Working in Community and Professional Theatre: The Differences and Similarities

Cristina D'Almeida

In the artistic/creative industry, theatre is theatre in my opinion, but what many people fail to realize is that there are different levels/kinds of theatre in terms of community and professional companies. On a deeper level, there is absolutely no difference in the art itself. I think acting and even directing is the same on all levels of theatre and the methods of acting or the way directors direct are generally the same or are based on their own ways of doing things. It’s a personal choice of how you portray a character or the methods you take to get there, but in a technical sense, the process can differ depending on the company.

First of all, I’d like to add that I don’t think community theatre is necessarily “bad.” I think they have a different way of doing things, but It’s a positive way of bringing the community together. Many bonds are formed and in an emotional sense, the importance of the production and experience is no doubt the same regardless of the company or level. It’s simply what you make out of it. I’ve gone to many community theatre productions and thought they were all really well done. I don’t think there’s ever a lack of talent and for any people who think that, I think it’s way out of line. The thing with community theatre is that sometimes, corners are cut, job duties can differentiate from the usual and the overall learning experience of it can be confusing.

I can definitely speak from a Stage Manager’s point of view when it comes to the process of community theatre. As far as the rehearsals go, the stage manager’s job is generally the same in terms of taking down blocking, doing general paperwork, being there for the director and overseeing the production team. However, sometimes little things that are actually very important are not a part of their process. This is merely a fact. One of those things is sending out rehearsal reports. It seems to be a pattern with community theatre and I’m not sure why it’s something that doesn’t happen often, but I truly believe in sending reports after every single rehearsal. Without them, the entire show can fall apart and it’s one of the main sources of communication for all departments. So for that aspect, I always try to introduce rehearsal reports to the team if they aren’t familiar with them. To me, it’s okay if they have a different way of doing things, but I definitely suggest and explain my way of working and hopefully we all can find a healthy compromise. I believe if you go in with the mindset of being open to new ideas and learning something from one another, then it can all work out.

Another difference between community and professional theatre is the role the stage manager plays during the performance period. Often times in community theatre, the stage manager does not call the show. With a professional theatre company, the stage manager does call the show. This is where the role of a stage manager can become confusing. In my opinion, the stage manager should always call the show. It’s part of their duty as overseeing the creative team and running the show, however, having light and soundboard ops take their own cues has not been proven unsuccessful. It’s just not considered the easiest, most efficient or professional way of running a production. That’s not to say I don’t admire their efforts and respect their ways of doing things.

I’ll put it this way, if you go to school for stage management, they’re going to teach you how to call cues and it’s going to be emphasized this is the only way to do things, and I’d have to agree. It makes things easier for everyone and simplifies the entire process of running a show. Most of the time, the stage manager runs things backstage and handles the props in community theatre, but does that really make the stage manager feel like they’re in charge? Probably not. It makes them feel like a stagehand. Of course, that’s the mental end of it, but it can definitely confuse your brain.

Obviously, other roles can differ between the two also, but I speak strongly from a stage manager’s point of view as being one who has had personal experiences with it. In conclusion to all of this, I truly admire all forms of theatre and believe there’s a certain beauty behind it all across the board. I think maybe community theatre might be a great first step into theatre or just a fun thing to do on the side or maybe a hobby. I think you absolutely can gain valuable experience from it. I would never think that you couldn’t. You can get experience out of anything, but it’s about how you approach it. You have to make it a good experience. However, to me, the goal should always be professional theatre at the end of the day if this is something you really want to do full time. Learn from it, immerse yourself in it, have a good time with it, but also know the differences between the two.

  • Photo: Turlock Community Theatre and The Belasco Theatre