As an aspiring performer there is a steady stream of advice coming your way and sometimes you can hear completely conflicting comments coming from different people. Often you can discern what you follow and what you don’t but what happens when the decision isn’t so easy?  I have recently been investigating amateur theater and its place in a performers’ life.
As an almost professional performer, does one do amateur theater or hold out for the professional world to come knocking?  I have asked a few trusted mentors and teachers their opinion and they have agreed to let me share them with you.
Now, before I start I want to clear up something.  In no way am I saying that amateur theatre is a bad thing or without purpose, I think it is a fantastic training tool and amazing for people who love to do shows as a hobby.  I am mostly addressing performers who are moving into the world of the professional and looking to take that next step.
I asked Neil Gooding if he thought aspiring performers should participate in Musical Theater, his answer follows:
It would be almost impossible to find any professional musical theater practitioner (whether they be performers, directors, producers or designers) who did not participate in either school musicals or amateur theatrical productions long before they ever started getting paid to be a part of the industry.  In fact, I believe that a lot of people would actually never discover their love for the performing arts without participating in school, or being able to watch amateur and local productions (particularly outside of the capital cities where access to professional musical theater productions is extremely limited without traveling). Community theater provides a great breeding ground for performers – it is the place where young performers can discover their love of performing, learn their craft by watching more experienced performers and directors, as well as discovering their strengths and weaknesses that can then be developed by professional tuition etc.
I am not quite sure why there is sometimes such a big cringe towards community theater.  It would be the equivalent of a person deciding that they wanted to play football for the Socceroos, but then also stating that they will never play a game of football until they are in the national team.  Of course, it doesn’t happen that way.  All footballers grow up developing their skills in junior teams before moving on to bigger arenas and better coaches. To me, that is the vital role of community theater and school productions for all aspiring theater people.
At some point, there may come a time when any person aiming for a professional career has     to decide whether or not they should still be performing in community productions as they get older. However, it is hard to define exactly when that is – and it is not meant to be derogatory in any way. For many people that are quite happy being lawyers, nurses, teachers etc, community theater provides one of the most rewarding social hobbies that I believe exists.  It contributes to personal confidence, social interaction and of course is one of the best ways to meet new people and form lifelong friendships.  And on top of all of that – it entertains a huge number of audience members every year!
If you are someone who is looking to get into some of the bigger productions – and soon – I have some advice from Queenie van de Zandt:  The best things for a performer of professional standard would be to try and find some work in co-op, pro-am or independent theater companies.  The reason for this is that amateur theater has a different culture all together; some of the companies or productions named earlier would be more likely to provide a professional atmosphere and be able to give you the experience and work ethic that a professional production demands.  Also, these types of productions can help you to take the next step in advancing your career towards the more professional gigs.
Again, none of this is trying to decrease or dilute the value or foundation that amateur theater provides; it is merely a push to help you get that next step further.  Stay tuned next month for an interview with Jay James Moody about his company Squabbalogic.

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