Why I’ve Turned My Back On Community Theatre

In April last year, I submitted three proposals to direct for a community theatre company in 2019 and 2020. In November 2018, a long six months later, I got a response to my proposals. And it floored me.

My relationship with this company was already rocky. Their rejection of my proposal to produce Hollow was what lead me to create Tripwire Theatre Inc, and ultimately lead me to where I am today with my theatre-making work. You can read the backstory on my blog.

In the most recent submission, I urged the committee to consider that now is the time for a more artistically diverse program, and to be the heart of a change, leading the way among community theatre organisations who continue to make safe programming decisions which do not challenge either their members nor their audience.

After six months, I enquired about when I would get an outcome, as I had other 2019 projects coming up for consideration and wanted to make sure I could honour the proposals I had made, should they be successful. It was suggested to me that working with this company would not be satisfying an emerging professional director and that I should pursue other projects.

I immediately wrote back with a justification of why an I had submitted in the first place and why I would still like to do the job. While working with community theatre may not be financially satisfying, I have found it rewarding and I was looking forward to meeting and working with more local theatre aficionados. I directed for Creswick Theatre Company in early 2018, and while not without its challenges, I was very proud of the production and pleased to be able to focus on directing, rather than spreading myself thin doing producing as well. The opportunity offered by this particular community theatre company presented a the chance to direct in what is otherwise a very limited amount of opportunities locally.

In hindsight, it was obvious that my core values as a theatre-maker and those of the company simply did not align. They were right about that much. However, that does not mean that I deserved to be communicated to in such a disrespectful and condescending way.

When I eventually received an outcome letter from the committee it was so disgustingly patronising I honestly could not believe what I was reading. After the initial shock, it was actually laughable that a person could think it was appropriate to send it to another person in a professional capacity. They quoted my submission back to me in inverted commas. It was unnecessarily detailed in its outright rejection of my ideas, using words like abhore and detest to explain in turn why each proposal was utterly untenable. I was asked to explain the reasons for my given unavailability in order to accommodate someone else’s preferences.

And as the final insult, after tearing apart my ideas and hating on directors who have ‘concepts’, it contained an offer for me to direct a severely compromised version of one of my proposals.

It took every ounce of diplomacy to not immediately fling back an angry email. And it did cross my mind to accept the offer and carry out a subersive production which undermined the company from within. But the offer was one I was clearly never meant to accept. So, I didn’t waste much of my time thinking about it. I took the high road and sent off a very professional “thanks, but no thanks, and good luck for your future seasons”.

Community theatre plays an important role in the ecology of our sector, by providing an introductory level of involvement in the performing arts and becoming a place of belonging – with creative and social outcomes – for hobbyist thespians. But I won’t be spending any more of my time there because it’s not a place that I belong. For me, making theatre is not a hobby, or a side project. It’s my job. I’m passionate about what I do but I’m also serious making a career from it.

I will focus on making professional independent theatre that is edgy, relevant and makes a social or political commentary. And I will focus on working with people who respect me, who trust me and who are willing to pay me.

You won’t find my name among the credits in a community production anymore. And I don’t mind one little bit. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

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