Actor, Puppeteer, and Teaching Artist

You are not wood, you are not stones.

One of the evergreen topics on the rotating menu that theatre blogs cycle through is the “fight” between professional theatremakers and community theatre makers. This is of course a radical narrative distillation of a more nuanced relationship. This week the piece making the rounds is from the venerable theatre omnibus OnStage Blog.

The article, by Timothy Fitzgerald, is a perfectly cromulent defense of community theatre as an important foundational piece, particularly of the American branch of stage performance and of the communities they exist in in general. The flaw in the article is the premise.

When I was writing regularly about theatre firebrands firebranding all over the place, a frequent refrain of mine was “check your listings”. It was argued time and again that certain communities were only programing Old Chestnut 4 and Boring Musical 7 – which mostly was untrue. Mostly communities program Reliable Favorites about %70 of the time and fresher, more daring stuff about %30 of the time.

But it’s boring to reasonably suggest that %20 more of a communities’ stage time should be given over to #newplay or heaven help us all modern dance. It’s a lot more fun to shout without checking one’s listings that, “No one but I understand the True Core of Art and you must ONLY program and perform my favorite things!” But the truth is that mostly the firebrands were arguing because they felt less important than the favorites and they needed to shout about it.

Fitzgerald’s premise is that community theatre is Good Actually and the thing is… no one ever really disagrees with the good that good community theatre does. The only disparagement I’ve ever seen of community theatre is about the quality of some of the product and dangers in amateur rehearsal and production. Some community and semi-professional work is incredibly good, a lot of it is words said out loud and mostly in order. Saying that isn’t looking down on, it’s simply the truth.

Fitzgerald’s headline writer is spotlighting the bogeyman of The Elites hating The Commons. The Elites mostly came from the Commons in this field. They don’t hate where they came from, they simply don’t roll over for the idea that they are basically the same thing. That somehow the spare time passion project is just a lesser resourced but just as good version of the Professional thing.

The American cultural conversation in my lifetime is rooted in being the “best”. It is a perpetual scarcity approach. All activities and accomplishments are measured against the perceived best. Any criticism that one’s favorite is not the GOAT (greatest of all time) is an unacceptable slight from an obvious idiot.

This is most easily seen in sports discussions where the information cycles are literally overlapping and every comparison is done in real time as each athlete reached a new milestone. Patrick Mahomes isn’t allowed to simply be one of the best and enjoy winning a Super Bowl he probably shouldn’t have gotten away with. He must be immediately measured against Tom Brady.

Amateur makers feel this pressure all the time. The need to claim titles and show the math that means their work is just as important as the folks they feel have status in their community or for more accomplished groups and makers – to the professionals in their region. This, like arguing LeBron/Jordan, can be fun at the bar, but when making a bright light of day argument is simply robbing oneself of the joy of the truth – the abundance that is the community theatre experience.

One comes together with a mix of old friends and strangers to make something and share it with friends and family and the community. It is done sacrificially with all of the joy and passion Fitzgerald outlines and often to success greater than the sum of its parts. Deciding that those successes only matter if the project can be contextualized as Objectively Just Like Those People We Respect is a joy killer.

Deciding to be hurt if someone says the truth out loud is a choice. It’s not something the person is doing to you.

It’s a lousy choice.

Take your wins! One isn’t less than for not being a hall of famer in one’s field. The amount of intestinal fortitude required to break curtain line in front of strangers is incalculable. Revel in it. I do!

In my last show I got to perform with someone who was performing in their literal first show. I cried y’all. The distance from the couch to the first curtain call is miles further than the distance between a newcomer and the All-Star and Hall of Famers. Celebrate it.

And stop creating phantoms that think you are less than. Making it to the stage is already more than %90 of the population will ever do and that road is certainly worth traveling.

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