Why it’s tougher for women in community theatre.
There’s a joke in community theatre that men only have to be breathing to get into a cast. Now, this isn’t entirely true but if you have ever been on the production side of casting a show, you understand where the joke comes from. There will dozens of women auditioning for one role but only a few contenders for a male lead.
Women have too much competition and men don’t have enough.
Women make up a very high percentage of the amateur theatre community, increasing competition for any female role. This competition isn’t bad – it challenges us to improve our skills and keeps us humble. But it can be demoralising for someone who studies her skills and never seems to get a break.
If you’re a woman in this situation and desperately trying to get that break, consider these things:
Are your skills up to it? Sometimes we suffer from “legend in my own mirror” syndrome where we have a completely unrealistic view of our skills. This usually comes from isolation. You’ve only worked with one company and only have an awareness of about thirty other performers. I think we can all experience this at different times in our career but getting real about our talent isn’t about putting ourselves down. It’s about an honesty that empowers us to grow and improve, keeping us humble enough that we don’t become a pain in the proverbial butt.
Is your world big enough? If you’ve only worked with one company, get out there and spread yourself around. Learn from everyone, the good and the bad, and don’t be “too good” for anyone. Small organisations are full of people who work hard, haven’t forgotten how to enjoy theatre and don’t treat their volunteers like staff.
Are you working to improve your skills? If you want musical theatre roles, get singing lessons and look for adult beginners dance classes. If you want to work in plays, learn more about acting. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a theatre acting course. The internet is full of information, for example you could watch the series, Inside the Actor’s Studio, learning from professional actors. Read Uta Hagen’s books and watch her work.
Uta is my favourite acting teacher because she is practical. I struggle with the arty farty types but Uta cuts through all that and gives me techniques I have used over and over as an actor and director. Although she’s no longer alive, her techniques and teaching continue to inspire some of the worlds greatest actors.
Finally, improve your self talk. As women, we are tremendously hard on ourselves – ridiculously so, and it never helps. All this skill improvement is lifelong and takes time. Give yourself that time and enjoy the process. You are not in community theatre to earn a living; you got into it to enjoy yourself. Remember that and keep a check on how you speak to yourself. If you start the negative “I can’t do this” conversation with yourself, STOP IT and speak strength and encouragement. The quality of your self talk has a very real impact on your singing, character development and the ability to work with everyone around you.
Men experience competition in community theatre but nowhere near to the same extent. They don’t have to fight so hard to get into a cast, especially musical theatre. So are they ever challenged to improve their skills? Is it really important? I can almost hear the words of some of the men I’ve enjoyed sharing the stage with recently as they tease me in their beautiful good natured way – “Who cares?!”