Who’s An Amateur? Shows for Days and The Evolving Definition of “Professional”
There’s confusion at the heart of Shows for Days, the new play currently at Lincoln Center written by Douglas Carter Beane that stars Patti LuPone as the diva-in-charge of a theatre in Reading, Pennsylvania. It’s a confusion visited upon the theatre in general these days.
Michael Urie, as the stand-in for the playwright, explains how at age fourteen he first learned about theatre when he stumbled upon this “amateur troupe.” We see Urie both as the adult narrator and as the teenager who enters the former hat store that has become the (fictitiously named) Prometheus Theatre. Within minutes he is put to work painting the set. Within hours, he is pressed into service as the Butler in the Philip Barry play opening that night, because the actor who normally plays the role can’t get a ride into town. Within weeks, he’s ordered to write a play for the company—his first.
Much of the humor in the play (and some of the horror) involves the lengths to which Patti LuPone’s character Irene goes to keep the Prometheus Theatre not just alive but on fire, all the time kvetching about her lot in life: “But for the curse of my loveless marriage, I’m stuck here amongst the Amish trying to put on Ionesco.” She is full of dubious pronouncements about Art. “There are no enemies when it comes to people who do theatre,” she tells Car (Urie), when talking about a rival. “There are assholes we refuse to work with, but never enemies.”
Shows for Days is a largely loving portrait of a group of oddballs, misfits, and dangerous narcissists who band together to do what Beane explicitly labels community theatre. The playwright even works into the script a quotation from Tennessee Williams:
Community theatres have a social function, and it is to be that kind of an irritant in the shell of their community…Eliminate them, however—bully them into conformity—and nobody in America will ever be really young any more and we’ll be left standing in the dead center of nowhere.
Beane took this from an essay by Williams that serves as the introduction in 27 Wagons Full of Cotton: And Other One-act Plays. It is Williams’ valentine, written in the 1950s, to his own apprenticeship in the 1930s at a community theatre called the Mummers in St. Louis, and it is worth quoting more of it than Beane does in his play:
Most of [the Mummers] worked at other jobs besides theatre. They had to, because The Mummers were not a paying proposition…Many of them were fine actors. Many of them were not….I guess it was all run by a kind of beautiful witchcraft. It was like a definition of what I think theatre is. Something wild, something exciting, something that you are not used to. Off-beat is the word….They put on bad shows sometimes, but they never put on a show that didn’t deliver a punch to the solar plexus…
Looking at Williams’ description of a community theatre from the 1930s—and Beane’s dramatization of a community theatre in the 1970’s—one feels forced to ask: How are these community theatres different from most theatres in 2015 that call themselves professional? And that’s the confusion: Where is the line between the professional and the amateur these days? Does it exist?
The recalibration of amateur and professional is playing out in the theatre in at least three ways:
1. Would Shakespeare even have understood the concept of a “day job”? He wrote plays to make a living. In the last century, theatre artists worked day jobs until they were able to make a living with their art—Tennessee Williams worked in a shoe warehouse; Arthur Miller was a ship fitter's helper in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But in an interview four years ago, Tony Kushner, who is surely the heir to such great American playwrights, said: “I make my living now as a screenwriter! Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point. I don’t think anybody does.” The day job has become such a necessity for theatre artists that some have turned it into an advantage: Having a day job, actor and playwright Melissa Bergstrom wrote in HowlRound recently, helps her not just to gain financial stability “but on a deeper artistic level, having a day job has thrown me headfirst in the world in which I live.”
Would Shakespeare even have understood the concept of a ‘day job’? He wrote plays to make a living.
Last week thirty-three-year-old playwright Samuel D. Hunter, author of A Bright New Boise and The Whale, and a recipient of a generous MacArthur Fellowship, said in response to my question to him in the weekly HowlRound Twitter chat: “When I started out I never expected [playwriting] to make me any money. When it started to it was a complete surprise. I’m actually glad that I made that assumption. It allowed me to not resent it when it didn’t make money.”
Given the economic reality, don’t we have to come up with a definition of “theatre professional” that doesn’t exclude people who make their living in other ways?
