Three Rivers, Michigan. I never had much respect for the acting profession. It always seemed to me like they were paid for having fun. However, on the eve of my stage debut in amateur community theatre, I have to admit a new admiration for the work they do.
I never really thought about how much work acting involved. But as I have spent two months desperately cramming lines, delving into a character and trying not to laugh on stage, I now understand why theatre majors in college always looked so tired.
Indeed, it is quite incredible that community theatre groups survive. There is the building to manage, donations to solicit, sets to build, lights and sound, make-up and costumes. That people put so much time and effort into something that gives them no monetary return is a testament to the energy and dedication so many people pour into local arts. One can almost hear the economists of the world scratching their heads.
The scholar Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, has lamented that in the era of television, computers, automobiles and suburban sprawl, American society has atomized into individual and family units. There are not many vibrant broad-based groups that cut across race, class, professions and backgrounds, to the detriment of community solidarity.
But by taking part in this production, I have discovered the important role local theatre can play in building community by bringing all sorts of unlikely people together. Our cast includes a construction worker, a translator, a retired teacher, an artist, a choir leader and a political scientist. How many other venues in society put all these different kinds of people in one room for two hours a night, four nights a week?
By transposing myself into another person, this experience has also been educational and developmental for me. While the play is not a particularly profound one, it has nonetheless been an enlightening experience to put myself in another, admittedly fictional, person’s shoes. I feel it has given me a new appreciation for empathy as I think about what makes my character tick.
And it is not just the cast that benefits. A visit to a professional theatre can set you back $50 a head – way beyond the means of most people, particularly in today’s economic climate. For its modest entrance fee, community theatre opens its doors to the gamut of local people.
Almost every culture, almost every sector of society holds special regard for storytellers. Local theatre gives audience members the opportunity to escape into a parallel universe for two hours. To suspend the worries and anxieties of their daily lives and immerse themselves into the sparkle and magic of the constructed world of the playwright and players.
Matthew Bolton will be playing ‘Buttram’, an English butler in a comedy murder mystery A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody by ??? at the Three Rivers Community Players Theatre in southwest Michigan this weekend and next weekend.