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Community theatre? What's it worth?
by Beth Boswell Jacks

“There’s no theatre if there’s no community theatre.”
-- Morgan Freeman

We’re sitting in the green room at our community theater. In thirty minutes we’ll be onstage, singing and dancing, kicking up our heels as local thespians have done for fifty years, over forty of those years on this very stage.

The curtains are drawn. The audience is gathering. A rocking group of singers and dancers, many new to community theatre, have rehearsed this show for six weeks. We’re nervous and excited, but also anxious as we discuss the future of our beloved building.

We’ve done the best we can with the money we’ve had available. The lobby is newly painted, but the worn carpet is a mess. We’re hoping people coming to see the show arrive at the same time so the scrunch of bodies will cover and hide the carpet’s stains and tears.

Decorating the newly painted theater lobby are framed pictures and press clippings of productions spanning the years since our group first organized in February, 1954. A refreshment table is set with punch and cake and flowers. Everything looks nice, not perfect, up front.

Meanwhile, back in the green room, we maneuver around huge garbage cans positioned on wooden blocks to catch the rain scheduled to descend on the area for the next several days. The room with its stash of costumes, props, benches and make-up stations will be flooded if not for the garbage cans. The ceiling sags with a dizzying array of water stains.

One of the new folks says, “Oh, we can raise money to fix this ceiling. Don’t worry.”

We old heads nod at his enthusiasm, wishing the green room ceiling was the only thing begging for more than a patch job.

Like so many community theatre groups in small towns, we’re dealing with survival. For years we’ve done the best we could with limited funds, patching the roof and doing band-aid therapy on places that need major repairs. Our insurance is sky high, utility bills hurt, we need a decent parking lot, and -- how much time you got?

Over the past several years we’ve staged some outstanding productions, but attendance has generally been so-so. This is deflating after cast and crew have worked really hard for weeks. We say we do it for the fun of it, but if our small auditorium is only half full we can’t help but be disappointed.

Sell the building? How can we even entertain the thought with so many tunes, lines, laughter and tears of almost fifty years, saturating the air in the place?

This theater has been our home for decades. Veterans and newbies have rehearsed hours to create entertaining productions on this stage. Rows and rows of names from years past are carved on wooden steps backstage. Our hearts say NO to selling while our minds say YES.

But now it’s show time -- time to close the building discussion and resurrect smiles.

We arrange ourselves in a tight circle, ignoring the garbage cans, and we hold hands. I already know at show’s end when we sing “Softly, As I Leave You,” I’ll cry.

I glance around the circle. What a terrific and diverse group. Old, young, black, white, male, female. Every production brings new members to our little theatre family. Every production gives newcomers to our area a chance to use their creativity and talents. And every production gives us all a chance to make new friends.

We bow our heads and share the entertainer’s prayer: “With this talent I possess/Dear Lord, let me bring happiness/Let it be said no word of mine/Shall turn a heart away from thine/But if frivolity can make/A little less the bitter ache/That fills one heart/Or for a while/Induce a tired face to smile/Dear Lord, perhaps you will not care/If this is what I call my prayer. Amen.”

The music starts. We’re ready. No pay. No profit. Just great fun for us and (hopefully) for our audience of family and neighbors.

How important is community theatre? I wish I knew.


Editor of USADEEPSOUTH, Beth Boswell Jacks is the author of 3 books (Grit, Guts, and Baseball and Snippets I and II) and is also a weekly columnist for a number of Southern newspapers. Readers and editors may contact her at bethjacks@hotmail.com

Read about Beth's SNIPPETS books -- two collections of her columns.

For more of Beth’s stories at USADS, click here:

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