The idea of "theatre" is a fascinating concept. People actually choose to bare their souls on stage, allowing themselves and their audiences a chance to experience life through a different lens. They put their bodies and mental health into a state of constant exhaustion while learning lines, perfecting choreography, and mastering songs. We always find ourselves as theatre-lovers romanticizing over the lights of Broadway and the stars we see perform on the Tony Awards.
But what about the "unsung hero" of theatre--community theatre?
Recently I had the opportunity to work on Olney Central College's production of Disney's The Little Mermaid as choreographer (and pit musician.) While working on this production we had a couple from the Chicago area clinic the show and provide feedback to help the cast and production team bring the show to its full potential before raising the curtain for an audience. One of the guest clinicians stated that "Community Theatre is where the heart of theatre is. It is where people come together simply for the love of the art and performing."
This idea truly resonated with me. Sitting on the stage where I had grown up performing, listening to this man share his thoughts, I realized he was unbelievably accurate in his statement. Never did I audition for a community theatre show wanting to be paid for my time and efforts. I simply wanted to perform, to be given the chance to bring a character to life, to wear the costumes, to sing the songs, to dance the dances, and to be around my friends who understood how wonderful theatre was and believed in all its magic as much as I did. Community theatre was home and those people who surrounded me in those shows were, and continue to be, my family.
As the clinician continued to speak to the cast and crew, I lingered on his remark, "Community Theatre is where the heart of theatre is." I took a moment to look around the room and, while I noticed several new faces, I relished in seeing familiar ones. These were the faces of people who helped me grow as a performer, who taught me that it was okay to have confidence in what you are doing as long as it is something you believe in. I saw the faces of friends from high school and college, the faces of people who had performed on that stage alongside me in previous years.
But the faces that brought about the most heartfelt of feelings inside were those of the choreographer-turned-director, the woman who had taught me how to shuffle-ball-change with the best of them and who now believed enough in me as a dancer and choreographer to fill her shoes; or my former music teachers, the ones who had inspired me to become a musician, to learn to play the piano, and to know and understand just how cool music could be. Where else, other than community theatre, can you be given the chance to work alongside those who contributed so much to your growth as a performer and musician? There was never a night that went by that I did not think to myself while playing keyboard in the pit, "wow-im playing piano next to the woman who inspired me to start piano lessons so many years ago-and now here we are, making music together, right next to one another!"
"Community theatre is where the heart of theatre is." Buy a ticket to your local theatre's productions, audition for those community theatre musicals, help build a set for a show alongside your neighbor, pharmacist, librarian, or mailman. You will only understand the power of this gentleman's statement if you allow yourself the chance to be a part of the heart of theatre-community theatre.