I’ve been a performer for as long as I remember but by nine years old I was producing; roping my brothers and school friends into performances, regardless of whether they were willing or not.
The Flying Ding Bat Circus opened in our back yard with death defying feats including jumping off logs and walking handstands. Not much flying went on but I like to think that my brothers would have jumped from the garage roof if I’d put it in the program.
I can remember producing re-creations of the television show ‘Bewitched’ for my year four class at school; the script was pretty much an adlib based on that weeks episode and the audience wasn't entirely on board but I was blessed with an indulgent teacher. My favourite production though was a dance performance piece, a can can, that a friend choreographed for a cast of four, one of whom has become a well known Australian political journalist who probably cringes at the memory.
We rehearsed every lunch hour for weeks until finally, we performed it for our class, enjoying great critical success. As the Producer, I went into discussions with the school principal, securing a performance date to present the dance to the full school assembly. I can only imagine what this educator thought when faced with the force of this 9 year old negotiator.
The gig was cancelled at the last moment. I suspect it was because my journalist friend’s father complained. The kid soon left the school and we never heard from him again. Never mind! I turned my attention to another venture - an English farce.
I'd found the script in my Grandmother's library and immediately went into action, securing a gig at the local aged care facility - basically a captured audience. This was big! I cast and rehearsed that sucker in a matter of weeks. I have memories of barely knowing my lines, making them up. It must have been deliciously awful; a geriatric audience, held captive by a small cast of nine year olds performing a play that made absolutely no sense.
Life went on, I grew older and responsible adulting inevitably invaded my life but I never let go of the joy of creating and performing.
At a rehearsal a few years back, I was reminded of the sacrifices we all make to be able to do the things that bring us joy, in this case community theatre. A wonderful man, whom I have worked with many times, was chatting about the set he was building the day before. He was also in the show and was one of those people who would always be there to load and unload trucks, bump in or out of the theatre, giving countless hours of his time without fuss. Hours that were costly.
Spending those hours building sets had cost him significant overtime at work. I had to be picked up off the floor when he told me how much that overtime was worth but he just smiled humbly and went back to his rehearsal. Lovely, wonderful, beautiful man.
There are many stories like this one in our theatres. People who make sacrifices in their jobs and personal lives to be able to participate in our shows. This is the true cost of community theatre.
Community theatre exists for these people and yes, they willingly make these choices to sacrifice, but it's awful when you hear of organisations that devalue their contribution. Celebrate your people – all of them. Those quiet ones who are making props, painting sets, sewing a trim on a costume, styling a wig, cleaning up the kitchen, closing up the rehearsal space, and so many, many more whose only recognition is their name in the program, if they're lucky.
I’m not naturally a tactile person. In fact, I have a personal space of about 600 metres. Over time my friends have lovingly 'trained' me to accept and give hugs (much to their amusement), so please understand the significance when I say I want to hug each of these people.
It blows me away that people will sacrifice so much to be involved in their community theatre. I like to think that it speaks to the significance we place on creativity in our lives. Regardless of the reasons, I am grateful.
Grateful for the Musical Director who spends hours of personal time creating rehearsal tracks for cast members.
Grateful for the person who works a full week at a job then spends 10 hours at rehearsals, or dedicates their free time in a hot, sweaty workshop, building a set; the ones who travel 50 minutes just to attend a 30 minute costume call or who sit through a 90 minute trip on public transport at ten o’clock at night on their way home from rehearsals.
Grateful for the quiet lady who sews miles and miles of fabric creating beautiful costumes.
Grateful to the prop maker who spends hours on a prop that will be seen on stage for 30 seconds.
Grateful to the many people we don't personally meet but without whose contribution our organisations would struggle to exist.
I’m not that 9 year old performing in my backyard anymore. I'm old enough to learn how to better appreciate you all. I know community theatre can be time consuming and challenging; it can sometimes make you question your life choices. Yes, it sometimes feels like you're surrounded by members of the 'flying ding bat circus', but it's wonderful to share this experience with you. Thank you for coming and creating this memory with me.
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 developing brands for performing creatives and promoting theatre in Australia since 2011 and now advises theatre organisations and performing artists on promoting their work.
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