10 Reasons To Rejoice When A Community Theatre Produces Your Play
Written by Scott White
There is an exciting new trend in community theatres around the country. Play selection committees are looking past the tried and true comedies and musicals and are starting to explore the wealth of scripts written by Canadian playwrights.
Some playwrights rejoice when they hear they have a community production and others worry that the production won’t match up to the standard of previous professional productions and are hesitant to grant rights.
Here are ten reasons why Canadian playwrights should be rejoicing at the increased interest in Canadian work.
1. There is a saying in the business that getting a first professional production is tough, but getting a second production is almost impossible. We spend a lot of time working on our scripts, and in my experience, having my words spoken out loud by a theatre of any sort (community or professional) is far better than having all of that work sitting on the shelf gathering dust.
Community productions bring your work to life. (Photo Credit Peter Fenton)
2. While it is true that not all communities have the same levels of experience or the same resources, one thing is certain … nobody has ever set out to put up a bad production of a play. There is simply too much work involved. And what I have found fascinating is that even less accomplished productions of shows often have clever ideas for dealing with difficult set changes, costuming issues or staging challenges. On every community production of my work I have seen, I have learned something new about how my script can be adapted to fit the needs of any given theatre. In one case, the primary promotional photos for a play of mine were from a lavish production in western Canada with a large stage. A professional theatre in the U.S.A. was looking at the show and was worried that their stage was too small to accommodate the production. I was able to send them photos from a community production of the play that had a small stage, and it turned them around in terms of considering the play for their space.
Not all community theatres will be able to create a set such as this one designed by Ted Price for Theatre North West’s production of Bemused (photo credit Memories By Moira)
This much simpler set told the exact same story in the Lakeside Players community production of Bemused in Ottawa(photo credit Lakeside Players)
3. In professional productions, sometimes the performers are better than the material. Hearing less experienced actors approach a script can let you know where you haven’t been clear in stage direction, or intention in the written lines. Community productions have taught me a huge amount about where my writing was strong and where it needed to be made clearer.
4. Each staging adds to the production history of the play on your resume. If your play only has one production, then it is going to be more difficult to sell to other theatres. But if it has one professional production and numerous community productions, professional theatres may wonder what makes the script of interest, and in turn may take an interest in picking up the show for professional production down the line.
5. Community theatres can often provide playwrights with useful promotional material because they work in the amateur field and are not bound by professional union regulations. This means that they may be able to provide a useful clip from the archival video that can help you promote the work further, or there may be some fantastic costumes that are captured in the promotional pictures that can be used for forward promotion of the show.
Community Theatres can provide you with stunning visual representations of your show, as in this photo from the Guelph Little Theatre Production of The Giant’s Garden (photo credit, Dean Palmer Photography)
6. Many community productions I have seen have been quite good. These community productions can offer a live showcase of the work for other professional theatres in the region. If a production is strong, inviting an artistic director from a nearby professional theatre can increase your chances of getting your piece back onto a professional stage.
7. Community theatres talk to one another. If a theatre enjoys putting up your show, they will encourage other community theatres to try their hand at a production which builds momentum for the piece. If you take time to connect with the theatre and offer support or even show up for an opening night, the theatre will respond to your interest in their work and may even look at programming another one of your plays at their theatre in the future.
8. Royalties from community theatre productions add up. While it may be true that the levels of revenue are not the same as professional productions, combined royalties from numerous community productions can add up to a reasonable amount of extra income from your writing.
9. Community Theatre is about bringing people together to gain skills, build community and share your story. Working on a script is meaningful to the actors, and even more meaningful when the playwright takes an interest. At a recent opening of a community production of The Giant’s Garden we attended the opening night to show our support. We were surprised that two children who had been in the professional world premiere 9 years earlier showed up to surprise us. They told us that being in that show was a meaningful part of their youth, and in both cases, they had gone on to study in the arts at university. Community theatre is the place where many actors, directors and designers get their start and their first opportunity to begin building their skills.
These actors were learning valuable skills and had to cooperateto make the puppet of the Giant work effectively in theGuelph Little Theatre production of The Giant’s Garden(photo credit, Dean Palmer Photography)
10. Why did you write the play in the first place? I simply wanted to tell a story, or get an opinion across. And every time a theatre presents my show, that story is being told again. I am grateful whenever anyone gives voice to my work.
So celebrate community theatres that present your work. Say YES when you can (unless an existing professional contract with geographical restrictions applies) and become actively engaged with the theatre by offering support on their Facebook page and showing encouragement. While it is true that not all community theatres have the same resources or abilities, the same is true for professional productions and in my experience the rewards far outweigh the challenges.
The Playwrights Guild of Canada can represent the amateur rights for your plays if they are listed in the copyscript program. For more information on this program, contact Monique Renaud at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott White is the Toronto Caucus representative for the Playwrights Guild of Canada and has written music, lyrics or book on 11 professionally produced musicals. In 2016 he had a community production of Bemused (written with Peter Fenton) and The Giant’s Garden (written with Peter Fenton) and will have another community production of The Giant’s Garden going up in 2017. For a full profile on Scott go to his Playwrights Guild of Canada listing at https://www.playwrightsguild.ca/playwright/scott-white