I thought it was over. The judgement of community theatre by people in 'professional' parts of the theatre industry. Maybe I was just out of touch. Perhaps I'd been hiding or was I just protected from this ridiculous ego driven condescension? Where the hell does this industry get the idea that it has the right to judge and put down the efforts of community theatre?
That smug conversation that name drops like there's no tomorrow and expects me to sit quietly while they tell me how laughable it all is. I sat there for an hour listening to this drivel, justifying it in my head. It was obvious their perception of community theatre was a 1970's stereotype; that they'd never experienced a community production.
I got angry and stopped talking. I realised my own ego had allowed me to accept the meeting. A prominent name in the industry wanted to talk to me - no, actually what they wanted was to use my community; one they had no respect for. No freaking way!
Between my passion for community theatre and my professional work with independent theatre artists, I sit across a wide landscape in this industry. Nearly 100% of the time, I work with the most generous, passionate, funny and clever people who produce, volunteer, perform and create theatre of all types. So, when I get smacked in the face with the wet fish of egotistical arrogance I find myself pacing my hallway, saying all the things I wanted to say but was too polite to.
Community theatre does not exist to give creatives work. It exists to give all sorts of wonderful, brave and artistic people a place to participate in the arts. This community is managed, protected and fought for by a diverse group of people who drive each other to distraction sometimes. They also inspire each other, encourage each other, dedicating their lives, finances and skills to make sure we have a place to 'play'. We know we're not in competition with professional theatre. We have no desire to be. Is that what this is about? Your ego? Fear?
Don't come at me complaining about how community theatre gets it wrong in programming, management or that their shows aren't of a professional level. Of course they're bloody not professional! What they are is the very best that the cast, organisation and leadership is capable of, rehearsing ten hours a week, often alongside a forty hour work week.
Look in my face and laugh again about how they only got eighty people to their show and you 'were embarrassed for them' when they attempted Shakespeare - "leave it to the professionals"... you arrogant goofball.
A professional touring production is about employment in this industry. Independent theatre tries its best to do that as well but community theatre is about participation. We are always looking for ways to better manage our organisations (we don't always do it well) with the dedication of some of the most generous people I know.
So the next time you want to sit across the table from me, sipping your pretentious coffee and raise your fragile ego by highlighting how "amateur community theatre is", please remember that this polite middle aged woman has decided that she's no longer going to be so polite.
Community theatre, remember who you are, who you serve, your value and the blessings you bring to thousands of lives. Don't accept the opinions of the ill informed gasbags who want to belittle you to boost their own egos. We are not perfect. We are not professional. We are a community of sword wielding donkey riders and we don't need your 'opinion'!
The best you can do is all you need to do!
Sherryl-Lee Secomb writes her blog, An Idiot On Stage, specifically to encourage and equip community theatre to expect more and be extraordinary. Sher has been building brands for performing creatives in Australia since 2011 and now advises theatre organisations and performing artists in marketing their work and building awareness of their brand.
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