Professional and Amateur Theatre
A week ago I visited Rockhampton to be part of a short play festival run by Rockhampton Regional Council. I was so impressed by the enthusiasm of both the audiences and performers for the work they were creating. Audiences for community theatre events are different – eager, forgiving, engaged, connected, and motivated to enjoy the experience. Performers in community theatre are different – they make their work out of a love or passion for theatre, personally know the audiences they are talking to, and are not precious with their art creating a robust and rambunctious storytelling. It reminded me of seeing Wicked where the audience had already decided that they were going to have a good time regardless of what the night might bring. They had already invested. For Wicked it was the price of the theatre ticket (more than $100 per ticket), for the short play festival it was the motivation to be supportive. Audiences can sometimes feel like they are sitting back waiting to be entertained but this audience was on the edge of their seats, keen to back the underdog, be wowed by the surprising theatrical experiences and generally endorse the less than ready script or performer.
For so long professional theatre has separated itself from the participatory models of amateur and youth theatre. I reckon there are lessons to learn from these practices. I grew up in amateur theatre as a teenager learning that professional ethics is an attitude not a pay cheque and Judith and Peter Sherry from Logan City Theatre Company taught me so much about being a professional. The work ethic I have now, the commitment to build audiences and to connect with them were drummed into me two nights a week and half a day on weekends as we prepared for shows. We built the sets, gathered the costumes, rigged the lights and learnt the lines. We were driven from a love of it.
The successes of professional sport are also worth exploring. Many professional sports stars and clubs find ways of connecting with all layers of their sport. It is not unusual to see a football club forming connections with schools, local amateur clubs, running talent spotting clinics, teaching at training institutions, developing relationships with feeder clubs, entering high end negotiations with broadcasters and developing new professional players.
Like sport, people love to see a person of great skill achieve the almost impossible. Great actors, directors and writers are like elite athletes and should be encouraged to train and aspire to greatness. But in the pursuit of that greatness we should never forget the huge number of people who love theatre and practice it in diverse ways.