I’ve been a lover of the stage since I was young. When I graduated from college I was glad to see that there was a vibrant community theatre scene here in Columbia, Missouri. I think that this scene was a driving force in helping me to decide to stay in this community and not venture off to the larger cities. It is no wonder with so many opportunities for people of all ages to get involved in a production. I never realized how much hard work really goes into a show. While I did participate in shows as a kid, it was more expected, since every child has extra-curricular activities. So, what makes being involved with theatre in Columbia so great?
Melting Pot: Theatre brings together people of different ages, different demographics, different classes, different sexual orientations, and different opinions. This wasn’t always the case if you did theatre as a child. Often, you would be in shows with people your own age, or who went to your school. But theatre in Columbia brings together people from all across Mid-Missouri. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise have met. This includes those who are CEOs of a major company, to high school or college students, to those between jobs or even those well employed. I’ve met devout Christians, devout pagans, transsexuals, conservatives, and liberals. Yet all these groups that otherwise wouldn’t interact come together with a collective goal, that doesn’t involve beating another team. I think this is where Columbia is special. We can be a large enough town to attract a large diversity of people and yet still small enough that we stay in our own social groups. Participating in theatre breaks these bounds and helps create a more cohesive community.
Camaraderie: It takes a long time to get a show ready to go on stage. For example, Columbia Entertainment Company’s next production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, held auditions on April 3rd. Their final performance will be on June 26th. That’s an entire quarter of a year of the same group of people working on one production. These actors have gotten together regularly every day for the past two months from 7pm to around 10pm working on their lines and music. They then have spent their weekends since late May building a set. It has involved headaches of having to replace an actor who dropped out, to having to deal with the regular drama that goes on behind any event. In the end, they’ll have a production they’ll be proud of. But, by June 27th it will be a memory. It is no wonder that some shows, such as the Maplewood Barn’s 2008 production of Plan 9 from Outer Space, still hold reunions years after the show has wrapped.
Not Food Centered: It seems that too often if you want to hang out with a group of friends, it involves food of some sort. Being in a production is different. There are times when building a set gives a feel of an old fashioned barn raising. You’re constantly talking with your fellow actor or crew and working out different problems. In fact, when I’m in a show, I typically lose 10 pounds during the production. Now, while I would probably do better if this were an athletic event like softball, I’m just not an athlete. Plus, let’s face it, sometimes athletic events are just an excuse to go out drinking later, if not during.
It’s fun: There is nothing like coming together with people you hardly know to join forces and put together an event that will cause people to applaud. We all like attention. Being in a production gives you that attention. Even if you’re a “small part” there will be someone in the audience who is watching you.
Volunteers: I think this is a fun thing about Columbia’s community theatre scene. Everyone involved is a volunteer. They don’t have to be there. They’re not being forced to be there. They are volunteering for an effort within the arts because, frankly, they like the arts. Sure, some positions, like a show director, get a small stipend, which for the number of hours a director puts into a show is mainly covers gas money. But, for the most part, everyone is there because they want to be. They put in a lot of hours and it shows.
In the future, I plan to write more for The Como Collective. Highlighting not only the shows (make sure to catch the female version of The Odd Couple coming up at Maplewood Barn) and actors, but also some of the planning that is involved in running a community theatre. From the high cost of royalties and marketing to the process of selecting a season to dealing with the regular drama behind the scenes.