We are inundated by “art.” We have instant access to thousands of movies, hundreds of thousands of songs, millions of lines of prose and poetry, and zillions of images. So why would anyone venture outside on a chilly winter’s eve, or even a warm mid-summer’s night, for yet another community theater production of some old, dusty title?
Let us start with why I put the 5th word in this article in quotes. What is “art?” Fundamentally, “art is the transfer of emotions from one person to the other,” as penned by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy1. When we read a book or look at a picture in a gallery, we are taking in the information and emotion recorded by the author, processing it through our cognitive and experiential filters, and then responding emotionally and intellectually to that work. In the performance arts, it is the performer’s responsibility to serve as interpreter; the musician, the actor, the reader takes the author’s material, processes it, and then either faithfully or unfaithfully to the author’s original intent, presents that material to the audience2. The performer’s presentation of a work will change over time due to enhanced insight into the material, the performer’s mood and physical state, and even what the actor had for lunch. This is why so many people attend a concert or see a show multiple times over the course of the production; minor alterations in the interpretation of a work may lead to significant changes in the way the work is ultimately perceived by the audience.
Community theater, as its name implies, has a larger charter than just liberating patrons of a few idle dollars. Perhaps best described as “by the people, for the people,” community theater informs and binds the community as much as entertaining it. Local theater communicates, protests, teaches, and builds families, as much for the performers as for the audience. It’s an opportunity for people who might not be able to otherwise participate in theater to get on a stage and perform for their friends and neighbors; it’s an opportunity for our youth to learn the fine arts of stagecraft and take it with them to enlighten all the corners of the world; and unlike school drama club, it’s an opportunity for new actors to work with and to learn from seasoned veterans … and vice versa! With smaller operating budgets, community theaters can produce shows which may rarely, if ever, be seen on professional stages because of income concerns.
So the summation is this: take an evening and experience some emotional transfer at a live community event. Then go see it again. Even if you’ve seen the show before, I can assure you that it will be a completely different experience and you may even learn or feel something you hadn’t before.
From the boards ~ G Newton
2 Admittedly, this is a simplification of the process since it is rare that a performer is able to work with the original work of the author. When an actor gets a script, it has likely crossed the desk of many editors, a few lawyers, a dramaturge or two, the director, the producer, and perhaps a few other persons or organizations. It is an amazing and treasured experience to be able to work with an original manuscript and even more so, to work with the author directly.