2. Whether or not theatre criticism is dying, or actually expanding, it is certainly changing. As I’ve pointed out, when at a recent conference, the chairman of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), the only national organization of American theatre critics, asked the members how many made their living entirely as a critic, only three out of the fifty present raised their hands. Are the ones who kept their hands in their laps no longer professional critics? How will publicists determine who gets free press tickets?
3. The Public Theater’s new season will begin in September with an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey, conceived and directed by Public Works Director Lear deBessonet, which they’re calling a “community event”—it will include performers from community theatres across the city. Last year Public Works staged something similar with Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, featuring “over 200 actors and community members.”
So, it seems “community theatre” is being incorporated into “professional theatre.” Involving the community is the lauded aim of many professional theatres, or at least a generally accepted buzzword. So, what distinguishes the two?
It’s not apparently a salary, if “professional theatre” can encompass such companies as the Bats, the actors who work without pay at The Flea Off-Off Broadway. Is it quality? Seriousness of purpose? Membership in “professional” organizations?
Given the economic reality, don’t we have to come up with a definition of ‘theatre professional’ that doesn’t exclude people who make their living in other ways?
Twink Lynch of the American Association of Community Theatre tells us that one Louise Burleigh coined the term “community theatre” in 1917, and suggests it was part of a movement that protested against the feebleness of commercial drama. Don’t most regional and not-for-profit theatres position themselves in much the same way today? Why don’t they call themselves community theatres? You might as well ask why they don’t call themselves amateur.
A few years ago, Sky Arts in the United Kingdom put on a show called Nation’s Best Am-Dram. Even the British couldn’t bring themselves to say “amateur,” substituting a cringe-inducing term as the label for 2,500 companies that present some 30,000 productions every year.
Shows for Days didn’t work for me at the end, collapsing into a melodramatic mix of betrayal, sexual scandal, and mendacity. Most implausible of all, there’s a climactic conflict over “selling out,” pitting pure art against compromise and commercialism. These are theatre people who take their storefront theatrics with deathly seriousness—with professional seriousness, as is made clear near the end, when Irene explains she has a terminal illness. Her main gripe doesn’t seem to be that she’s dying, but that her prognoses vary so widely, one giving her as much as five years, another as little as fourteen weeks. “Oh these doctors are such amateurs!”
Want to discuss this topic further? Join the Weekly Howl Twitter chat, Professional vs. Amateur: What’s the Difference? on Thursday, July 23 from 2-3pm EDT on #howlround.
Jonathan Mandell’s NewCrit piece usually appears the first Thursday of every month. Find his previous pieces here.
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This is great. Some variety, but on the whole It is most productive and intelligent. I have learned a lot and compared to so many lengthy discussins, peace and wisdom reigns Thank you all.
This is an interesting discussion, one that we have quite often here in Michigan. As a longtime member of the ATCA and the recently retired editorial director of a team of theater critics spread across the state, we've had to make defensible decisions regarding who we cover and who we don't, as the companies I worked for (and still freelance for, EncoreMichigan.com and Pride Source Media Group) have missions to promote only "professional theater" in Michigan. So that means we've had to come up with a definition of what that term means.
And to be honest, what we've come up with doesn't satisfy everyone within the theater community.
To me, the basic definition of a professional is one who gets paid for their work; when you work for free, you're a volunteer. Maybe a very SKILLED and highly TRAINED volunteer, but you're still giving away your services for free.
So that's the basic definition we've been using since 2001, and it's one that the major daily newspapers in the Detroit market have used for even longer. (At one point, though, the dailies held to a rule that they only reviewed Equity theaters, and the major debate here to this day is just that: that only Equity theaters have the right and privilege to call themselves "professional." Personally, I don't accept that, since plumbers and other trades people who are self-employed or work for companies that aren't unionized are also considered to be professionals. Theater is no different.
Unfortunately, to make a living as a theater artist in Michigan is impossible for most - we're not exactly the most art-savvy state here - and so it's pretty much standard operating procedure for professional theater artists to have day jobs, ranging from tending bar to holding a professorship at a university (and everything imaginable in between).
Does that make them any less "professional" once they step onto the stage and into the spotlight? I sure don't think so.
As such, our number one criteria for coverage is this: If a company pays it artistic talent (actors, designers, playwrights, etc.), then we consider them "professional" - we don't care how much they are paid or by what method (such as via a contracted amount, a split of the box office or any other method), as that's none of our business.
