Is ‘community’ such a dirty word?

Convener(s): Joon Lynn Goh

Participants: Riad Parry, John Hoggarth, Gemma Paintin, Suzan McLean, Lian Bell, Jonathan Peterbridge, Alicia Farrow, John Pinder + others

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Community theatre has a certain stigma attached to its quality; possessing a potential cringe factor. The question of how ‘dirty’ this word is was approached in the inverse – ie: what is good community theatre?

One view was that it is essential that there be a benchmark of ‘excellence’ in community theatre; that it wasn’t good enough to merely involve the community but for it to strive towards the highest quality possible. Only when this was done could we move away from the presumption / expectation that community theatre is of a lower standard than ‘professional’ theatre. 

An audition process can support a certain quality, but on the other hand can be exclusive in its nature? It begs the question of accepting that community theatre has a different aesthetic; rougher with its own place and vitality that audiences should acknowledge, rather than being judged with the same / inappropriate criteria of professional theatre. 

The more theatre is used for different purposes and backgrounds, with different aesthetics, the more theatre has the potential for being as rich as it possibly can be, and perhaps what it was intended for? – a crucible, a meeting point to converse?

Another view was to look at quality in terms of intention.  Ie, was process, and the involvement of the community the most important intention in this particular case or was it the artistic vision that the community was playing a part in making it happen?  Dependant on the intention of community theatre, the criteria of its quality or success should be judged in terms of its purpose.  This doesn’t exclude you from having multiple intentions simultaneously for example Cardboard citizens who run closed performances with an emphasis on workshop as well as performances for public audiences, each with different purposes and audiences.

Community should not be a separate word, in a separate department, in a separate building, but part of the very core values and activities of any theatre company/venue.