A friend of mine recently told me that one of her college theatre directors told their class to avoid participating in community theatre because "it's a trap for serious actors."
Before I flew into a blind rage regarding that statement, I tried to take a step back and understand where this educator was coming from. I completely understand that the ultimate goal for any theatrical artist is to work in a professional setting whether it's Broadway or abroad. However, that doesn't mean that community or amateur theatre is some sort of black hole that traps aspiring artists for their foreseeable futures. It's a place that was often our first stop in our theatrical journey and the places we'll likely miss the most later on.
Community theatre also allows us to flex creative muscles we might not otherwise use. Very often you're tasked with doing a lot with very little. So creativity when it comes to design, casting, staging, and promotion is welcomed. As a college graduating student, I was able to work in my local theatre and do specific types of pieces that would give me experience going forward in the professional ranks. I remember specifically a job interview with a touring company where I was asked about staging certain types of shows and I had that experience from being able to do that at the community theatre at home.
For an actor it also allows us to keep our training fresh. Let's be honest, the casting success rate in New York is low but it's likely much higher locally, so it gives us actors an opportunity to play more and different roles than we might get the chance to. This all adds to our versatility as performers which increases our chances to be cast professionally down the road.
When it comes to directing, design, performing, quantity and frequency of work is always a positive and community theatre give us that.
And let's not forget the community aspect as well. There are no massive paychecks here, this is theatre done for the love of theatre. When that's the main goal, there is a different type of love and affection that happens within these spaces. For some, especially in my area, they've already been through the grind of the professional theatre life and are just looking for it to be fun again, community theatres provide that.
For others, it's the place that fosters the dream to move onwards to hopefully be on a Broadway stage someday. I know at least seven principals of Broadway shows right now that participated in their community theatres right before getting cast in their first Equity show.
While I will always say that community theatre can be a stepping stone to the professional ranks, it's never a trap. It never was and it never will be. And those who have spent lifetimes on these stages have nothing to be ashamed of.