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I’m preparing to direct a one-act play involving Shakespeare’s sonnets. I have so much preparation to do, it isn’t funny. Fortunately, I am very enthusiastic about it.

This particular play is written for high school students and is designed to help them understand and relate to Shakespeare’s sonnets. However, the language is stilted and unrealistic for a theatrically knowledgeable audience. I have to “adultify” it and I think that will be a huge challenge. I will use the actors to improv their own language to up the situations a bit. But the scenes are so short – 2 – 5 pages max – that there isn’t much time to get up to speed. Each scene has to start out with a bang.

Plus, the theater I’m working with has a great reputation with Shakespeare!! If I had known that, I would have chosen something else to start out with. But, I found this play  . . . charming . . . in it’s own high school way. Perhaps predictable, but that was part of the challenge I sensed when I first selected it.

Now, however, I’m not sure I’m up to the task. I want it to be great yet I’m thinking that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

I’ve learned quite a bit about the Sonnets just by doing research on-line. I know, however, that the actors, all volunteers, will have questions about interpretation, “what does that mean,” etc. Much of that will be their “job” to find out. They can look it up on-line as easily as I can.  However, I have to have a strong enough handle on the works to be able to guide them if they go off track or get really stuck. Plus, I have to know the direction I want the scene to go in – that’s what a director does!!  There are many on-line sites out there where information is available and I could get lost in them for a long time. But I also want to put my own personal stamp on the production. Provide something new and interesting. Or else, what’s the point??

Most importantly, I have to make it “theatrical.” Shakespeare brings so much simply through his wonderful writing and is so easy to get into – if done well. I must bring out the drama, the passion, the fun, the enjoyment and delight which grabbed me and, I hope, grabs an audience and keeps them focused on the action –  on what is going on on-stage. I plan to bring in music and dance. Music is a wonderful “short cut” for many emotions. Who knew that this would be old hat for this theater – I thought I was being musically innovative.

Perhaps this all  just means that I am a good fit for this place. I can only keep my fingers crossed and work hard.

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People are drawn to people who create things. Cake bakers, architects, computer game designers,  people are drawn by a sense of interest and intrigue to people who think things up off the top of their heads and make new things out of everyday ideas and hunches.

On a tv crime show, we wait until the moment the detective suddenly gets that spark of insight that puts mundane facts together in a new, previously unseen way. We are amazed when scientists think outside the box and develop a new theory based on known yet overlooked information. We’re delighted to see a sculptor create a new object by welding together everyday ones. And we love to watch everyday people, our friends and neighbors, take on new personalities, display hidden talents, and make us forget who they are and who we are in a  local community theater production.

One of my friends  forwarded a clip to me from the 1980’s TV show “Fame”, which reminded me that shows about creative people are not new, just rare.  We now have  television programs like “Glee” and “Smash,” and the movie “Black Swan,” which all deal with creativity in the performing arts. Much of the drama from these shows comes from the fact that the people involved work with other artists on both a personal and an artistic level.

The problems faced in these shows are surprisingly similar, whether the location is a local high school or an international stage. And that’s how it is in real life. Who’s sick, whose voice is shot, who doesn’t show up for their solo, whose accompanist can’t carry it off, who gets along with who, the world of amateur performers is riddled with minor surprises that keep everyday, unglamorous people on their toes and that challenges each player to become more creative than they ever knew they could be.

Additionally, real life small performing companies have more of a struggle when faced with the same problems as big organizations because they have fewer resources to fall back on. Hence, the need for more creativity.

Developing a team that works creatively as one is as fascinating as any sports team drama and just as real. Getting many personalities to fuse into one with a common goal is just as challenging. And observing adults act like children and children act like adults is just as amusing, not to mention eye-opening.

An audience watching/listening to a performance only sees the end result. Anyone who sings in a Church choir knows that the hymn is just a small piece of the experience of putting together the music. A violinist knows that practicing the sheet music is only part of preparing for the recital.

So, when is television going to put together a good show about community theater? The tales to be told are endless. The personalities to be found run the gamut of quirks, talents, and neuroses. The problems that arise, the problems solved and the problems that remain unsolved, would provide scripts that would last longer than Law & Order.

From the cliques that intimidate new people to the friendships that only develop when one collaborates creatively, from the people who don’t show up, to the ones who do but can’t produce, from romance and kindness to jealousy and envy, from comedy to heartbreak, and from disappointment and failure to success, imagine how tension-filled and uplifting a show it could be.

Where are the writers? Where is the producer? I’d watch a show like that.

Who Does Community Theater?

This may be a very legitimate question.

Before television, communities not only banded together to bring community theaters to life, but fought, hard, in many communities, to keep them from dying early deaths. Community theater was a popular form of public entertainment, at least as popular as bear-baiting and public hangings.

These days, television tends to keep people at home. It’s so easy to stay at home. There are tons of entertainment to be had at home.

So, who is crazy enough to buck the trend and go out and  “do” community theater?

I have some ideas.

People who have seen live theater and have had an inexplicable, gut reaction to what they have seen on stage. People who have been taken out of the reality they were in and enjoyed the reality created before their eyes. People who have a certain creative talent that comes to life through carefully prepared words and actions, an enigmatic blend of the “extremely rehearsed” and the “never-been-done-before.”  People who are inexorably driven to exercise their creativity and become absolutely addicted to the teamwork, the comraderie, the stress and the sweat of doing theater.

Not just singers, dancers  and actors, but also designers, composers, directors, writers. Craftsmen who work in paint, light, fabric, sound, wood, metal, plastic. Young people who are moved by a good story. Adults who relate to a great character. People who enjoy a shared experience, as at a sporting event when everyone around you is cheering for the same team.

Since a play is life, concentrated, people who “do” theater are people who have the intestinal fortitude to swallow an hour and a half/two hours of concentrated life. Theater isn’t reality. Not even reality television is reality ((unedited, reality t.v. would be very,very boring).  Theater is reality times ten.

People who “do” theater know that there is a grace, a power, a depth of feeling,  a shared humanity that comes out in theater that is untapped by any other form of spectator activity.  Good theater, like good music,  moves people and people who “do” theater want to be movers.

Let’s explore together the who, what, why, when, and where of community theater, then get down to how to bring it to, and enliven it in, your community.