The short history of community theatre in Massachusetts - pretty much all the ones in Eastern Massachusetts sprung up in the 60s-70s(earlier? I won't pretend to be an expert, but this article by the AACT is an interesting read); that boom time for Regional repertory theatres. While those reps were springing up, all the amateurs wanted to get up on stage too out in the suburbs. Taking over churches' function halls, or town hall and high school auditoriums. Teach the kids how to be a part of it too; "Come see our production of Grease! Everyone has fun!" The community theatre was (and is) a place of bonding, family, and good clean musical theatre (or deeply penetrating dark stuff for those adventurous groups), everyone pitching in their personal resources for the endgame. Here's where a lot of community theatre started - and still is.
Because a lot of these community theatres have been around for so long, they have got producing DOWN to a science within their own group. They know the space they're producing in and have strong relationships, they have the tech resources, they have a process set.
Here's the plight of the community theatres I've worked in: human resources. The leadership is tired and way overworked - there's usually the "guy who does lights and sound because he's always done it," the matronly director who pulls it all together in the end, someone's friend who got roped into running the box office and concessions. But they desperately WANT help and young energy. Especially on the tech and admin side (ask me how many community theatre gig offers I see come my way as a stage manager...). Sure they can get high school, even middle school kids to help out, while teaching them in the process. But what they need are college-trained, youthful professionals to add some fire to the long-standing flame of their company. So, where is this energy?
The Boston area is full of higher ed theatre-training: Emerson, BoCo, BU. But, the college-grads and 20 somethings are all in the city. They're trying to make (or have made) their way into fringe. Which makes sense for those pursuing a professional career. Fringe is the first step, gets you the connections to mid-size, leading to the bigger regional houses (Hunt, NSMT, ART), giving you the cred to go somewhere else (bright lights, bigger cities).
Here's the rub: I have seen community theatres way better equipped than fringe and (every so often) even mid-size to create great theatre. Due to their many years of continued preparation and the often long-standing membership, these community theatres have resources and connections out the wazoo. They have their own space, or strong relationships with a certain space in town, and it doesn't bankrupt them. They have a long-developed patronage with the ever-present "this is our town" spur to incline audiences to their productions.
Is our goal, as young theatre artists, to further our career by working with companies with a reputation in the city? Or are we truly looking to create theatre? If the latter, what are we doing in Boston with companies that can barely secure rehearsal space (not through any fault of theirs, simply because it's the city and space is a luxury) when there's 20 some odd companies with the backing of a whole community of resources in the surrounding towns?
How do we rectify this; these resources and companies out in the suburbs and the young creative manpower to act on them being in the city? The clear impediment is transportation. I couldn't get out to Wakefield, Burlington, Lynn reliably without a car. Do we set up a network of transportation? People in the city make it happen for Stoneham Theatre.
It will be interesting to see what happens in 10 years, when the current members of these community theatres just get too tired to keep doing it. Who takes their place? Does the company just fall in on itself with no strong leader? Young 30-somethings who used to pursue theatre and left it for the sake of stability get involved and take the place of old leadership?
I think that last suggestion is where it's most likely headed. But as young artists trying to make theatre, let's not ignore the strong community theatre presence around Boston. Let's connect with it.