Are we losing the ‘community’ in our community theatres?



I can still remember the opening night of my very first show. As a 15 year old, you are a messy mix of wanting to be noticed and being horrified when you are. Oh, the ‘actoring’.

The joy was that I was surrounded by experience; people who helped me learn to perform and become brave enough to grow. The community in ‘community theatre’ was strong and, while I learned that there are good and not quite as good ways to approach a piece of theatre in the amateur world, I became aware that it was what participation in community theatre did for individuals that made it most appealing to me.

I love the ones who struggle with nerves, but do it anyway; who are brave; who step out of their comfort zones and into the cushioned and understanding arms of fellow performers in their local community theatre company.

Since I began the Idiot project, I’ve studied the challenges of many companies and developed ways to make things better for them. This has exposed me to many wonderful theatre communities who love what they do and support and respect the people who do it with them.

But there’s a disturbance in the force that is really starting to tick me off.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I am passionate about encouraging and equipping community theatre to expect more and to be extraordinary. I see this approach in so many productions, performers, producers and companies and it thrills me to pieces.

But this drive to improve should never be at the expense of people. We should always respect the time and talents offered to our companies. We should never treat our volunteers like staff, we should keep our heads out of our asses and seek to include the diverse range of people who seek to participate in the arts.

It saddens me to see some community theatre companies be overcome by what can simply be described as a sense of embarrassment about who and what they are. They’ve leapt over the line of ‘community theatre doing the very best they are capable of’ and landed right smack in the middle of ‘we’re going to be better than anyone else’ – a very, VERY different attitude.

Working to create a piece of theatre that is the very best that your team is capable of, carries a beauty and value, not measurable at any box office. This attitude empowers individuals to reach further, respect everyone’s efforts, and encourage each other to create something far bigger than themselves.

Once you enter the realm of wanting to be better than everyone else, you do so by stepping over people to get there. Theatre companies make decisions that jeopardise their future. They insist on hiring theatres that are too big and expensive for their budget, everything becomes about ticket sales, and volunteers burnout at an alarming rate.

“But we have to sell tickets,” you cry!

Then let’s step sideways for just a moment.

I have recently come across companies making major decisions for their future based on false information. They have struggled to sell tickets and interpret this as a need to go bigger, change their culture, drastically alter their show choices in a way that does not reflect what their audience wants and build shows that force them to price themselves out of the community theatre market. These changes in and of themselves are not bad. It’s the reasons these decisions are being made that is challenging.

The statement, ‘we can’t sell tickets’ is false. It can be complex, but when it comes to community theatres run by volunteers without marketing skills, it’s false, and here’s why.

You are not marketing your shows! You think you are because you post a few things on social media, maybe spend money on print ads in your local newspaper and badger the cast to sell more tickets but, from experience, I can almost guarantee that YOU ARE NOT MARKETING AND THAT FEW PEOPLE KNOW THAT YOUR SHOW/COMPANY EXISTS.

The mistake people make is thinking that the world is no bigger than their own – “I think this way therefore everyone else does. I know the show is on, I’ve posted on facebook so everyone else knows what I know.”


Marketing 101 – Do not market to yourself! And, I’m sorry, but that is exactly what you are doing. Please, please, for the love of all the gaff tape you have used in your career, stop making decisions based on these assumptions.

Improve your marketing first. You haven’t even scratched the surface of ticket sales yet, I guarantee it. It doesn’t matter what the show is. I’ve sold thousands of seats to Gilbert and Sullivan, Rogers and Hammerstein through to contemporary theatre simply with good, basic and inexpensive marketing techniques. Learn the basics, do the basics consistently. Everything else is a bonus but not necessarily sustainable.

DISCLAIMER: I still can’t sell crap! End of conversation.

Stepping back to what’s really important!

