Theater as a Community

As many of you might know, Saturday was World Theatre Day. In Chicago, there was a party at the Chopin Theatre, which I attended after seeing BackStage Theatre Company’s production of Orange Flower Water.

What was incredible for me to observe was the literal community in the Chopin Theatre. People were literally crammed into the theater. I would walk around and see someone that I knew, people I had interviewed, people I knew through Twitter. Through those people, I met other people and had great conversations with them. My friend Zev arrived there later than I did and he instantly saw people he knew and saw more people as he wandered around the Chopin.

It was amazing to see so many people socializing with people that had never worked with their respective theater companies. It brought a whole new idea to me as to what the Chicago Theater Community is. It was also interesting to see another critic be treated so well and received warmly. Although, that theater critic reviews tiny storefront theaters and the big established Equity companies without ever saying, “This would be great in New York.”

I realized that a real sense of community in the theater is lacking in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. You either support the Waterloo Community Playhouse or Cedar Falls Community Theatre. And with one of those theaters, you sure as hell better think it’s great theater and not support theater in Cedar Rapids. Rarely do you witness artists doing plays about both theaters. There are a few, but it’s not widespread.

Because theater artists can learn a lot from each other and from working with different theaters and different directors, shouldn’t there be more work between the different theaters? I have grown as an artist by working with different directors, even by auditioning for different directors because an audition is run differently. We can learn about how to approach an artistic process differently by working together, exchanging directors, actors, designers, in my opinion. It might be a bit Pollyanna-ish, but I would like to think that is the case.

If theaters don’t work together and they just have the same pool of artists that are always there to design, direct and act, why not ask them what type of art they want to create. It might not be something that can be pursued, but if there will be a reliable group of people to work on a show, their input should be given in the theater. You can’t have dilettante donors running a theater; people that actually invest time into the theater should help run the theater.

Why not collaborate, like theaters in the Corridor have done? Has theater become so stuck up in this area that you can’t collaborate and exchange ideas? Theater should seem fresh, not just “business as usual.” How do you keep your audience and artists engaged if what they experience and observe is stale? By working together and investing in projects as a community and in the community, you can get an idea of what audiences and artists want.

Otherwise, you will eventually lose your audience and artists.

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6 thoughts on “Theater as a Community

  1. I think there is a certain element of boosterish behavior when it comes to theatre in communities where there’s only one or two big players. It’s kind of like, this is “our” cultural institution and you’d better support it. So much of a community’s identity is tied up with it. It’s like criticizing mom or apple pie. But you ought to be able to criticize a play that doesn’t work just as you’d criticize a sports team that has a losing record.

    Anyway, the World Theatre Day party in Chicago sounds like so much fun!

  2. I disagree that people support either CFCT or WCP. In fact, I know many people who support both theaters. Also, they aren’t anti-TCR, they just feel that you should support their theater.

    I doubt that the audiences here know what they want from their theater. It is an awful lot to ask of people, in the community, to give well-educated suggestion. And I think you should know that if they did listen to the audiences, we’d quite possibly be alternating ‘Joseph’ and ‘Annie’ every summer.

  3. I think that is the case. From my experience as a critic, when you write a negative review, you become vilified by the people that support the theater because you’ve harmed their theater and it’s a cultural asset. Yet, there isn’t that strong of a support of theater in this community.

    But one of the theaters in Iowa occupies a very historic building. If you look at pictures taken a hundred years ago of that street, you see that theater. While the institution of the theater might not be part of the identity, the building certainly is.

  4. Also, those actors and playwrights in large theatre cities like Chicago don’t get anywhere being cliquey. You need to network to get work. Whereas, in smaller theatres, it’s all about the cliques and your domain. Same way in Alpena Michigan, where I grew up. Oh, the turf wars that went on between the Civic Theatre and the Thunder Bay Theatre were EPIC.

  5. Meghan: We would be stuck doing Annie and Joseph all the fricking time because none of the theaters have the budget for The Lion King or Wicked.

    Bob, that’s the case in Chicago, but there might be that comfort level in smaller theaters.

  6. […] Todd? Audi­ence pie?) In a sim­i­lar frame of mind, and also inspired by World The­atre Day, Mon­ica Reida also talks about com­mu­nity and why this can be a good thing. (But she doesn’t talk about pie.) And tying in with the idea of […]

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