top of page

"You're too young to lead a community theatre organisation".

“We’ve always done it this way!”

Don’t you just love that phrase?! There’s also “Younger people don’t want to do anything in our community theatre organisation!” “They don’t stick around; they don’t commit.”

You’ve either heard these phrases or, worse still, you've said them. I simply don’t believe them to be true. There are younger people who do want to be involved in the management of community theatre organisations but they don’t want to babysit old ideas that worked well ten years ago. The world has shifted but some of us are still functioning like it's 1985. Young creatives have valid thoughts and experiences that can propel an organisation forward.

The strongest position to be in is to walk alongside them, helping them avoid the pitfalls you fell into but not squashing new ideas. This is leadership on another level! This is what I want to learn to do.

I find working with younger people energising, frustrating, joyful, fun, interesting and educational. I find working with older people energising, frustrating, joyful, fun, interesting and educational. I'm sure working with me is energising, frustrating, joyful, fun, interesting and educational.

The generations are different. The skill is to understand and embrace each other’s differences. But how do you share your ideas without sounding like that person – the one who is going to 'show the current leaders how it’s done'? I've been this person and it is a slow, ineffective way to effect change in a volunteer organisation.

Things changed for me when I pulled my head in and realised that these leaders had once been as passionate as I was and had actually built the foundation I was standing on and enjoying. It was now my turn to do the same for the next generation.

So, how do you begin? Well, in the words of Eliza Doolittle - "Move your bloomin’ arse!"

Don’t sit around whinging to others, whipping up dissent and feeding your own, probably biased and ill-informed beliefs about the current management. Offer to help and don’t expect to step straight into a glamorous role (not sure what that is in community theatre). Nothing annoys people more than an arrogant attitude.

  • Serve and assist.

  • Become known as someone to be trusted.

  • Don’t gossip.

  • Be teachable.

Share the joy

Bring the back the fun. Remind everyone of the joy they once got from community theatre. Often, existing management:

  • have forgotten how to have fun.

  • treat others like staff because they are too busy.

  • wrongly believe that they are irreplaceable.

Be yourself

Check yourself regularly to make sure you are staying true to who you are. It will be very easy to conform (because it's easier than challenging) and you won’t even notice it happening. Before you know it, you’ll be having dinner at 5:30pm and calling everyone ‘love’ or ‘dear’.

Don’t believe that your opinions and thoughts are invalid because you are younger. Your experiences and knowledge of your generation can lead the company into its future with a whole new audience.

Have your eyes wide open

Understand that the current leaders may feel threatened by you until they know that you respect their efforts and are truly there to help the organisation, not just blow your own horn. This period will be a make or break point for you - where you choose to give up. Don't! Give it time, and grow your own leadership skills.

Do not take offense

This is the hardest part of the process and, OMG, it is difficult. But if you determine before you begin that you will keep your sense of humour and respond in a positive, respectful, and assertive way (adulting), you can allow everyone's dignity to remain intact and still get things done.

Know when to pick your battles and when to relax so you don’t burn yourself out. When you lose your cool (and you will) mend the fence and start again. Develop yourself as a leader. Find a mentor who will let you vent and then give you the advice you need, not just what you want to hear. Leading is lonely. You'll do better if you have a mentor.

Joey Bonafacio, a researcher and author on leadership, shares this concept about organisational change: “A healthy organisation will understand and actively seek to maintain the balance between economics, enjoyment and excellence.”

Economics + Enjoyment – Excellence = Mediocre

The organisation that has money and just wants to have fun but has no intentional focus on the excellence of their shows or business practices, ends up mediocre.

These organisations:

  • produce shows that are not great but everyone’s having a good time so who cares?

  • have no growth because they can’t attract people with more skills. Who wants to be part of something mediocre?

  • have no inspiration or strong leadership. They’re just not going anywhere.

  • are badly organised.

Economics + Excellence – Enjoyment = Burnout

The organisation that has money and works hard to create great shows and expects excellence in all areas of theatre.

These organisations:

  • burn out their volunteers.

  • have developed martyrdom into an art form.

  • treat their volunteers like staff.

  • let money come before people.

Enjoyment + Excellence – Economics = Poverty

The organisation where everyone is having a great time and working hard to create a great show but management don’t have a clue about business or how to manage money. The organisation can’t sustain itself.

These organisations:

  • have a high level of conflict about management decisions.

  • are unable to fulfil their goals.

  • either collapse or limp along, demoralising everyone.

I don't know about you but I can see so many organisations in these descriptions. Perhaps considering this concept is a starting point for ideas that might lead your community theatre organisation into positive change.

So, here's the thing. Make a start.

If you have a passion for your community theatre organisation and want to see it embrace it's future, keep your sense of humour and make a choice to start speaking encouragement and joy into the situation. The ideas and passions you have aren’t there to pack away in a box until later. Later is too late for your organisation. It needs you now, so unpack your servant attitude and joyful outlook and get stuck in.

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.


Connect & learn more >


bottom of page