All Theatre is Community Theatre
All theatre is community theatre. This is one of my favorite professor’s go-to phrases during class and one that has deeply resonated with me.
I’ve had her for two semesters now so I can’t remember the first time I heard the phrase, but I do know that I immediately jotted it down on a piece of paper that now is pinned to a bulletin board in my room. It was like when I heard that, something clicked and it all made sense. All theatre is community theatre.
I think it’s natural that as theatre-lovers, we create all these divides: commercial vs. non-profit, plays vs. musicals, original vs. based off a [insert pretty much anything here]. We’re humans after all, we thrive off labels and categories, so it only makes sense that we apply that same sense of compartmentalizing to talking about theatre. I’ve left many productions hearing this as the audience filters out: “Well, for a [school/Broadway/regional] production, it was okay.” I understand that in different venues there’s different levels of experience, but does that mean we must hold them to different standards? Does that mean shows in different performance venues serve drastically different purposes than others?
I think it’s important to make a conscious effort to fight our human instinct to develop divides and instead remember the simple fact that all theatre is community theatre. Regardless of financial motivations or if it’s a revival, original, or jukebox, when it comes down to it, theatre is there to inspire and to unite a community in an art form.
Broadway is community theatre. It’s expensive and flashy, but it’s meant for a community of New Yorkers and tourists who want to delight in magic and leave the theatre with some fulfillment – whether that’s fulfilled as simple entertainment or fulfilled in some deeper, emotional way, it serves the community. Just like experimental pieces performed in blackboxes or attics serve the community in fulfillment as well.
We’re in this moment now as a culture where we’re starting to learn to identify spectrums in our lives instead of binaries, and I think that can apply to theatre as well. I think it’s important to evaluate theatre not under the restriction of the type of venue it’s performed in or its subgenre, but in what it’s giving to its community. Theatre can coexist in all its differences and doesn’t have to inspire elitism in its patrons (I know people who will only see Broadway shows and people who will only see productions in houses with less than 100 seats, each because of what they feel makes “quality theatre”).
The next time you start to pre-judge a show’s merits because of an abstract label it has — which we all do — stop yourself. Remember at the end of the day theatre is special, it is unifying, it is for the community.