Most people, when asked what the difference is between “professional” theatre and community theatre, will likely go to the money factor. Professional theatre pays – community theatre doesn’t. Professional theatre is “real” theatre and community theatre is a hobby. And this usually appeases the asker and the subject is then dropped.
It is just not that simple. Not for me at any rate.
There are those of us who tread the lines. We are not fully “professional” actors nor are we “merely” community ones. We bounce back and forth as opportunities present themselves. Familiar in both yet not truly “belonging” to either.
Professional theatre is at its very essence . . . work. It is a job. There is a paycheck and clocks to punch (and co-workers you WANT to punch). There are hard and fast deadlines and contract negotiations and a strict designation of who does what and when to whom and who is allowed to play where. This is true on stage, back stage, in the booth, in the dressing rooms and outside in the smoking area. People in professional theatre never stop “working.” The very nature of being in the entertainment business means you are always on the lookout for your next job, your next paycheck, your next meal that does not somehow involve Ramen noodles. You always network and schmooze and try to get “face time.” Even when socializing. Go to any gathering where there are “professional” actors and/or techies present and the conversation usually goes something like this.
“Hey! I haven’t seen you in forever. What have you been up to?”
“Well, I just closed a show at the 5th and am starting rehearsals over at ArtWest in two weeks but then I have nothing lined up so I am auditioning at . . .”
In “real life,” people have conversations about . . . life. Not work. As a theatre professional EVERYONE is a possible lead on a job and is treated accordingly. For this reason it is VERY difficult for any kind of true intimacy to occur.
This is the main way in which community theatre differs in my opinion. Community theatre is a group of folks who may or may not know what the hell they are doing but are working together in the best way they know how to put up a show. The show HAS to happen and since no one else is there to do it, they pick up a screwdriver, hammer or light board and just do what needs to be done. Actors will sit backstage betweens scenes and mend a torn hemline. Assistant directors will suddenly mid-run find themselves on stage pushing a loaded down truck around. No one checks the union regulation of whether or not this is permitted. A job needs to be done and the person closest to the need gets stuck doing it – usually without too much complaining.
Because of this (or perhaps in spite of this) tremendous friendships are formed. Lifelong friendships. A battle has been fought and won and everyone made it through relatively intact. This is a cause for celebration.
This, in my opinion, is where the REAL theatre is.
This is all being brought to the forefront of my mind today because I just spent several hours with about two dozen community theatre warriors. There were celebrations over a relative newbie getting a leading role in the next production but for the most part the conversations centered on friends, children, wine, hobbies, chocolate with bacon and, of course, sex. All the conversations were about the real tangible things that make live worth living.
There was next to no mentions of work, the finding or losing of work nor was anyone plugging their latest project.
Well almost no one. I was, of course. Then again, I am a professional actor at heart. Not a “real” one.