This week, a festival to honor the best in U.S. community theater

Michelle Freed,, 6/11/13

More than 600 community theater participants from throughout the United States, as well those serving in the armed forces abroad, will gather for AACTFest 2013 June 17-23 at the Carmel Performing Arts Center. AACT, the American Association of Community Theatre, will feature 12 of the top national stage productions hand-picked from a rigorous two-year cycle of state and regional theater festival competitions. The event also will include a technical theater conference, theater educational workshops and top theater vendors. "It will be nonstop action, culminating in an awards banquet and ceremony honoring the best of the best in community theater," said June McCarty Clair, AACTFest 2013 chair. The Elkhart Civic Theatre of Bristol will be the only Indiana troupe competing this year, [performing] a new twist on the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This is the Elkhart group's second national festival appearance, having placed third in 2003 with its production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. "We consider it an honor to represent not only Indiana, but the entire region this year," said John Shoup, the group's artistic/technical director. "We are humbled to make it this far, as the community theaters in Indiana are crazy talented...There must be something artsy in the water!" Local troupes can have positive effects on a community's bottom line. "We purchase from and offer services to our local business community, and we positively impact local restaurants and tourist locations," Shoup said. "Arts are the heart of the community."


Commentary: Community theater should be celebrated in the UK, not derided

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian [UK], 6/17/13

Amateur or voluntary arts are massive in the UK. Most people taking part in choirs, amateur dramatic societies, orchestras and visual arts groups don't think of themselves as artists; they are simply doing something they really enjoy. But that's not to say skill levels aren't high. It has become clear during the RSC's ongoing Open Stages project that professionals can learn as much from amateurs as the other way round. "Just because you are paid to do something, it doesn't necessarily mean you are good at it," says Robin Simpson of Voluntary Arts. Maybe it would be good to lose some of the snobbishness that often still surrounds amateur theatre activity. Yes, some of it remains hidebound and cliquey. Equally, though, there's much that is diverse, inclusive, progressive and risk-taking, particularly in youth groups. Fortunately, times are changing. At a conference last year, Helen Marriage of arts producer Artichoke recalled how, 31 years ago, she put a proposal to the Arts Council for a participatory project involving 450 local people. The agency responded: "There is no room for amateurs in Arts Council funded work." Now, of course, "participatory" is a buzzword for the Arts Council. We will increasingly see professional and amateurs working side by side. The boundaries will become more blurred as the boundaries between artist and audience become more blurred. Closer ties can be helpful for all. Those who stage theatre within their own local groups are also likely to be regular playgoers who support their local theatre; [they] could be the subsidised sector's most passionate advocates, and that's more likely to happen if links are stronger.


Commentary: What if you think of your arts org as a community platform?

Sarah Lutman, ArtsJournal blog "Speaker", 6/12/13

Steve Dietz casually [said] to me one day: "Build platforms not organizations."  It stuck and I've been thinking about it ever since. Dietz is the director of Northern Spark, a once-a-year, all night festival that [this month] drew 20,000 people to St. Paul's arty Lowertown neighborhood to participate in dozens of performances, installations, and participatory experiences (sing, dance, act). "Organization as platform" is a radical lens: re-imagine your organization's purpose as creating capabilities for the like-minded to kindle their shared enthusiasm for your mission. What if you think of your organization as a community capacity rather than a production house, a presenter, an exhibition space? Forward-thinking organizations already are embracing this mental frame; they're building organizations whose purpose is to foster and facilitate, not dictate. In fact this frame is emerging everywhere, once you look. But few organizations have taken it as far as they could. And "traditional" arts organizations will need to re-frame much more quickly in order to keep up. Here are some places to look.

1 - Buildings. How could people use your space during its many "dark" or under-utilized times of day, week, and year? Why not turn your building into a co-working space or an arts-infused teen hang-out? Can its exterior surface be a projection surface?

2 - Functional expertise. How can you share your expertise in fundraising, accounting, human resources?

3 - Artists. How could your organization help more artists connect and find new platforms and new resources for their work?

4 - Audiences. Most cultural organizations know a lot about how to convene audiences, and excel at doing so for their own programs. For what other mission-related purposes could people be convened? How could you help people connect with each other?

5 - Mission. There are multiple organizations with identical purposes. How can [they] multiply rather than divide resources? The audiences are often shared.  How can we work together to make our work shared - to see it as creating community capability?

Platforms are open structures designed for participation and utilization. When you think like a platform, your organization automatically opens up to new possibilities.


Commentary: In Hawaii, nearly all theater is community theater

John Wat,, 6/13/13

Hawaii is not a big state, about 1.4 million people. So, we're bigger than San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle -- a good-sized, cosmopolitan American city. What is the theater scene like? We are certainly not like any other state. Except for Honolulu Theatre for Youth (HTY) there is no resident professional theater in Hawaii. Harry Wong, artistic director of Kumu, tells the story of when he was a fellow at Arena Stage in Washington DC. They were having a discussion about the purpose of theater. What Harry said surprised them. The purpose of the theater, he said, is community service. How does this manifest in Hawaii? The great majority of work done here is by community theaters and most have a particular focus: musical theater...African American plays for, by, and about the people of Hawaii... Shakespeare. There is strong work done by high schools as well. The public schools have four theater-based "learning centers" on Oahu. At Mid-Pacific Institute School of the Arts, where I teach, we train actors for community or professional work or further study at college conservatories. Sometimes, the breadth and quality of this creative work is appreciated by substantial audiences. Sometimes audiences are limited to a theater-going elite. Sometimes the work of theaters is invisible to parts of our community. Sometimes our work goes across the the Edinburgh International the Festival of Pacific Arts in China. The last thing I will mention about our work is that actors move freely between organizations based on their interest in the work. There is an amazing community of talent in this town and like our community, in which everyone is related, we are all really connected.

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