How Political Should Your Community Theatre Season Be?


It's been said many times before that life imitates art. And current events have a way of driving what we tend to see on our stages and screens. However, when it comes to community theatre, political issues are a touchy subject. Typically, many theatres will stay away from politically themed shows or ones with divisive topics. After all, the goal is to make money and if you're angering half your audience with perceived political statements, you may be putting your theatres future at risk. 

At the same time, ignoring the issues that may be impacting your performers and audience can give your theatre the reputation of living in a bubble and happily tap dancing while the world is crumbling around you. Okay, that sounded a little extreme but you get my point. Performing arts can be a place to entertain and enlighten, so it can be a positive to do both with your upcoming seasons. 

I've also heard from many directors and leaders of theatres who would love to do more politically charged shows, but are hesitant of the risk it would pose if it backfires with their audiences. 

So if you're one of these theatres, I've got some advice for you on how to make sure that your season is addressing issues impacting the world today and at the same time, hopefully, won't divide your audience causing them to walk out. 

 Virginia Rep's 1776 (Photo by Aaron Sutten)

Virginia Rep's 1776 (Photo by Aaron Sutten)

A balance of material should always be considered when putting together a season. You don't want too many musicals, period pieces, comedies, dramas, etc. So if you're looking to include some political commentary into your season, maybe make it only one show. 

A lot of people think that if you want to make a political statement on stage, it has to be obvious and aggressive. Untrue. You can make whatever statements you want with shows that are a bit more subtle with their messaging. Shows like 1776 and South Pacific are generally loved shows that can still inspire discussion within your community across many topics. 

Depending on your audience, it's always a good idea to include a director's note in the program as well. This way you can literally tell your audience what inspired you to produce the show and highlight issues that need highlighting. 

I always support community theatres taking risks with their show selection. A lot of positive change can come from what's being seen on stage. And as the world around us evolves and different political powers change hands, it's going to impact what we see on stage. At the same time, it's important to know your audience and what they will or won't come out for, so maybe it's wise not to push those political buttons too hard.