Our theatre communities are all different and extremely valuable, making up a smorgasbord of creativity that provides training and companionship, a place for our creativity to thrive and even explore the potential of making it a profession. Size does NOT matter. Bigger is not better. It’s simply different. Whether your season is a series of plays, musicals or cabaret, or whether you perform in a 90 seat hall or a 500 seat theatre, know that you are family to thousands of creatives who need to feel accepted, challenged and seen.

I do not want to be part of a local theatre community that is embarrassed about their amateur status, who feel the need to be better than everyone else or want to be considered ‘professional’, and fail to cultivate a culture of belonging, joy and humility.

I want to be part of something great, but that greatness comes from all of us working together to do our best, not from a company driving their cast and volunteers to be a product, simply for the purpose of selling tickets and satisfying individual egos.

Actors and creatives who have worked with me could tell you that I love the people I work with, I will challenge them and expect them to challenge themselves, I will protect them and I will fight for their joy in what they are doing, but I will never waste their time telling them what they want to hear, only what I believe will make them better – for their sakes.

I love you, community theatre. You are joy, family and passion.

Don’t forget who you are and what you are worth.

It’s everything.



How your integrity influences your theatre life.

Integrity and An Idiot On Stage

What does integrity look like to you? Is it even a thing anymore, and how does it play out in our world of community theatre?

On the surface, integrity can mean simply being a person of your word but, move deeper and it can influence how you treat people and allow others to be treated.

Let’s take a quick survey, and be brutally honest with yourself. No one is watching, so tell me which one of these statements applies to your current way of thinking –

  1. Integrity is like breathing to me. It says who I am and what I believe in.
  2. Integrity is something I put on when I need it. I wear it like the jumper Grandma gave me for Christmas last year – it’s itchy and uncomfortable but I have to put it on when she’s watching.
  3. Integrity – “Can you put it in a sentence?”

Here’s what I think. Integrity is that part of you that says –

  • Even though I’m tired, I will turn up to rehearsal, because my absence inconveniences those working on the stage with me.
  • I would love to accept that role but I have already committed to another show, and to pull out now would make things very difficult for that production.
  • I will learn my stuff and turn up to rehearsal prepared because that shows my respect for the team and our show.
  • I have to accept a work roster so I will let the stage manager/director know immediately so that they have the opportunity to reorganise the rehearsal.

Do you see the common theme of all these? They’re about other people and our respect for them. Our attitude/actions say, ‘I respect you and I am self aware enough to know how my actions may affect you.’

In a world that tells us that we must look out for ourselves, we often interpret this as at the expense of other people. In life and definitely in the theatre, this attitude will always come back to bite you on the behind.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you are developing a reputation, in real life and online. What do you want that reputation to say about you?

SIDE NOTE: For those of you wanting to build a career in the arts, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your online life won’t come into play. It’s your voice to the world. What is that voice saying about your integrity?

So, how does integrity play out in casting?

Let’s say I’m choosing between two equally talented performers. Both of them have a reputation that precedes them.

#One is very professional in her approach. Always turns up to rehearsals prepared, is a great team player and is fully committed to the show.

#Two has an ego the size of the state of Queensland, half arses rehearsals because she “needs an audience to really bring it”, and is a complete pain to work with.

Who do you think I’m going to cast? For me personally, I would go so far as to say that I would rather take a performer who will require a little more work on my part, than try and incorporate a diva into my team.

Integrity doesn’t mean you’re perfect. It says you are working to be better and that you take responsibility when you stuff up. And in life, we all stuff up.

Integrity is something you will take a lifetime to develop. It requires us to be life long learners and seekers of the truth about ourselves.

Seek out integrity, feed it, enjoy it. The world needs more of it.

Cheers, Sher.

sher-profile-image-2016The Idiot’s purpose is to encourage and equip community theatre to expect more and be extraodinary.

Learn more at Follow the Idiot on facebook @anidiotonstage and instagram @anidiotonstage.

Don’t Stew the Fish.

