Monday, September 15, 2008

Coventional Fare?

First of all, my apologies for once again getting to his on Monday instead of Sunday. Maybe I should just switch my weekly deadline to Mondays?

Either way, some local goings on inspired me to think about the nature of what community theatres offer in general, and that's what I would like to talk about this week.

For one thing, The Full Circle Theater Company is going to be holding auditions for "A Christmas Carol" later this month. I intend to be there, given that I have always loved the story, and have been in two other productions of it before. It never really gets old to be in such a show that time of year. Plus, those who have read the blog before know I have been in two shows with Full Circle already.

The company, after being around for little over a year has it's own venue now. They have not yet set it up, and I have not yet seen it, but I look forward to doing so. A company that finds it's own space within a year has much to be thankful for! Particularly when, at their previous venue, (a municipally owned stage), they were actually forced to shorten a run of their last production, "Extremites" due to "mature content" that the town fathers did not approve of.

Which leads me into my these this week. The company, like many smaller companies, hopes to do edgier things, like Extremities, often in the future. I praise them, and many other companies for doing this.

At the same time, however, I also applaud their willingness to go with the classics, such as A Christmas Carol. I cannot say what they have planned in the future for future years. I can only say that to present oneself as a more experimental, or edgy theatre need not mean that the classics, such as a Christmas Carol be avoided in perpituity.

Community theatres seem to hover on one end of a spectrum or another. They either tend to be dedicated only to outlandish, rarely heard of, or even controversial pieces, to the exclusion of others, or they rely totally on the old stand bys, never wavering from the same set of over-produced musicals (Gilbert and Sullivan, Oklahoma, Grease, the Music Man) and farcical straight shows and mysteries. (The Importance of Being Earnet, or Ten Little Indians.) I contend that complete allegience to either side serves only to weaken community theatre.

On the one hand, theatre should challenge us. It should stretch our horizons, make us think, sometimes, (though in small doses) even make us squirm. Yet, if a place is to don the mantle of community theatre, it cannot be ignored that such plays tend to be less well known, attract fewer people, and tend to draw the same loyal unconventional types each time. A perhaps deep but very narrow audience base. Something like Grease will pack the seats just about anywhere, and what community theatre doesn't need to hear the cash register ring once in a while?

The same goes for the talent pool. True, there are some actors who will travel far and wide for any given show. But if the community is to be a resource for their own productions, a company is well advised to have the occasionally well known, well worn script, which is likley to attract the attention of new comers who otherwise might be intimidated by the obscure offerings. Bringing new people into theatre is what community theatre is about.

But the opposite side of this coin also lacks luster. If all a company ever does are the well known, and oft repeated shows, like the ones I mentioned above, creativity becomes stale. The productions become similar in scope and theme year to year. The company becomes totally predictable in what it has to offer, which runs the risk of densenitizing any spectacle that one might hope for.

And again, the acting talent pool sees this as a negative. Most actors love to do the well known travel tested shows at some point. But if Company A only ever does those things, actors will begin to think they will never be challeneged and will seek to volunteer elsewhere. This creates a community oriented, but potentially stagnant group of actors to fill the casts of virtually every show a company does.

Variety and balance. As in so many other aspects of living, particularly in the arts, these two things are the key to success at the community level. Leave it to the professional theatres with endowments and members and all such things to possess a laser like focus on only certain types of shows.

(Though, to be honest, I would give the exact same advice to professional companies as well.)

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