In a dusty hall in Rooseveldt Park, with the rain bucketing down outside, a creaky stage cradled the passion of community theatre in the 2019 One Act Play Festival put on by the Franklin Players. I bought a drink from what can only be described as a school tuck shop and made my way over to table ‘K’, a metal table surrounded by plastic chairs housing an assortment of strangers who had been placed at the table with me - all here to support actors who would be plying their trade on stage. There’s a good chance that I was the only person in the room who wasn’t connected to an actor in some way. I was just a weirdo who considers it a fun night out to go and look for new theatre experiences around town. I took my seat, programme in hand, not sure at all what to expect.
As I started to talk with some of the people huddled around that table, I started to learn a bit more about what community theatre is all about. From what I can gather, the essence is that those of us who loved being on stage at school, and perhaps university, but wouldn’t or couldn’t take it on as a professional career have a itch to scratch. Community theatre provides the space to perform amateur productions on the side of their normal day to day lives. Community Theatre organisations create the opportunities for people to write, direct and act in stage productions by gathering and connecting people who find joy in drama and offering a performance space for them to express themselves.
As I watched the plays, it was clear that these plays didn’t take themselves too seriously. Various hiccups ensued and some of the writing, directing and acting choices left a little to be desired. This definitely wasn’t a holding pen for people trying to break into the professional scene. However, that was never the point. Amidst the awkwardness of amateur theatre, I saw people expressing creativity in the way that really made them feel alive. Actors really enjoyed themselves. For a moment they could put aside the real world and become whoever they wanted to be. They could re-discover the magic of the stage. Writers could take a vision from their head and see it manifest itself in front of their eyes. Directors could marshal their troops and conduct a performance that did justice to the vision of the writer. Accountants, lawyers, teachers and engineers could become artists, if only for a night.
In the audience, friends and family offered enthusiastic support. Laughing at the driest of jokes, applauding at the end of every scene (no matter how short) and giving as much energy as possible back to their loved ones on stage. The mood of the room was one of joy. I watched as a group of girls delivered a giant bouquet of flowers to their friend when she came out after her play. As the group enveloped her and shrieked in appreciation, her smile was wider than her face. I watched as a woman leapt into her boyfriend’s arms after his portrayal of a stern villain - smearing lipstick all over his face in her excitement. I watched a grandfather declaring an inevitable Tony award for the play written by his granddaughter without even a whiff of sarcasm on his tongue. The room was jubilant.
In those moments I discovered what community theatre is all about. For a night, a community of people can come together and share positive energy with each other - without judgment, without criticism, without cynicism. The language of drama can re-animate a life that might not be as creative as one would have imagined. A writer can share their work, an actor can share their message, an audience member can lavish their praise. And all can forget about the world for a bit.
It’s simply marvelous.