There are challenges in defining some theater companies, however, such as those that cast unpaid performers to work in the chorus of large musicals. And we have a couple of programs associated with various universities that blur the line. (One school's graduate students, for example, are probably the highest paid local artists in the state.)
But while we professionals beat ourselves up trying to define ourselves and others, one can't help but ask: Does it REALLY matter to the average consumer of live theater?
We put that question to the test here in Michigan a handful of years ago, when a (now-defunct) Equity industry organization hired a reputable marketing firm to conduct a study to determine whether or not the average theatergoer cares about such labels as "professional," "amateur," "community theater" and "Equity" - and the members were rather surprised to learn the average theatergoer couldn't care less about such things; they simply look for theater that is high quality and affordable. Who delivers it to them really doesn't matter.
When Tennessee Williams wrote those lines about "community theater" there were no regional theaters or local "professional" companies. There were professional shows that came through communities on tour, and local theater companies. Today, I take Williams' words to apply equally to our professional non-profit, regional ("community") theaters across the country. Having grown up at Genesius theater (with Doug) I was also inspired and challenged by Jane Simmon Miller, Patti Lupone's character. Jane in some ways saved my life. She gave me a home when mine didn't work, she was my the mentor who taught me it was okay to be different. She inspired me during my freshman year at a little college in Allentown PA to jump on a bus (without telling anyone) and find my way from Port Authority downtown to audition for NYU. Jane died during my sophomore year at NYU.
I spent every spare moment of high school and my first college summer at Genesius, where we were vibrantly intent on putting up a great show, (12 a year: shows for days!) turning up the energy for the audience, and having a great time together. Then, the next summer, I was invited to join the non-eq company at the Williamstown Theater Festival. And the gap between amateur and professional was shockingly and unequivocally brought home to me. Genesius and WTF were different of course in size and scale. But they were most different in terms of purpose. Every person at WTF at the same purpose. Every person had the same work ethic. The professional theater wheel had already been invented and actors didn't decide to change their costume piece because they wanted to and rehearsal schedules were not two hours one day and 12 hours the next day, and performances started on time. So first of all in the area of basic processes all was different because all was the same!. Every show, every day, every performance worked the same way.
But what really mattered: rehearsal was not to "get the show up" but to discover, explore, create, invent, invest. The underlying, unspoken purpose was to advance art and craft. To create something authentic, original. At Genesius we often looked at what the "pros" did and felt great if we copied it really, really well. At WTF I saw artists and staff joined in a commonality of purpose, a purpose shared by all true "professionals" -- gleaned -- how? Either via work with other more seasoned or via acting training programs like mine at NYU ... (and then Circle in the Square, and then RADA.) It was NOT about being paid (four non-eq summers at WTF and just like at Genesius, I was not paid) or being really good. Now and then, at Genesius, we were really, really good. The production of RENT I recently saw showed the the new group of Genesius kids with more sophisticated chops and skills then my era (and better looking, with better voices!) ... yet -- something felt missing. The great and important "WHY" that drives true artist and is radiated by true artistic leadership to everyone in the place.
So for me it comes down to those two things. The community of theater professionals everywhere doesn't wonder what will be different at the Guthrie, from The Alley, from WTF, from a 99 seat theater company in LA. The answer is: nothing. All operates in the same continuum of HOW and WHY. Professionalism, for me, means the shared and known common practice of sophisticated, intricate, well-honed and yet ever-evolving ways of doing things . . . paired with the primacy of artistic purpose.
This is very lovely.I'm curious whether all theaters that call themselves community theaters are at the same level of erratic, and all theaters that call themselves professional theaters at the same level of consistent. Is that truly an objective and unwavering difference?
Hesitated answering because I have only worked in one community theater ... but I would think this is true, i.e. that community theaters mostly "operate on the same level of erratic." (just as acting classes do, as we saw in Annie Baker's brilliant Circle, Mirror, Transformation) They may have one or two former pros around, but even for myself, when I started producing theater in LA after years of acting in AEA shows regionally, on B'way etc. -- I certainly didn't know, for example, all the things a stage manager was supposed to do, or how many productions meetings you should have, or how most of the basic things I took for granted really came together.
