Is Community Theater Endangered?

I went to a community theater performance the other night and was struck at how small the audience was–old, too. Of perhaps 250 people max, maybe 3-4 dozen were under 20, and I’m guessing most of these young adults/kids had family members in the play.

It seems that community theater has lost its relevance to today’s audience. The plays, though sometimes quite good, date back several decades and often seem dated. Moreover, the production values have a hard time competing with the blockbuster film productions at the local cineplex theater. Community theater sets are usually modest and the talent often mediocre.

What’s your take?

Community theater is doing well here in the hinderlands (and not so hinderlands) of Colorado. In Colorado Springs a town of about 200,000 people, they have three or four community theater groups with their three days-a-week runs running between three and six weeks. In nearby Pueblo (a town of 100,000 about 45 miles south of Colorado Springs) they have two solid community theater groups with roughly the same setup on play dates as Colorado Springs.

The much smaller town of La Junta (about an hour east of Pueblo) has 6,000 people in the community and they have a thriving community theater group with a wonderful theater. Their runs are generally two to three times a week for either two or three weeks. Twelve miles away Rocky Ford which has about 3,000 people in the community also has a pretty good community theater group (they use an old turn of the century vaudville house) and they will do two-shows-a week for two weeks.

I imagine a great deal of the draw depends on what shows are being done. The classic musicals do great, soldout houses every night. The classic comedies also seem to do well. I saw a community theater group do Arsenic and Old Lace in Colorado Springs and it was SRO. I saw the same group do Titus Andronicus and there were quite a few empty seats. I saw the Rocky Ford group do The Sound of music and they had to double their normal run. On the other hand, a year later (the next musical performance) they did Five Guys Named Moe and there were more people on the stage than in the house.

Also I noticed you’re from Virginia, I imagine that there are some good professional groups not that far away. I imagine that has a bit to do with the lack of good turn out at your local community theater group.

You’re comment about quality of production is valid in many cases (although it is part of the fun of community theater, too) but you would be surprised about some of the high levels of productions put forth in community theater. I was traveling through Garden City, Kansas, of all places, a number of years ago and saw a community theater production of Caberet that seriously rivaled the one I had seen on Broadway a year before.

I went backstage to compliment the cast and crew on the show and one of the stage hands said to me, “You think this is good? You should have seen Fiddler (on the Roof) last year.”

So it goes.

I can only hope. If I see one more crappy Shakespeare production a la Baz Luhrmann…

good evening, friends

this saturday, we will see south pacific at one of our local community playhouses. this is a small theater that i buy season tickets every year. this season has been great.

west side story
the man who came to dinner
fiddler on the roof
south pacific.

my mailer for next season:

drop everything! (new play by local author)
meet me in st. louis
hansel and gretel
moon over buffalo
sunday in the park with george
season tickets for two comes to $120.00. lots of entertainment for the money.

Judging by the response to this thread, I’d say community theater is largely irrelevant.

Well honestly, a lot of it is simply not very good. It’s generally run under a grandfathering system so you have a lot of really awful actors who keep appearing in shows because they’ve been around forever. You have directors who never ‘made it’ but have ‘artistic vision’ (usually of the Ed Wood variety) and to top it off you have a lot of plays and musicals that everyone has seen a bajillion times. I have tried over and over again out of a feeling of civic responsibility to watch and enjoy community theatre productions. I’ve never, ever been able to. They’re just too… well… amateurish.

It depends. The theatre I once acted in drew a lot of its talent from my Alma Mater: West Georgia College (now West Georgia University). We were able to utilize not only acting talent, but student directors, lighting, sound and set construction techs.

Towns without a post-secondary school to draw from do tend to have poor turnouts. I recently spearheaded an effort to form the Paulding Community Theatre here in Dallas. The community itself was supportive, but when it came time to actually do some groundwork, the same 5-6 people kept showing up at meetings until I finally lost interest. A shame, really, because the group had a chance to perform in an old abandoned movie theatre which is being renovated. Most towns don’t even have that and have to use the local high school or tech school stage.


I have the same feeling that most community theatre is too afraid to try anything new to reach out to a younger audience.

Live theatre can be exciting and interesting in that there are real people in front of you but if your compnay runsd nothing but “Charlie’s Aunt” you will not attract a new Audience.

I am currently working on a one act for a festival which I wrote. I have blood, swearing and violence and Video in it.
Why? Because I want to reach out to an audience that is used to this in film. Live Theatre should become a multi media medium to catch the audience and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Theatre is only as irrelevant as those who present it want it to be.

Perhaps the answer lies here.

Our county has a community theater group that owns a small building (after years of performing at the Lions Club) I’m assuming they’re doing well because they’ve been there for a number of years. The only production I ever attended was “The Fantasticks” and I hated it. A couple of friends of mine are very involved, and if they’re any indication, the troupe is static, bordering on inbred.

OTOH, you can see a show for cheap without having to drive downtown or pay for parking. They’re doing Annie next month and one of my daughter’s friends is in it - I may go with her to see it.

Original material can be risky though. Last weekend I saw an adaptation of the Vonnegut short story Harrison Bergeron, and it was an appaling butchery. I may never go to the theater again.

It was so bad, apparently, that it removed my ability to spell.

Counting up the community theater companies in my own community…a county of about 250K people. I get ten and I think there are a few others whose names escape me just now, plus at least another five just past the county boundaries. Some are hand-to-mouth, put-something-on-when-we-get-our-act-together, living-on-bottle-deposits-and-garage sales. But one owns its own theater and most are pretty serious about what they do. There’s a kids’ theater group, and a Gilbert&Sullivan organization, and a couple that do serious plays only, and some that vary from show to show.

And they’re generally quite well attended. The last three I have been to have all been sellouts–each done by a different company.

Disclaimer: I’ve been involved with several of these groups, on- and backstage, and in one case as a board member.

Still, I would not say endangered.

I find that Communuity theatre varies greatly, but most of the time the quality depends on the director more than the actors. I’ve seen shows that were so bad I was embarrassed for the people on stage and some that were quite good.

IMO, you can find better theatre in many colleges than in community theatre. Several colleges around my city are known for their theatre programs and produce outstanding work, so much better than any community show I’ve ever seen, many rivaling professional shows. I’ll seek out college shows over community theatre any day, and the tickets are so cheap!

I was a theatre major in college so I might be a bit biased, but I still go to shows there and am amazed every time (I trained as an actor but didn’t act much, more into technical / directing work).

The problem with many community theatres is their lack of ambition. Most are stuck in a rut, same directors, same actors, same overdone shows year after year. It’s hard to break into the cliques sometimes, and even if you do it’s hard to convince them to do a new or experimental show. As much as I like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, there are other playwrights out there!