Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner

Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner
Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains

Monday, June 8, 2015

Lessons Learned at a Community Theatre

Moon Over Buffalo 2015  Brevard Little Theatre
When I moved to the mountains I never dreamed I would fulfill a life-long wish of learning how to paint. And more than that, to paint sets for a theatre.  With that opportunity, there came more opportunities, to design a set, construct it, paint it, literally make the props from scratch, and deconstruct the set.  The people were nice to begin the process when they meet you, but like most organizations, the group of theatre people, has its secrets, modus operandi, and spitefulness due to their individual insecurities.  A group of people that come together, whether volunteer or through profit, create a "group think" as I learned as a Communication Major over thirty years ago.  Today they say it's an organizational culture as it has a hierarchy with a semi-quasi structure aka pecking order.  And it all starts at the head, the Board of Directors create this culture and are responsible for it.

Best Christmas Pageant Ever 2014  BLT

What I surprisingly learned about the people in the local theatre was disappointing as really there is no "profit"  to being spiteful and full of pride.  The actors form relationships with people who make decisions regarding the plays that are done and the directors that choose the actors.  They vie for positions and like a women's roller derby don't care who they roll over to get the role they want.  The Directors vie for their plays to be produced and put on so they can have their status of directing.  In some cases last year, the directors actually yelled at the cast during rehearsals! Hey Director....these are volunteers, they do this for "fun" not to be treated like this!

And as hard as it is to get volunteers, it appears it is harder to keep them. The volunteers are mostly retired, so they  have the passion and the time, but people are just not that friendly to the newcomers.  They have asked them, "What are YOU doing here?"  to imply their discontent with the new "outsider". This is surely not a good way to keep good volunteers.

For me personally, it is the unfair lack of processes that drives me nuts!  For example, there is a process that is done for recognizing volunteers that they feel have "status" however, people who work just as hard, don't have the same recognition.  Its all about, if I do for you, what can you do for me?

Don't Dress For Dinner  2014  Brevard Little Theatre (Set Design Stephen Marsh)
I've had a recent producer and wardrobe manager walk right by me without even saying hello only to exclaim, "We are missing this mustache!" as she held up the package of the missing item and continue, "This was a $24 mustache!"  To which I replied, "There were three mustaches in this production, do you know which one was missing?"   "No"  the exchange continued, "Well if you determine which of the three different mustaches are missing you can ask the actor that wore it!"  All the while thinking, REALLY? You couldn't just say good morning first?  Then this same person I asked who was going to design the set for her next production that was to be produced after the deconstruction of the set I was currently working  on.  She replied, "We always do our own." I asked is it going to be Mark Henry, to which she replied, No.  Then the next week Mark Henry posts on his Facebook so eloquently, "The next set is designed by ME!"  So again I say, why the need to lie, why the need to be evasive, why the need to withhold information, what profit does this bring to you?  Or is it out of the need to have some control over knowing the information and not sharing it?

I don't get it.  To date this theatre has two websites.  A dot com website which is from the 80's and a dot net website, which I was asked to create and maintain.  It is easy to navigate and better looking from a branding purpose.  Anyone with marketing/branding experience knows this is an organizational no-no.  But in the paper they consistently list the dot com website, and for sustainability purposes, this will not keep the  young people, or shall I say draw the young people. The average age of the board members, audience, and cast is70ish! What a selfish group to not want to encourage, pass on to, and recruit younger members.  The theatre provides many youth with opportunities not only to pass the time but to perhaps find their home, their calling and their own passion. But this local theatre is missing that opportunity.

Moon Over Buffalo set with 5 doors and handmade ottoman

I've heard consistently in response to new ideas, well THAT hasn't worked before constantly for excuses for new marketing ideas, and trying to gain sponsors.  The bottom line is the theatre needs to be able to survive.  Without youth, money, and a growing audience, it will not be able to sustain itself.  Seniors who have the time but not willing to change the processes to keep new volunteers and grow their audience, particularly the younger crowd, will die.  It doesn't matter if you have been around for 80 years if you don't survive for the 81st season.

I have enjoyed the painting and meeting a few new people who have been scared away by the old matriarchs and patriarchs but for me, I'll finish my last commitment of designing the children's play for the Land of Narnia in the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, and wait for the older people to move on, as it won't be long, and either the new generation will revive the local theatre, or possibly create a newer one that is more alive and open to new fresh ideas and people!

When I began this endeavor I consulted a former Board Member who told me, it has always come down to the question....Is the community theatre for the community .....or the actors.  In this town, it's clearly for the actors...what a pity, as the community deserves better.

Southern Hospitality 2014 Brevard Little Theatre