In terms of the processes of professional theaters, this I can comment on as I've worked in many as actor / director / producer. Partly because there are union rules to comply with and partly because everyone likes to outdo each other in terms of "professionalism" -- from the no-pay 99 seat contract in LA to B'way, and every regional in between, everything but everything works the same. Variables may happen in long-standing ensemble companies, experimental / avant garde troupes (?) -- but, yes, maybe this is an objective, delineating feature of professionalism, yes?
Hi, Jonathan and everyone. Excellent article and discussion here and in the #howlround on Twitter!
I wrote theatre reviews for eight years, first as a blogger whose only "pay" was comp tickets and this past year as a freelance writer paid per word by the local alternative newsweekly here in Indianapolis. I've also been writing book reviews as a professional (there's that word again!) librarian off and on since the mid-1980s and continue to do so.
Reviewing is emotionally rewarding for me because the analytical thinking required enriches my experience of a piece of performance art or literature, and because it sometimes enriches others' experiences and I feel good being of service. But it is also darn hard work and one of the most thankless jobs on the planet. And apparently, very few people can make a living at it.
I already have a good, meaningful living as a librarian thanks to my master's degree, years of experience, and some amazing mentors, and I don't want to risk that by trying to also go back to school for a second master's in theatre or by trying to moonlight full time. I only have 24 hours per day.
So if that makes me an "amateur theatre critic," so be it.
A few years ago I asked a member of the American Theatre Critics Association to sponsor me as a member. He refused, probably for reasons that had nothing to do with whether I was a professional or not, so maybe I will try again with someone else. Jonathan, whaddya say? You know my work pretty well from Twitter. Do you think I'm professional enough for the ATCA? Even though I am not actively writing theatre reviews at the moment, I am still interested in the profession.
I took vacation time and participated in the 3-day Midwest Writers Workshop last week. I didn't hear people using the words "professional" vs. "amateur" but there was definitely a balance between sessions on the craft of writing vs. the business of it. Few poets (or playwrights) attend this workshop. People go there looking for help in making a living as novelists or nonfiction writers.
At MWW I answered the "what kind of writing do you do?" question with "Well, I wrote theatre reviews for eight years but now I'm taking a step back and thinking some more about what kind of writing I really want to do in the time I have left. Maybe a book about an aspect of Indianapolis theatre. Maybe something completely different."
I'd like to be paid well for my writing but I am more interested in finding MY writing and doing it within the framework of my life, if that makes sense.
In the library world, people with MLS degrees get bristly when people call themselves librarians just because they work at a library. People without MLS degrees bristle when people say they are not professional just because they don't have that degree. I value ALL of my library co-workers but I also think getting the degree implies a special level of commitment and that some positions should require the degree, even if someone without the degree could do it just fine.
I enjoy going to see the work of ALL of Indianapolis' 50-some theatre companies, but I have different expectations for the ones that call themselves professional. I have a special place in my heart for our handful of professional theatre companies. I hope they will always have high standards for the finished art itself - not just the making of it - and I hope central Indiana residents will always support them, financially and in other ways.
This comment is sort of all-over-the-place but it's all I have time for. Jonathan (and @MrSamuelFrench, co-host of last Thursday's #howlround), thanks again for asking the questions and for listening! (And Jonathan, I'm serious about the ATCA.)
Hope Baughwww.IndyTheatreHabit.com@IndyTheatre for tweets about Indianapolis [email protected] for tweets about reading and libraries
HopeThanks for writing. You make two good points:1. In some fields, a degree is essential for a legitimate claim at professional status. This seems clear for librarians. I don't think most people would see that as necessary for theater artists.2. When a company calls itself professional, yes, I think the audience has a different expectation. To answer your question about ATCA: A basic requirement for membership is a portfolio of recent reviews. This is not just for new members. Each year, when I renew my membership, I'm required to send them reviews (I forget how many) that have been published within the year leading up to the new term.This fits in, I suppose, with Allan's suggested criteria for individuals applying for membership in unions or for grant, etc. -- a body of recent work that shows the continuous thus serious pursuit of a professional career.So start reviewing again (if you can stand it), send me the clips, and I"ll be happy to put you up for membership.
