There seems to be this notion among many people in amateur productions that “This isn’t Broadway,” so corners can be cut, and efforts can be reduced. Almost as though community theatre is merely a way to spend time while wishing to be on Broadway.
Hogwash, is the nicest response I have to that.
In general, it is true. A community theatre, being a non-profit organization, will not have the budget of a professional playhouse. This means that props, costumes, sets, advertising, and all of the things that money can by will not be as abundant as they may be in say, Broadway. (Though if you think Broadway theatres never have budget problems, I advise you to rethink.)
But one thing that should not require money is an actor’s commitment to excellence. The intangible fire within a performer that drives them to take the role they have and do every possible thing they can with it. You carry your spirit with you, no matter what theatre you are in. It should be used to its fullest if you bother showing up for rehearsal at all.
The idea that your dedication to a project should slip because you are not getting paid is an insult not only to your fellow actors and crew, but a smack in the face to the concept of theatre itself.
If you are not motivated to do your best simply because you have opted to take the time to do something, and attach your name to it, it is unlikely that a paycheck would make that any different. Those who think otherwise are looking for money, and not for a chance to be actors. (And if it’s money you seek, Broadway is not the place to find it, by and large.)
Dedication is dedication, and I think that is in fact why many of the amateur productions I have both been in and seen have equaled or surpassed the work of a professional company. By and large, professionals are “every man for himself” affairs, with everyone building a career, as opposed to everyone getting together to build a show. Not that dedicated people cannot also be professionals. I know many who are both. However, community productions, if you are lucky, consist of people who do it solely because they wish to pursue excellence, without a paycheck. The human factor is enhanced, despite the budget being meager.
In other words, this notion that somehow being a professional is the magic door through which one must pass in order to offer up the best that they have to a show is patently absurd. People still lay down their own money to see you, even if you do not get the money yourself. That should be enough to eliminate your laziness, if nothing else.
It may be sacrilege to many theatre types for me to say this, but I have always found it to be true. In the end, Broadway is a street in New York City. At it’s core, it is nothing more. But each individual actor is much more than the street on which his theatre appears. Each person chooses to pursue the highest level of excellence of which they are capable.
So the next time you find yourself, or a cast mate stating the obvious that where you are performing “isn’t Broadway,” remind them that Broadway isn’t a community theatre either. The sword cuts both ways. You might as well be proud of whichever side of it you, as an actor, find yourself on.
(Originally published on Showbizradio.net on May 20, 2009)