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November 20, 2007

My Love-Hate Relationship with Community Theater

XmaspostcastlrI'm in my second year (or is it third? - you lose track of time in purgatory) of being president of our local community theater. My wife, Wendy, is also on the organization's board. Thus, we're responsible.

So it was that I found myself at the Community Center last night as the current holiday production goes through the two-weeks-to-curtain-and-oh-my-Lord-I'm-not-sure-this-show-is-going-to-come-together angst.

The show will come together. It always does.

It was while I sat there in the auditorium last night that I pondered my love-hate relationship with community theater. Here is a non-profit organization made up of a wide variety of quirky people (I will include myself in that description) with extremely interesting and different personalities .

You've got the old guard who've seen it all and have "never done it that way before", along with new members who have expended every ounce of emotional courage to get out of their comfort zone and get on the stage. You've got strong personalities who want to tell everyone else how to do it, and fragile personalities who need constant encouragement or else they will have a breakdown at every rehearsal. You've got people with limited talent who think they deserve the lead and people with hidden talents who are afraid to step in the spotlight.

There are countless tasks to be done and everyone thinks someone else is supposed to do it. Eighty percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. There are those faithful individuals who give you more than you could ever ask, and never ask for so much as a "thank you". There are people who don't have time to pick up a paint brush, but have the time and energy to slave over an email or call all their friends to complain about everyone and everything in the production. There are personality conflicts and gossip. There are laughter and tears. There is everything imaginable that comes with getting a motley crew of fallible human beings together to accomplish this not-quite-monumental-but-it-feels-like-it task.

And, as they say, "the show goes on". The curtain rises. The cast and crew come together to give it their best effort. Audiences laugh at the jokes, applaud the effort, and generally forgive-and-forget the miscues. Final bows are taken, the curtain falls, and the set is torn apart to be stored in the rafters. All that is left of this experience are the pictures tucked away in a file folder at the costume shop...and the memories.

Some shows are better than others. But, seriously, no one really thinks too much about that.

At the cast party (and there is generally always a cast party), people will talk about all of the past shows they've done together. You can sit at the cast party, look around the room and watch it happen. A smile will light their faces as they laugh about experiences that, at the time, drove them to the edge of homicidal rage. It's the war stories of the stage. Old soldiers of the theater with the shared experience which forever ties them together and, despite any differences, they will always have this experience which links them. Conversation will drift to former cast and crew members. Comrades-in-costumes who may have fallen away but are never forgotten. "What ever happened to...?" you hear as memories are unpacked and laughter invariably follows. Keep looking around the room. You can see newer cast members jealous of all the productions and experiences they missed. You can see the old veterans quick to regale newer members with legendary stories and tall tales of the time this or that happened.

As much as I love being on stage in front of an audience, it's not really about the performance for me. It's about the people. It's about the process. It's about the shared experience with these silly, talented, maddening, capable, peculiar, lovable compatriots for whom you grow to care so deeply.

Tonight I will attend another run-through of the holiday production.

I will seriously want to kill several people before the night is over.

I love community theater! :)


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Mark True


Community theater sure sounds like a youth soccer league to me ;)


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