Thanks very much, Jonathan! Do blog reviews count or only paid and/or published with someone else editing?
Good questions. Here's a link to the page laying out ATCA's requirements for membership, which answers your questions. (The short answer seems to be: Depends)http://americantheatrecriti...
(lol) Yeah, that's what I understood the last time I looked at the ATCA website: "It depends."
But okay, I'll get my stuff together from this year and see what happens. I truly don't know what I'll be doing next, writing-wise, but even if I am an ATCA member for a only minute, I believe it will be interesting and useful.
I had another thought while I was transferring a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer and waiting for your reply: some writers (playwrights, novelists) go for an MFA not because they think it will make them "professional" but because it helps them carve the time for doing the work they want to do. That is what novelist Lori Rader-Day told me at MWW yesterday and what playwright Steve Yockey told me for my blog back in 2009 (http://www.indytheatrehabit....
For theatre artists other than critics, I think the "professional or amateur/vocational?" question includes sub-questions of "MFA or not?" and "Equity or not?" as well as "paid or not?" The answers are different for each person.
I've also been thinking some more about your question "How will publicists determine who gets free press tickets?" Maybe you were being facetious but I think it's a valid question.
When I first started my theatre reviews blog, the first theatre to give me a media pass was the Indiana Repertory Theatre - Indianapolis' best-funded and fanciest theatre. I had never been to a show there before and when I walked in I thought, 'Holy smokes. Look at this place! Who am I kidding? I'm just the girl next door who loves live theatre! I have no business asking the IRT for a media pass." They sort of knew me because I'd been writing personal responses to shows on a community theatre forum for several months before I started my own blog, but still.
But a year or so later when I asked an all-volunteer theatre company for a media pass, they said, "We have a rule of no comps for anyone." Fair enough, I said. There are 10 other shows running this weekend that I would also like to see and write about. I don't need to write about yours.
The media pass had become a symbol for me of value for my work. A symbol to myself that I was doing what I did as professionally as I knew how. I had become more confident about what I was contributing to the Indianapolis theatre scene and whether or not I needed the money that media passes represented, I wanted the respect.
After a few years I went back to not accepting media passes from anyone because I didn't want the pressure. When Nuvo started paying me for my reviews in 2014, I went back to requesting media passes because that was the standard practice.
Anyway, as media and professionalism continue to shift, maybe publicists will have to go by track record more than anything else. And maybe beginning theatre critics will have to buy their own tickets for a while in order to build their reputation and audience as bloggers. Indianapolis is much more limited than New York City or even Chicago in terms of professional/traditional media outlets so the theatres are hungry for "buzz" and an "amateur" that wants to write about live theatre and is reliable about it, can get media passes fairly easily, I think.
The writing itself is HARD anywhere. (lol)
Let's try again with this link for the Steve Yockey conversation: http://www.indytheatrehabit...
Thanks for making this extension of the discussion possible. The Twitter exchange fell during a matinee, and I was unable to participate, although I have read the comments with interest.
I think the concept of "professional" is still valid in 2015, although I do agree that it needs updating. People resist being put in boxes, which I understand, but some things rely on the boxes that definitions provide.
Consider two: funding support for the arts, and membership in artists' associations. (Disclosure: I am the current Council President of CAEA.)
In structuring funding, governments and other bodies frequently wish to distinguish between professional and non-professional arts organisations and artists. The funding model and goals may be different for each.
As an association representing “professional” artists, CAEA needs to know who those people are, and in what circumstances they work, so that it can offer benefits and protections to suit.
I propose the following draft definition as a conversation starter for a new definition of “professional.”
>> A professional artist working in live performance is someone who consistently seeks, through his or her best efforts in a range of opportunity, to maintain a primary career in theatre, opera or dance. A professional artist is also someone who expects, in exchange for his or her work, no less than the compensation, recognition, treatment and working conditions that any other skilled professional working in similar situations has a right to expect.
So, what does/doesn’t this mean?
It does not speak to issues of issues of quality. Professional is not necessarily better than amateur, nor amateur of poorer quality than professional. Neither “amateur” nor “professional” are honorific or pejorative.
It does not rely on whether or not you behave in a “professional manner”, which is a completely subjective assessment, anyhow. There are plenty of people in each camp who do not.
