Three reasons amateur theater is hard core AF!

Silhouette of a person pushing a large heavy ball up a hill

As someone who’s produced, directed and acted in amateur theater (aka Community Theater, aka nonprofessional, etc.), I get really plagued when I hear someone brush off amateur theater. Namely because amateur doesn’t automatically mean low quality. The thing is, it takes a lot of work to put on a play, amateur or professional. But theatrical artists in an amateur setting have barriers that perhaps someone in a professional setting does not. And yet, amateur productions can still be stellar, and it often is. Like many theatrical artists, professional theater is something I hold dear. But make no mistake, amateur theater is something that deserves the same respect and both amateur and professional theater make a huge contribution to society. But the main point I’m making is, amateur theater is hard core AF!

Day jobs!

Street sign that says "dream big-work hard"

Most actors and other theatrical artists in amateur theater have day jobs. Whether that’s 9-5, retail, food service, etc. This means they don’t have the luxury of having more time to memorize lines, come up with prop designs, etc. After a long hard day at work, they have to come to rehearsal to put in more hard work despite being on their feet all day, or struggling with getting a work schedule that allows them to do theater, or monotonous data entry, or dealing with rude customers, and so on. Then we’re expected to bring energy, creative ideas and mentally exhausting scene work and on top of that, memorize lines and blocking or something a fight choreographer put into place. This is all very hard in a professional setting, but when you tack on the physically and emotionally exhausting responsibility of juggling theater with a day job, it creates a lot more work. The ability to do this is something that deserves the utmost respect.

We have to come up with creative solutions to problems!

Newton's Cradle illustration, from left to right the balls say What, Who, Where, When, How, Why and a question mark. Question mark ball is about to hit the others

If you’re a community theater, you likely don’t have the funding that you would like to have, at least when you’re first starting off. Maybe you can’t have the lighting you want, or the prop you want, or maybe the costume perhaps isn’t the right shade of purple you were hoping for, but the money can’t be refunded, and so on. One big way to cut corners in your budget is not having a set for your production. Don’t get me wrong, having a set is great, but a good show can still be put on with having furniture in the room to communicate where you are. This is something I’ve done with shows I produced. However… I ran into a problem once. In the play I was directing there was a scene where someone was trying to bust out of a door. This was critical to the show. Since I was without a set, I was also without a door. However, I did notice that in the small performance space I was in, the stage right side of the playing area had a door that led to a private office of the venue owners. With some wheelin’ and dealin’ I asked them if we could use that room, hence the door, and they agreed. Without this quick thinking, I don’t know what I woulda done! Community theaters come up with ideas like this all the time and it saves our butts! The show must go on!

We put on great work, despite our barriers.

cartoon silhouette of actors

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1000 times, I’d much rather see a good play in someone’s garage than a bad one in a huge, professional theater! I have seen shows with smaller theaters that have absolutely mesmerized me. This is because the actors and other artists involved in an amateur show are passionate, usually well trained, and work extremely hard. Hell, when I played Annie Sullivan I put in long rehearsal hours when I had to work a 6:00 am dishwasher shift the next morning. This is a role that required not only a lot of line memorization but also a lot of physicality. (Do you have any idea how hard a fight scene is?) I was averaging three hours of sleep a night (good thing I’m on public transit), and yet I was still able to get good reviews for my performance. I take pride in that. And believe me, there are several other actors with similar stories. Also, don’t forget, many large theaters started out small.

Emoji with top hat and sunglasses, shrugging

I love and value theater, both professional and amateur. But I implore you, don’t write off the latter. Because the blood, sweat and tears involved in it are a force to be reckoned with.

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