Don't Stew the Fish

How do you deal with difficult people in the theatre? You know the ones; always rude or short tempered, who seem to have no concept or care about their impact on those around them. If you’re anything like me, your first reaction is to smack ’em round the head with a wet fish. Of course, your second reaction should be to fry the fish and move on but you don’t. You stew the fish instead, having the conversation you wish you’d had, over and over in your mind. Snappy smack downs that make you look like a hero but totally destroy the dignity of the offender. Yep, that feels good for about a minute and then you remember it’s all in your head and nothing has changed. You still have to turn up to your next rehearsal and live in the real world, only now it’s worse because all you’ve ‘rehearsed’ is your verbal destruction of the other person.

Good grief, I hate passive aggressive behaviour. I hate it because I’ve done it and when I’ve allowed myself to do it, I feel like a 14 year old girl; no control and no brains (sorry 14 year old girl). I’ve realised that this approach to life is a complete waste of my mental energy. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out but I want to share 4 lessons I’ve learned the hard way.

If you want to get on with those you work with in community theatre you have to accept these 4 truths – 

  1. Not everyone is going to like you.
  2. You can’t take offence at things that don’t matter.
  3. Respect for others is required to live with 1 and 2.
  4. You’re a grown up.

Not everyone is going to like you. When I started the Idiot project I was determined to be myself. That meant owning what I said, telling it like I saw it and loving the people I write for – the people of community theatres. I know I can be strong but that’s who I am and I speak what I believe. The reason I do this is because I am so passionate about encouraging community theatre to be more. I love everything about what we all do and I am determined to make an impact while I am on this planet.

That said, I’m human and if I let my guard down, I can creep into people pleasing mode. Ironically, the blog posts that have the most impact are the ones where I am true to myself, strong and not aiming to please but rather to equip.

You’re gong to have to accept that you’re not everyone’s cup of tea – and that’s ok.

Be truthful and honest with yourself otherwise you’ll miss many great years, too busy being a version of yourself that you were not meant to be. Be brave and own it. The world needs the real you and you deserve to spend your life as a real human. It can be tough to realise that not everyone you meet will like you but if you want a full life, you’re gong to have to accept that you’re not everyone’s cup of tea – and that’s ok.

Can we please stop behaving like 14 year olds when someone steps out of line and offends us. You know what I mean – someone makes an off hand remark that is insensitive and instead of maturely challenging them on it, we clam up and behave like a school child in the principal’s office.

How about we try being grown-ups and set some boundaries for ourselves. The truth is we can allow people to speak to us that way. If they are insensitive and rude, that’s on them. But if we allow them to continue to be insensitve and rude, that’s on us. By the way, stand up for those who are fragile and unable to set boundaries. “Use the force for good, Luke”.

Be a grown-up and quietly tell them that you don’t allow people to speak to you that way and that they need to find another way to communicate with you – you have that right. 99.9% of the time, they will be shocked, mortified or at least embarrassed.

The trick is respect. As difficult as it is, you have to swallow that tirade you’d like to unleash. Be unemotional, speak quietly and respectfully. You may not end up friends, and that’s ok. Your objective is to set up boundaries of communication that allow you both to work together.

Here’s a secret: you don’t have to love everyone you work with but you do have to treat them respectfully. Theatre people get way too emotional far too quickly. Keep your heads, people.

A note to those of you who speak from a heart of contempt for others or are just insensitive, arrogant and rude – get your head out of your arse and learn that you are not the centre of the universe. Respect those around you as people with lives outside the theatre, with difficulties and struggles, and open your eyes to the potential in every person. If you truly don’t like what you’re doing, get out and find where you’re really meant to be. If you are accidentally insensitive or so stressed that your words are a reaction to your life, own it and apologise.

Finally, a word to leaders/directors – company culture comes from the top down. The group reflects the leadership. Make sure you’re reflecting the right stuff.

More red wine.


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