It means that pursuit of a career in live performance is of primary importance in determining professional status; whether or not you actually earn money at any specific point in the process, and whether or not you support yourself solely on that work. If you, in your pattern of involvement with live performance, behave as though it is a hobby for you, then you are not a professional. If you behave as though it is a career for you, then you are.
Having a career in live performance that is not, at any given point in time, your primary career, does not mean that you are not a professional. Perhaps the best test in this area is: would you give up your day job to work more fully in live performance if the opportunity were offered to you? If you side with your day job, then you are probably a professional whatever-that-is, not a professional artist working in live performance.
It requires you to expect to work on at least equal terms with other professionals doing a similar job in a similar circumstance (including in profit share, low-pay-no-pay, fringe, etc.) It allows you to do better than others in the same circumstance, if better is available to you (working as a guest artist in a mixed company, or securing pay or conditions that reflect skill or tenure.) It does, however, mean that you do not sell yourself short, or undercut the terms other professionals have a right to expect.
It does not stop people from moving to one camp to the other over time, although I would argue that you don’t get to hop on and off the bus every second block. That is where consistency comes into play.
Ok, so there you are. Draft 1, with sufficient explanation (I hope) to make my thinking clear. Have at it! Make it better; don’t tear it down.
First (excuse my ignorance) I take it that CAEA is Canadian Actors Equity Association? I'm happy to see a union person weigh in on this.Your definition of a professional artist as someone who is in pursuit of a professional career would work for individuals trying to assess if they should call themselves professionals. But can a funder or professional association -- somebody outside the individual's head -- objectively measure what constitutes serious pursuit of a professional career? To posit extreme hypotheticals: If you work in advertising but send your scripts out to theaters every week, without any of them ever showing any interest in your work -- would postal service receipts be sufficient proof of your serious pursuit of a professional career as a playwright? If you are pursuing a career as an actor, and go on auditions regularly, but never get cast -- would a note of attendance from the casting director be sufficient?
Yes, CAEA is Canadian Equity.
You make a good point regarding outside assessment. My intent was to start with the individual, which is really where I think the concept of professional artist is vested, not in someone else's label. Union membership, for instance, may corroborate professional status, but does not define it.
Outside organisations can then build on that personal foundation to suit their own sphere of operation. Most will want some kind of evidence of _successful_ pursuit of a professional career.
So as an example, a union might require at least three engagements on one of their contracts before membership is granted, or hiring by an engager with whom they have a negotiated agreement. Similarly, a playwrights' guild might require at least one play produced with professional performers for a paying audience. A funding body might expect some other standard of professional activity or, indeed, several (emerging professional, established professional, transitioning professional, etc.). A service/resource organisation may require only your own declaration.
Rereading my original post, I think it might also be a good idea to stop contrasting professional with amateur. I like the word, and it has a positive etymology, but it also carries a great deal of negative baggage, more than I'll ever be able to wish away. Similarly, I think it's a good idea to take "un-professional" out of the equation. I'd stick with professional and non-professional.
Here is an edited selection of comments made during the #howlround Twitter chat on professional vs. amateurhttp://newyorktheater.me/20...Commenters include Theatre Ontario, Kate Powers, Todd Backus, David J. Loehr, Rachel Delmar, J Adrian Verkouteren, Kathleen Moye, Corinne Woods, Kelly Dwyer, Michelle Denise Norton, Michelle Denise Norton
Nice article. Where I find myself pausing before labeling a group "community" or "amateur" is when I worry that doing so will infer that the work is of poor quality. It would be nice to not worry about that stigma, but that's the reality of theatre in smaller markets. I have worked at a community theatre much like what Williams describes - sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always passionately produced. Usually the cast and crew are a mix of true amateurs (do theatre as a hobby and have never studied or worked professionally), academic professionals, and non-academic professionals (may not be now, but have in the past worked in major markets, gotten paid, had agents, etc...). When that's your talent pool, you're bound to have uneven production quality.
For me, I teach theatre at the high school level, used to work professionally in a major market and now do "community" theatre in a small market. Sometimes I get paid, sometimes I don't. I try, everyday, to do my job with a professional mindset, so I feel comfortable calling myself a "Pro" - even when I'm doing a show for free and have to schedule rehearsals around my day job. :)
I suspect that's the reality of theater in all markets -- calling it "community" or "amateur" carries the implication that it's of poor quality.
