Professional Theatre vs Community Theatre: Is There a Difference?

A friend asked me for my thoughts on this article today.

I thought the writer made several valid points and it provided a whirlwind of commentary on Facebook.  Speaking as both writer and actor, I completely agree with the author’s sentiment that community theatre should be judged on exactly the same standards as a full blown professional production.  To do anything less is unfair to those who work so tirelessly to bring a show to life.  More importantly, I believe community theatre is at least as good, if not superior, to professional productions.

Theatre is far more than lights, sounds, and costumes.  Those can enhance a performance, but ultimately, theatre boils down to the simple art of storytelling.  And a well told story can be told on Broadway or in a basement.  There is no connection between talent and pay.  I’m fortunate enough to live in Omaha, NE where our talent pool is so rich and deep that many could easily earn their living through acting and directing if they had the inclination and that little bit of luck needed to really make it.

One telling thing the author of this article pointed out is that many critics operate from the mindset that community theatre is somehow lesser than a professional production and that it has to be treated with kid gloves.  That’s just silly.

I decided to start reviewing shows two years ago because I long felt that my theatre community was not getting the reviews it deserved.  So many of the reviews I read were largely summary with a little blurb of “Oh, and so and so was in it and didn’t do too badly.”  That’s not the purpose of a review.  A review should accomplish the following:

  1. It tells the reader why she or he should or should not watch the show.
  2. It helps promote the show, especially if the show is of high quality.
  3. It points out the things that make the show effective and ineffective.

Point 3 is my biggest concern when I write a review and I take great pride in the fact that I am completely fair and honest when I write up my observations.  While I freely admit that a review is simply an opinion and nothing more, I do harbor the notion that a director or actor may read my opinion and think, “He has a point, what happened here really didn’t work.  I’m going to fix that.”

I disagree with the article’s author when he says that an ineffective production needs to be called “bad” or “awful”.  Criticism is supposed to be constructive and there are ways to call out problems without destroying a production.  When I see sketchy work, I professionally point out where it goes astray and how it might be fixed.

I have a lot of faith in the toughness of actors.  We put ourselves on the line all the time.  And if we can handle the rejection of an audition, we can certainly weather a tough review.  Trust me, I’ve received a bad review or two in my time and here I stand.

At the end of the day the only difference between an amateur production and a professional production may be production values and ticket prices.  It certainly isn’t the talent.  A good story is a good story whether it is told with the best money can buy or if it’s told with a sheet and a piece of cardboard.  For those reason, community theatre needs, and deserves, the right to be judged on equal footing with a professional production.