I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. To be more specific, I’ve been thinking a lot about community theatre. This past June I was elected the new president of my local community theatre organization and I am currently directing their fall musical. When I tell people in my field about my involvement with community theatre, I usually get one of two responses: 1) It’s so great that you are supporting your hometown like that. And 2) Why are you volunteering to be a part of a small town show when you could get paid for working with a professional theatre company?
Receiving two such contrary responses on such a regular basis warrants a response of my own.
I am a teaching artist. I make my living by leading theatre arts workshops and in order to provide the best services I can, I endeavor to constantly cultivate myself as a theatre practitioner. For now, I choose to nurture my creativity by attending professional development workshops and by volunteering for my local community theatre organization. Yes, I need paid work and I consider being compensated to do something you love as a measure of success. But there is something to be said for also carving out some time, if you can, to volunteer your talents.
There is something profoundly powerful about being involved in an organization that is almost 100 percent volunteer run. People do it because they love it. Stay at home moms and businessmen who shined in high school shows have a chance to dust off their vocal chords and dancing shoes. Retired men and women choose to spend their time applying skills gained from their old jobs to design programs and make costumes. Kids who would otherwise be sitting at home in front of the television, learn how to act in a drama or comedy themselves. People from all walks of life unite in a common goal: to make this production incredible. For me, there is something rejuvenating about volunteering to do work that echoes what I do for a living. It reminds me that I love it and that, while I need to make a living, I also need to live what I love and not get too caught up in making money. Sometimes I just need to step out of the professional sphere long enough to remember what profits–besides money–I have to gain from making theatre.
For me, it’s about giving back.
I played Becky in my community production of The Little Princess was I was nine years old and that experience set me on my theatre career path. I felt like a star in that show. I mean, I got to sign autographs in the lobby! I felt like a professional. I learned confidence, discipline, teamwork, devotion, and how to laugh at my mistakes from the people who made that production happen. And I never forgot it.
Later, when I went to Muhlenberg College for my theatre degree, I realized that I was different from a lot of my peers. I passionate, but my goals weren’t on the same scale. I didn’t want to move to New York. I didn’t want an agent or a perfect head shot. I didn’t want to make it big. I guess you could consider that selling myself short, but I realized really early on that what I wanted was to learn as much as I could about making theatre and its benefits and then go on to share that knowledge with other people. I didn’t want to be a star. I wanted to be a spark. I wanted to teach.
Bryn Athyn Community Theater was my spark. And I am involved in this small, sweet organization to see if maybe I can help fan it into a similar spark for someone else. Doing this reminds me where I came from and why I am a teaching artist.