It’s 2014. The cable guide includes channels in the thousands. There is a device, which I can carry around, on which I am able to talk to and see my brother and his daughters in New Jersey, in real time. I can watch movies and television shows any time I want, virtually commercial free. Basically, there are more entertainment options than there ever have been in the history of humanity, and there are more on the way. There is nothing wrong with technology, nor taking advantage of its ability to thrill and entertain. But I want say that, even in this world, live theatre, and, more specifically, “community” theatre, can be a great option for a different kind of entertainment experience. Let me explain:
Live theatre has a visceral feel to it that comes from being in the same room with the performers. Most of our information about others as human beings comes not from their words, but from subtleties of facial expression and body language. There are nuances that can be conveyed in a live performance that simply don’t translate when an image is projected on a screen. Further, as social animals, we human beings have a craving for communal experiences. When you go to a live show, you are part of what is almost a living, breathing organism: an audience. Rather than sitting by yourself or with one other person, your encounter with the show is altered by the people around you. Laughter or sadness is infectious; we are wired to pick up on such signals, and it heightens the experience. And, unlike a movie audience, a live theatre audience can give and take not only from each other, but the performers as well. An audience at a live show can alter not only each other’s perceptions of the action, they can alter the performance itself. This give and take between people is something that can be experienced during live theatre that is generally not present in the electronic forms of media.
“Alright,” you might say, “but why should I go to a little strip mall, when I can see professional actors in a beautiful venue like the Performing Arts Center?” Well, professional theatre is great. I encourage everyone to check it out. And yes, budgets being what they are, you aren’t going to see hugely expensive special effects or settings at a community theatre. What you will see, however, is much more creative use of those effects and settings. Because community theatres have little money to spend on each show, more has to be done with less. This means directors and producers have to find interesting new ways to get their message across, be it representational staging and costuming, or use of lighting and sound to create different settings, rather than a whole scene change. What you will also see, rather than famous people who lead their lives thousands of miles away, are your neighbors and people who live and work in your own community. Your dentist, or accountant, or your kid’s English teacher might be playing Sherlock Holmes or that naughty maid!
Which brings me to another point: you don’t have to stay in the audience. The real genius of community theatre is that it is open to everyone. Always wanted to act? Go to an audition. I promise, we love to see new people come out and play with us. Not sure about being on stage? No problem, everyone has skills that can be used. Good at painting, or sewing, or building things? There’s plenty that has to be done for every show. Are you one of those ultra-organized people that always make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be? You might be a great stage manager. A technological whiz? Volunteer to run the lighting or sound effects. There really is a part everyone can play.
The bonds that are formed among a group of people working toward a common goal are irreplaceable. Working on a show for two months before performing or seeing it performed is much like being involved in a team sport. Most of my best friendships have been made through the theatre. I also happened to find my love there as well. But, regardless of your situation, you will meet some of the most interesting people you are likely to find in your life, and working with them is a most rewarding experience.
Finally, by going to, or being involved in community theatre shows, you are supporting a local charity. Carrollwood Players, like many community theatres, is a non-profit organization that exists to serve the community in which it operates. (Note that this means any donations you make to the theatre are, indeed, tax-deductable.) This past season, Carrollwood Players has run the “Black Coffee” series, giving local writers a chance to have their work done in a “staged reading” environment, with an eye towards possibly getting those plays fully staged in the future. Also, a special showing of the radio play version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” was performed for students of Academy Prep Center of Tampa, which offers a chance at a free private school education to economically disadvantaged children. And every year, the one act weekend allows play-writes from all over the country a chance to have their short works shared with an appreciative audience.
Do yourself a favor, and look into your local community theatre. If the above reasons aren’t enough, remember that it is one of the few places you can go and have a good excuse to turn off your cell phone for two hours. In fact, it’s highly encouraged.