Welcome to the official Hamilton Players blog: All the world's a stage...

Thoughts and ruminations on all things theater...and then some!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"just" is a four letter word of the worst kind

If there is one phrase I dread hearing more than any other (excepting, of course, "You're fired" or "You have {insert number here} weeks to live") it is:  It's just community theater. As in, "I don't want to go see that, it's just community theater."  Just? JUST?  What exactly does that mean?  That phrase instantly attempts to devalue hundreds of hours of collaboration and work and worry from scores of talented, busy people by implying that the scope of community theater is inherently less than...well...apparently less than anything that could be construed as important.  I get that we are not actively and immediately saving lives like a doctor - no one says, "Oh it's just heart surgery" - but that does not make community theater worthless. 

Anyone who has participated in community theater can tell you that it takes hard work and dedication to put on a show.  And it takes a lot of hard work and a ton of dedication to put on a good show.  They don't just, "happen."  For roughly 7 weeks, actors attend 12.5 hours of rehearsal per week.  This is actual specific, required rehearsal time.  This does not include any time spent at home memorizing lines (anywhere from 1-8 more hours a week), learning blocking, learning music (1-8 hours a week), practicing choreography (1-8 hours a week), or helping build set, create costumes, or props (1-4 hours a week).  In essence, an actor in a non-professional, community theater production could spend anywhere from 12.5 - 40.5 hours a week, for 7 weeks, to put on a successful show.  This is in addition to their day jobs, their family time, and whatever social life outside the theater they can manage to eke out during the production time frame.  Now, multiply that by 15 (the size of a modest musical):  that's 7 weeks x 13.5 hours/week (low estimate of:  required rehearsal + 1hour) x 15 people.  That equals 1,417.5 man hours.  For one show.  That does not include the hours spent by the director, assistant director, designers, seamstresses, builders, painters, house volunteers, and organizational personnel...which can add 600+ more hours.  2000 or more hours of labor and love; and that's "just" community theater!

You can talk about the heart surgery being important.  I will talk about the little girl who wrote an essay on the topic of her proudest moment and cited stepping on the Hamilton Players' stage in her very first production...because she never thought she would be capable of doing something like that. Or the young woman who was being bullied and in despair but found confidence and acceptance in the theater that armed her to not only succeed on stage, but to go out into her community and work with at risk youth thru the process of performance based ministry. I would argue that the impact community theater has had and will continue to have in those girls' lives is every bit as important as life saving surgery... with a much farther reach.  But that's "just" community theater.

The confidence and self-esteem engendered by participation in a theater performance will impact a person for the whole of their existence.  It will make a difference every day.  It will support the child, strengthen the adult, and make our world a better place to live...every day.  Technological visionary, Paul G. Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, summed it up when he said, "I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities...the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country."

Take the time to appreciate your community theater and all it has to offer.  Whether you participate onstage, offstage, backstage, or in the audience...it will change your life.  Call the Hamilton Players and buy tickets to a show, volunteer to work on set or as a lobby volunteer.  Take an improv class or  audition for a show.  You can even make donation the general fund or the theater school.  Every little bit makes a difference and you'll be able to walk away knowing that you contributed to an important, life changing, confidence inspiring, self-esteem fostering, problem solving, community building project...even if it is, "just" community theater.