Amateur Hour

In a fall that promises to be all about the performing arts, with an emphasis on theater, this weekend has been all about amateur theater— a community-type theater (technically, it might be a professional theater, but it’s definitely about the love more than the money or the fame) and a high-school production. And even though I’ve seen some really incredible productions already this fall (“Mary Poppins” at BDT Stage and “Lookingglass Alice” at the Denver Performing Arts Complex), I enjoyed the productions I saw this weekend (“Guys and Dolls” and “High School Musical”) as much if not more. In no particular order, here are some reasons I love amateur theater:

  • As inspiring as it is to see someone who is a rock star, I’m a sucker for someone pursuing art and the creative life, not necessarily because it will lead to fame or even because it’s their job, but because they love it. Superstars are rare, and the idea that they are the only ones who can legitimately pursue their passions/interests is insanely limiting. Really early on, we tell people who sing off-key that they shouldn’t sing, because they weren’t born for it. I wasn’t born for it either— but unless you’re tone-deaf, singing is a skill you can learn. You can develop the muscles for it. You can improve, but only if you’re given the chance to work at it.
  • I love to see someone try something that might not be their primary interest, and find something worthwhile in it. I was a cheerleader and an honor student when I tried out for the musical in high school. It wasn’t something I stuck with, but it opened me up to some things spiritually, and frankly, got me singing in public, which has been important to the joyful parts who I am as an adult.
  • I like variety. If you stick to major productions, you’re more limited than if you can take in productions at other theaters. And not just in terms of the variety of shows— different theater companies bring different interpretations. I love different interpretations. For example, in last night’s production of “Guys and Dolls,” the leads were great, but they had some strong members of the company in supporting roles, and they added great texture by their performances. It’s not like it was better than Sinatra and Brando, but I liked seeing some other characters shine. It made me see a favorite with new eyes, and I like that.
  • I feel like my ticket supports the arts at a different level. I think it’s a good thing to support major theater companies and productions. But supporting community theater seems to me like supporting independent businesses of any sort. It feels like grassroots investing at its best. And when it comes to buying a ticket at the local high school— well, let’s just be honest— I’d much rather buy a ticket to a production that taught kids about plays and music and staging and discipline than a butter braid and some overpriced wrapping paper.

Why do you love amateur theater? If you don’t share my fondness for it, have I talked you into giving it a chance?

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