Once a year the President delivers a “State of the Union” address to give an overview of how things are going in the U.S. (I know, it’s a gross oversimplification - bear with me here). Governors do the same for their state, so I figured, what the heck - we should have one for the “State of Community Theatre.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk anyone else into writing it, so you’re stuck with my opinion here - without the usual flowery speechifying (if that’s a word). I hope you’ll feel free to make your own observations through the comments below, gentle reader.
So, how is community theatre doing in our area? The short answer is: quite well - though there’s always room for improvement. Every major city in our area has some kind of community theatre group staging shows, and Huntington, Charleston and Ashland have more than one group operating in each town.
And the shows they’re offering are (mostly) a good mix of programs, including classic shows, big musicals, small shows, original productions and entertaining showcases for local performers.
There are occasional lulls between shows (like right now), but most months out of the year you can choose from several different performances - in fact, we almost have too much of a good thing, because often more than one show will run on the same weekend. And that problem isn’t going away soon - we’ll see more of it this fall.
The talent level in our shows is really impressive, from the experienced local stage veterans to new faces in town and the young performers, some of whom have virtually grown up on the community theatre stage.
It’s also great to see area high schools putting on shows. Some have long traditions of doing shows, while others have more recently revived their programs - but they’re doing excellent work, and you can see some terrific shows at schools like Paul Blazer, Huntington High, Capital, Ironton, Portsmouth and Cabell Midland (just to name a few).
National touring shows are more common, too, thanks to organizations like the Marshall Artists Series and the excellent facilities available at the Keith Albee, the Paramount and the Clay Center.
But there is room for improvement. It would be nice to see a local group tackling more modern, edgy work. Most local groups only stage family-friendly fare, and that’s good - but it would be nice to see more variety, too.
I’d like to see more theatre groups (though others might say we already have too many). There are lots of stages available in our area, and months when there’s no show to see - new groups could fill in those gaps and, as they say in baseball, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
One of the big problems facing local groups is the ever-rising cost of putting on shows. Renting a hall, paying for the rights to shows, building sets, renting (or making) costumes - it can quickly add up to a lot of money, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get a big enough crowd to recoup your expenses. And because there are so many good shows out there every year, it’s more of a challenge to bring in an audience big enough to support the shows.
I’ve preached it before, but it’s worth repeating - another failing for most groups is advertising. It’s vital to market your show and get the word out. If the audience doesn’t know you’re staging a show, they definitely won’t show up and buy a ticket. Advertising can be expensive, but there are creative solutions.
So in closing, to our theatre groups, I say, “Keep up the good work!” To theatergoers, I say, “Support your community theatre groups - they need your help!” And to those who aren’t theatergoers, I say, “How can you not attend local performances? There’s a lot of amazing talent in our area - you’re missing some outstanding shows!”
That's enough for now from me - I’ll close with the words of the immortal Red Skelton
- good night, and may God bless!