The beautiful community of community theatre

Last weekend I had the distinct pleasure of adjudicating the American Association of Community Theatre‘s (AACT) Festival at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in Atlanta.  While I have participated in community theatre in various locations since I was 5 years old, I didn’t know there was a competition until I was asked if I might be interested in adjudicating.   As many of y’all know, there are few things I love more than theatre and giving my opinion.  I was thrilled when they invited me to join the panel.

I know exactly how egotistical this sounds, but I was under the impression that the talent I found at the Winchester Little Theatre in high school (and still find today) was an anomaly.  I was significantly under-prepared for the level of skill exhibited at the Festival.  These productions were more visually interesting and had more consistent acting than many of the professional productions I have seen in recent years.  But, these shows were more than technically good.  They had heart, soul, and at their core, community.

Besides the variety of genres represented, what struck me time and again throughout the Festival was the commitment the artists had to the work.  These folks chose to be there.  The teachers, lawyers, and nurses had to make room in their lives to participate in these productions.  I first thought the commitment and passion reminded me of the difference between a professional football player and college ball.  However, I think that analogy is actually a disservice to the artists at the Community Theatre Festival.  It infers that there is a lower level of skill which was absolutely not the case.  What was missing was the sense of entitlement and cynicism that is sometimes present in the professional theatre.  Openness and joy took the place of egotistical energy.  They not only started at a high level, they were also open to the feedback that I and the other two adjudicators offered after the performances.  It felt collaborative in the best way.

The only disappointment is that I won’t get to see the two productions we sent on to nationals perform in Rochester.

To the AACT, I say thank you for the tremendous opportunity to witness and respond to the work presented this weekend.  To the artists involved, I say thank you for sharing your joy and skill with me and each other.  I hope I have the opportunity to play with you all again in the near future.  To those of you reading this post, I say go find your local community theatre, participate, help build community through theatre.  Passion, craft, and joy … what is better than that?

Here’s a list of all the theatres from the Festival and the plays they presented (in order of performance, * indicates productions continuing to nationals, + indicates alternate to nationals):

Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry – Just Over the Rainbow Players, MS
The Harry & Sam Dialogues by Karen Ellison – Sumter Little Theatre, SC
Heroes by Gerald Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard – Springfield Community Theatre, VA
Falling in Like by Jerry Sipp – Haywood Arts Rep, NC (original work)
*Sunday in the Park with George by James Lapine (book) and Stephen Sondheim (music & lyrics) – Manatee Players, FL
The Passing of Pearl by Vain Colby – Summit Players Theatre, WV (original work)
Dead Man’s Cell Phone by Sarah Ruhl – Cookeville PAC, TN
Honky Tonk Angels by Ted Swindley – Artists Collaborative Theatre, KY
+Dixie Swim Club by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten – Starkville Community Theatre, MS
*Second Samuel by Pamela Parker – Wetumpka Depot Players, AL
Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry – South City Theatre, AL
Early Frost by Douglass Parkhirst – Colquitt County Arts Center, GA

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