of their theatres themselves. Parents want to make sure their kids keeping getting cast. It's no different than seeing the lack of Broadway performers express outrage when unethical behavior is reported in their community as well. Folks want to protect their careers, so speaking out is stifled and complicity grows. 

I find this not only unfortunate but dangerous as well. As we've seen with the many stories of sexual misconduct, in many of them, the incidents had been reported or witnessed but nothing was done about them for years. What could have been reported or prevented if people worried less about their standing in a theatre company rather than doing the right thing? 

So I'm hoping that going forward, when people see unethical or even illegal behavior happening in their theatrical circles, report it. While it might cost you from being involved in that theatre, if that group has no problem being unethical, is that the type of group you want to be a part of in the first place?

Photo: Hickory Community Theatre