By John J King
Say the words “Community Theatre” to a theatre professional and you’ll often get a Pavlovian eye-roll. For some, there are stereotypes associated with the phrase and most of them aren’t good.
In the midst of starting my own company, thinking in terms of marketing, I found myself thinking, “I want to sell this as a community theatre, but without using those words!”
But what’s wrong with Community Theatre?
At a workshop I attended, Marsha Norman said something that has stuck with me ever since: “A play is a community; every night, the act of theatre creates a community between the story, the artists, and the audience.”
That sense of communion, of theatre as a social act, is what excites me most about the art. It is a shared experience with others, and shared experiences are what blur the differences between people, erasing sects and creating communities.
In light of the Slow Food theme of the upcoming Boston Theatre Conference, how do we embrace the virtue of Community Theatre? A few thoughts that I feel particularly match up with the analogous slow food movement:
- a theatre in San Francisco involved their audience in the selection of an upcoming season. The company picked 10 plays, each of which were given public readings throughout the year. At the end of the season the audience voted, and the top four plays were selected for the company’s next season. Not only did the audience feel engaged with the work, but the theatre had a chunk of eager audience ready to purchase tickets!
- We talk about the student diaspora of Boston, with many fleeing to NYC and L.A. We need to “cultivate taste for locally grown” theatre while these young artists are here so they have reasons to stay. How? Internships, workshops, readings at the schools, open rehearsals just for students: all of these are free and relatively easy to coordinate.
- Collaborations between groups give audiences new and different ways to engage with local theatre. Good examples that have already taken place: FeverFest; The Shirley, VT Festival; Emerging America Festival; Orfeo Group’s COMPLETE WOWS(A) which incorporated local bands and performers as opening acts.
To me, “Community Theatre” is the highest ideal one can strive for. At worst, the phrase may be redundant, because theatre is community. There is no theatre without community.
What excites me about the Slow Arts theme of the Boston Theatre Conference is its implicit assumption that Boston has everything it needs. We do! The Slow Arts movement encourages us to celebrate and better share with our communities what is already here, to create more opportunities for the shared experiences that enrich, deepen, and build communities.
I look forward to the many possibilities of communion that the Boston Theatre Conference will bring.
John J King is a Boston-based playwright who’s work has been produced by New Exhibition Room, Mill 6 Collaborative, and the Orfeo Group. His new full-length BEAR PATROL will premiere at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, March 3 – 20, 2011. www.J-RexPlays.com