There are aprox. 660 theaters that are members of TCG There are 1800 theaters housed in public colleges and universities. These theater spaces are publicly held, owned by the people. They are largely staffed by trained professionals, most of whom had to have worked in the TCG sphere to secure credentials necessary to acquire their positions. These faculty and staff are practicing artists who work as civil servants. They bring a breadth, depth and quality of theater to communities in the far flung corners of the country where it would otherwise not exist. Many TCG theaters are either directly associated with or spun off from publicly held theaters housed in state colleges and universities. These publicly held theaters often serve as crucibles for the development of new works. They serve to foster community theaters, and serve as a bridge to TCG theaters. Arguably, the truly subsidized, publicly held theater in the US is housed in the public colleges and universities. They represent a great publicly held cultural trust, and yet are not recognized or supported as such.
This is worth expanding into its own article.
This does sound like a good, separate article. I'm not completely sure why you're talking about these TCG and university theaters in an essay that's explicitly about the terms professional, amateur, and community theaters -- and then not addressing in which of these categories you would place the TCG and university theaters.
So, how are these 1,800 theaters housed in public colleges and universities called? Are they categorized as professional theater, since they're run by trained professionals? Or are they given their own label -- college theaters -- that doesn't specify whether they're professional or amateur/community?Also, is there any overlap between the 660 TCG theaters and the 1800 college theaters?
My comment was intended to add another dimension to the articles focus on the Professional/Community dichotomy. My point is that there is an expansive network of publicly held, subsidized theaters in this country that goes largely unrecognized as such. I would argue these theaters form the bedrock of our national theater. We who work in such theaters would do well to organize and advocate on this premise, on the order of the National Public Radio and PBS. Yes there are a number of TCG theaters housed or affiliated with public colleges and universities. The Clarence Brown Theater at Univ. of TN, Knoxville and Nebraska Rep. at Univ of NE - Lincoln come to mind. Many of the URTA schools would fall in this category. There are also a number of TCG theaters that are spun off from theater programs in public institutions, such as the Hippodrome in Gainsville, FL, which was founded by grads. from U of FL and frequently engages faculty and, I think, some students in their productions. .
I've been using the term "independent" theater (borrowed from an article by Melissa Hillman), to describe the level of theater that is not Equity but is composed of prpfessionally trained folks. That can encompass experimental theater, ensemble companies (like the Rude Mechs), solo performers...anyone who operates outside the Equity system because their process, performance style, or geography is not conducive to being a part of that system.
I really like that phrase, I may borrow it.
In New York, "independent theater" is the label that many -- such as The New York Innovative Theater Awards -- give to what's otherwise called Off-Off Broadway.So are you saying it's better to avoid considering whether something is "professional"?
I was a professional singer from the age of eight (I got paid), and the choral director I and my likewise young colleagues worked for insisted we remember that we were professional and were expected to perform and conduct ourselves at a professional level. Yet this director never referred to a bad performance (or behavior--remember, we were children) as "amateur." He always referred to such instances as "non-professional" because he had an abiding respect for those who performed (often at a high standard) out of love for the art.
So I think the question is not whether a theater troupe is professional or amateur, but how high the standard of performance is. Since I write musicals, I often come across professional actors who cannot sing at a high level and amateurs who can. (Of course, I also come across the opposite too.) I would suggest we need to evaluate the theater experience on the quality of performance and production rather than how money is allocated.
Whether one can make a living in the theater (and why or why not) is an important topic, but it is a different topic than how money affects the quality of performance.
This is a very good discussion! What makes an individual or organization "professional?" I refer to myself as a professional theater director, because I have a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theater Directing. I have worked as paid full time staff for a community theater, gotten paid for freelance directing for community theaters (no paid actors) professional theaters (paid actors), college and high school theaters, and directed for my own theater, (sometimes paid and sometimes not). I have also worked a few unpaid jobs for community theaters. Money does affect the quality of performance, because if a theater, nonprofessional or not, decides to pay directors, musicians, stage managers, designers and tech directors, the quality will be higher.