Monday, June 3, 2013

The role of Community Theater

Anthony Del Valle of the Las Vegas Review Journal has his year end look forward, a wish list of his personal bias for how community theatre should improve in the year ahead. He includes professional musicians working for free, more professional actors and talent contributing their talents for free and forced integration despite the nature of the volunteers or actors who are a part of individual theatre groups. His heart is in the right place, but my life experience tells me that he is just a little off the mark. For his "Hopes high for local theater community in year to come" to to the Review Journal on-line, or click here.

A few thoughts of my own:

Community Theatre is for the community, in fact it is made up of communities who put blood into their theater and its local, very geographically local audiences. They volunteer their time, living at the theatre's while not at their "day job" or raising their kids (more than one family has raised their families as much back stage as at home). It is a cohesive group of people, working on an art for the passion and love of it. 

The companies must select shows that sell tickets and put bodies in the seats. Community actors only pay is the appreciation of the audience. The income from tickets is often the only income other than money donated by the actors themselves or painfully collected by going to local small businesses for each dime.

Theater should be color blind. It should reflect the community, including multiple language or cultural productions when or where they will be attended and appreciated. The shows are also for the actors who make up the company. A proud effort of desegregation and a broadening of subject matter has been done in Las Vegas over the years since I first auditioned for the Little Theater with the pole in the middle of a former convenience store across from what it now Treasure Island. That reflects a shift in our overall world, a broadening of our creative minds, as well as the very role of theater itself in the social fabric of our society.

Community theater actors often work side by side with volunteer carpenters and "techies" building sets, setting lights and even manning the booth for productions.

You cannot judge or measure local community theatre against professional standards, or the standards of theater districts which include Equity, Equity Waiver and paid non-union stages along side volunteer theaters. (Sometimes Community Theater, with a much different mission and role, may surprise you, as the passion of volunteers ignites the flame that is the heart of live theatre.)

Vegas has grown and should support such theaters on a city-wide basis, but the volunteer community theaters are still regional to part of the city or segments of the audience. The cost of gas, driving time from home or wok and shifting neighborhoods have dictated this.

As for "professionals" from "Cirque" or the strip, I welcome their contributions, energy, training and passion to our community theaters, but do not wish more of their volunteer time at the expense of the high school student or retired lawyer or passionate office worker who needs community theatre as a way to add passion, love and creative experience to their lives. This is what community theatre exist for, or at least is close the heart of community theaters everywhere.

Musicians work hard on their craft, as do actors, investing and infusing the same or more than professional stage and film actors. They purchase and maintain expensive instruments, often having to become not just proficient, but excellent, at multiple instruments. 

There has been an erosion on the value of music, in the view and market of the general public, which musicians need to resist or become armatures without the ability, except for the wealthy, to maintain proficiency at their craft and art.  Shows have gone to "click tracks" (recorded and therefore unchanging and fixed music forcing actors to follow the tape Karaoke style instead of collaboratively create a fresh product), computer music, integrated existing music from the producers iPod, or eliminated music all together. Musicians are at war against those who undervalue their talents, as actors have been, only with far more to lose. Ask anyone who lived here when the showrooms and theaters boasted the best musicians in the world, in the orchestra or band, not just the marquee.

What gives me the right to have these views. 

Like Mr De Valle, I did attend UNLV. I came just short of an MA in theatre, a thesis away, when both of my mentors passed away; Maggie's beloved Davey and Professor Ellis Pryce Jones. (My thesis was a project on Rainbow Company, a passion costume designer and proud mentor Ellis held close to his heart...and no one at UNLV would take it on as a thesis to the clock ran out).

I have an MA in Communication and am all but dissertation on a PhD in Education with a theatre focus at Capella University.

But more important, I have a BA in Theatre from the University of Illinois, Chicago, where I worked with an on professional north side Chicago Theatre, as well as in the very exciting Chicago Community Theatre community.

I cut my teeth in Oak Park, Illinois at the Village Players, McDowell Artists and other strong community based theaters, as well as professional.

I have professional and community theater experience, academic training and a passion for all artists, including musicians. I value their time and talents.

I volunteer with local theater projects, offer my talents and coaching through a local park district, all around an active teaching and talent income assembled of part time work to allow for the retention and development of my own craft and skills. My current professional representation is through David Brown at the Remington Agency.

Of course most of you know I have over 24 years of volunteer time for actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild. I am in my 18th year at the entirely volunteer job of serving on the National Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild.

I respect Anthony Del Valle's work and contributions to theatre both as a paid reviewer and columnist and as a volunteer and theater scholar. I simply disagree.

Everyone has their opinion.

I would be interested in hearing yours.

-Art Lynch

First published 12-31-2010

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