Five Big Problems with Community Theater

Being a community theater organization in this day and age is tough. Budgets are tight, competition is fierce, and waning audiences make staying afloat a daunting task. We don’t want to be the “Debbie Downer,” but we’ve put together a list of what we consider to be the five biggest community theatre problems as it currently exists.

Don’t worry though…it’s not all doom and gloom today. Be sure to read to the end of the article to find the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

#5 – The Word “Community”

For some reason, there can be negative connotations associated with the words ‘community’ and ‘theater’ when written side by side. This combination of words seems to drum up the ideas of amateur and unprofessional, where as this can actually be quite far from the truth. I have attended plenty of “community theater” productions that easily rival professional productions.

Monica Reida, author of the blog Fragments, has also written about this phenomena at length – click here for and interesting and insightful read on this topic.

CC Image by Keith Ramsey
CC Image by Keith Ramsey

#4 – Budgets

Do not misunderstand this – budgets are a wonderful (and very necessary) tool to keep production costs on track and keep your theater organization afloat. I repeat, do not abandon the budget!

Problems arise when community theater organizations have unrealistic budgets for their scheduled season. Shoe-string budgets are fine and can result in absolutely incredible, “think-outside-the-box” productions. But this means that you need to have a creative team in place that’s capable of this type of thinking.

#3 – Lack of Communication

We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: relying on word-of-mouth advertising is no longer enough to fill the theater seats. Yes, you may still draw in most of your regular patrons with little effort, but in order to expand your audience base you must also actively advertise your shows.

There are a number of ways that community theater organizations can market their shows without spending an arm and a leg. Social media can be a very effective tool for budget friendly marketing, especially if you are lucky enough to have a social media guru on your team!

Check out our Social Media for your Performing Arts Marketing Plan Series for a complete run-down on some of the top social media platforms available.

#2 – Electronic and Digital Technologies

CC Image by Michael Coghlan
CC Image by Michael Coghlan

It’s difficult to compete in the entertainment industry when there’s an almost endless selection of movies, TV shows, and audio recordings available immediately at the click of a mouse. Dollar for dollar, this type of entertainment beats theater (even community theater) on price and convenience.

What exactly does this mean for theaters? Read on for our opinion on this.

#1 – Blaming the Audience

As professionals and community-level enthusiasts in the entertainment industry, we have a nasty habit of blaming the audience when shows are unsuccessful or are not well attended. We are especially bad at blaming the younger generation.

How many times have you heard “They don’t want to go to the theater” or “They just don’t appreciate culture”? But how many of us have stopped to consider that perhaps in this love-hate relationship with our audience, that it might be us at fault? As Diane Paulus, artistic director of the American Repertory Theatersaid in an interview with Harvard Magazine, “we’ve got to open up the definition of what theater is.”

We need to get out of this rut of what theater was, and start re-imagining the almost limitless possibilities of what it can be! Paulus says that “the theater needs to be something where you feel: ‘I have to experience it.’ Not just read or see it. People are craving experience – they are desperate for experience.”

CC Image by José Manuel Ríos Valiente
CC Image by José Manuel Ríos Valiente

So, if audiences are desperate for experience, what can we do to better provide this? How can we re-imagine and re-define theater into something that is a necessity instead of a frivolity? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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