Art is far reaching (quite literally), and embodies all of the human spirit. Theatre can encompass many art forms, like puppetry, acrobatics, dance, music, fashion and more. There are so many types of theatre that we tend to gloss over the two biggest kinds: Professional, and community. Although they both include all the same shows (and then some original works, of course), and can gain a lot of government funding, there are a ton of distinctions between the two. In this article, we will be going over them together.
The first difference is the aspect of community. Can’t say community theatre without it! While professional casts must certainly have much in common with each other, it cannot compare to sharing a physical geographical hometown. In a local theatre production, you may have grown up with those in your cast, they’re your neighbours and schoolmates, while in professional casts, they are your coworkers. In professional circles, a performer may travel miles upon miles for a job- bringing them to a new place, with new opportunities- but leaving them lonely and isolated from those around them. This lack of a common background leads to much of a different experience for those in the cast looking to connect with others, as opposed to those who are already in a community.
Job Vs Passion Project
for yourself; you now have a larger obligation to your cast mates, other staff and audience to devote yourself to your role. There’s people counting on you, so you better do your best. You can’t let them down, right? This newfound pressure can make the very same thing that melted your worry lines before into your newest nightmare.
Community theatre actors are also balancing a career and social life outside of the theatre- leading to less energy and time to devote to the passion. This leads to a lower skill level when compared to professional shows. However, this also means that the actors in a community production are more versatile than those who act for a career. Skills they learn in community theatre may transfer into their jobs(confidence, physical abilities, etc)
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hen working for a theatre company, it is a good idea to be a part of a union. Unions help workers advocate for themselves when they may be at odds with their employer. Unions use the collective bargaining power of the employees to negotiate for things like better pay, better benefits, better conditions or to pressure them to uphold workplace related laws. Local theatre companies do not employ their actors, therefore they have no reason or obligation to join a union. If concerns similar to those typically addressed by a union were to arise in a community setting, they would have to be handled by the cast’s discretion.
Canada’s theatre union is the Canadian Actor’s Equity Association (CEAE), which represents actors, dancers, opera singers, directors, choreographers, fight directors and stage managers. Stage managers are typically union representatives for their respective shows (a non-professional production obviously need not have their stage manager undergo such a task). A quote from their website reads as follows:
“In recognition that the arts are vital to life and that artists make an invaluable contribution to our society, Equity supports the creative efforts of its members by seeking to improve their working conditions and work opportunities. We strive for fairness, integrity, collectivity and compassion in all our endeavours.”Canadian Actor’s Equity Association’s website
When entering a professional show, it is expected that everyone has had extensive training and experience in acting (and other fields, depending on the show), either in a school or job experience. Community theatre, however, can have more varying skill levels. Some may have been participating in community theatre for years, and some may be new to the hobby. Some may have discovered musical theatre recently after years of being in a dance troupe, or they finally worked up the courage to audition, inspired by the shows they enjoy.
Although acting lessons can definitely help you get in a show, it is not always necessary for community shows. Being skilled is a bonus, obviously, but when most don’t have the time or resources for lessons, paying a lot for such training can be excessive. Though of course- it’s always fun to improve on your passions!
Actors in community theatre may also be the ones working on things like costumes, props and set pieces. As was discussed in the previous Job Vs. Passion Project section, this means the skill set of someone in community theatre is often more diverse than those in professional fields. The trade off in this is, obviously, that the professionals are able to hone their craft, while community actors have to undergo a variety of tasks.
Production Value and Lack of Budget
Production value refers to the overall budget for a given performance. Professional theatres often have a larger audience and private investors that help them cover the costs of orchestras, expensive lighting and sound systems. Smaller not-for-profit companies simply cannot compete with this level of quality, as they simply cannot get enough funding. Therefore, in smaller community shows, orchestras (and digitized versions of instruments that are so advanced that they’re hard to differentiate from the real thing) are often replaced by CD recordings; this is also why you will have to pay fees to join your local community theatre company.
They also often lack the funding for new props and set pieces, so many may be reused from previous shows with no more retouching than a fresh coat of paint.
Gaining an Audience
Because it is such a small audience, there is not usually any acclaim to an actor who works exclusively in community theatre. However, once a performer hits it big and lands a supporting, or even lead role, they may begin to receive a bit of attention from critics and theatre fans alike. This can translate into praise and success, an opportunity those in community theatre will not be able to have. Many celebrity theatre actors will have their lives changed, for better and for worse, by fame. Interviews, Instagram followings, having gossip pieces on them, much is different for those on Broadway.
Most people who watch a community show are other members of the community, who already know the actors. While the audience still supports community actors, the relationship is different. Close friends and family members of the cast will make up much of the audience. Many aren’t theatre fans, but regular people going to support their loved ones. This difference in demographic leads people who would have never thought to visit the theatre to the very people who put on shows out of passion alone. I, for one, think that’s beautiful.
If the two theatre types have anything in common, it’s having members of the audience waiting to meet the cast by the stage door.
Legal Differences (Not-For-Profit Vs For-Profit)
Most local theatre companies will designate themselves as not-for-profit corporations. A not-for-profit is a company that is run for any purpose other than profit- usually a hobby/social club- where those in charge do not gain any monetary benefit from the company; unlike a for-profit company or business. Either can choose to incorporate, meaning the company legally becomes its own entity, retaining its own assets, taxes, donations, etc, separate from the finances of those running it. Incorporated not-for-profits can also apply for government aid. Not-for-profits can also be tax-exempt. A not-for-profit that is not taxed on their income may still be taxed on other assets like land. They may also be exempt from paying GST/HST.
Professional theatre companies are for-profit institutions, and can also be incorporated. For profit corporations can become public and sell stocks. Professional theatre corporations will also be taxed on all capital, including income and assets. Because of all these things, professional theatre companies also have obligations to their shareholders and otherwise investors.
Making the Transition
You may very well be reading this article because you’re looking into professional theatre as, well, a profession. Community theatre is a great way to get experience before applying to professional theatre companies, but, if you’d want to have any luck, you would have to be trained. You can do this at an art school which will give you a more adequate, informative and expansive background in acting (and other art forms, if you so choose) than simply taking acting lessons.
You may also want to get an agent, to help you to receive opportunities only given to those “in the know”.
It’s very easy to feel discouraged early on in your professional career, as you’ll face a lot of rejection in the beginning. That’s okay, because the reality is, with enough dedication, and a little bit of luck, anyone can become an artist
The one thing you will learn is that you’re simply not what everyone is looking for. And that’s okay. It’d be boring if all the leading roles fit the same description, or tell the same kinds of stories anyways. Don’t let that stop you. Keep honing your craft and, before you know it, you’ll be casted!
There are a ton of differences between community and professional theatre. Community theatre is a great stepping stone to a career, or a fun experience that will help mould you into a more diverse person. We’ve gone over differences in cast relationships, jobs and passion, fame, production value, taxation, and even on having unions. If you know now the difference, do you think you have what it takes to dip your toes into professional theatre? Who knows, you might even be the next Marty award winner. What’s that? You don’t know about Mississauga’s arts awards? Read about them here!