Information on the various types of Theatre
by Peggy Burgi
Reprinted with permission from the California HomeSchooler, the bimonthly publication of the HomeSchool Association of California (HSC).
If you have always wanted to be a stage mother or father, there are ways to get your kids involved with theater: Children’s Theater, and Community Theater are two.
Some Children’s Theaters (if not all) cast anyone and everyone who auditions, so there are no crushed egos. They have many opportunities for younger kids, and are obviously kid-friendly and hopefully safe environments. The down side is that you have to pay to have your kid in a show, and you provide the costume(s,) either sewing them yourself, or paying someone else to do it. They also rely heavily on parents helping during the show and rehearsals. I was recently enlightened about another aspect of these kinds of theaters: when you audition, you are guaranteed a part, but by auditioning, you agree to pay and take any part they give you. If you turn down a part after it is offered to you, you are black-balled from ever performing with them. I understand that this is so that people are not refusing roles they don’t like, or feeling that they shouldn’t have to pay as much as someone who got a better role. Eventually they’d only be able to get money out of people for the “good” roles, and that would sound like “buying” a part.
The other option, and one I’m more familiar with, is Community Theater. If your kids (or you!) want to have a more hands-on theater experience, this is for you.
Theaters vary in level of accessibility, but calling around, or attending the ones in your area, will give you an idea of how friendly and open they are. (Be sure to read the program-there will often be volunteer opportunities listed in it.) You can start getting involved right away by being an usher. Most theaters, if not all, rely on volunteers for that duty, and are very grateful for punctual, responsible people for the job. You get in free, and you might be able to take a tour of the backstage area afterward, or glean information about the group from the House Manager.
If you have (or are) an aspiring actor, look in the paper for audition notices, or call the theater. They frequently have web sites, also. If you attend a show, sign-up for the mailing list, and note that you are interested in receiving audition notices. In the Bay Area, we are lucky to have “Callboard,” a monthly magazine for actors, which lists all the auditions in the area.
If you are willing to start at the bottom and work your way up, there are lots of opportunities for kids, teens and grown-ups to be involved with theater. There are load-in days that require lots of grunt work getting the set pieces into the theater and set up. There are marquis signs to be painted, mailings to go out, Opening Night Galas to be organized and staffed, tickets to be taken, subscriptions to be sold, props to be made, lights to be hung, sets to be painted, costumes to be sewn or repaired. For each show, there are stage manager(s,) lighting operators, sound operators, prop runners, dressers, and of course actors. For small theater companies, a great start is as an assistant director. The job is really just glorified go-fering, but it is a great opportunity so see how everything all fits together. Perhaps you could volunteer to be an assistant-assistant director for your first time, to see how it’s done.
The down side to all this is that since it is a theater basically for grown-ups, you need to be aware of the dangers: falling sets, nails and screws on the floor, the steep drop-off the stage into the orchestra pit. Therefore it is not appropriate for kids who need a lot of supervision. There are frequently a lot of late nights, although that’s less of a problem for homeschoolers!
My local community theater is Menlo Players Guild, in Menlo Park (Bay Area). Our mission states that we strive to be a teaching theater; that anyone who has the desire to get involved, can, without prior training or experience. We try to do at least one “family” show a year, which frequently uses kids in smaller parts. We will be doing “A Christmas Carol” this Fall, and last year we did “The Tempest” with several kids as “sprites”- they were mostly kids of the actors, getting a chance to hang out with mom or dad doing what they do.
Community theater is a great way to get involved, it is hard work, and very fulfilling. I recommend it!
Peggy Burgi has acted, built and run props, helped build sets, painted marquis signs, run lights and sound, stage managed, ushered, run the box office, and been Treasurer and Secretary on the Board of Directors of Menlo Players Guild. She married Dean, who has done all of that and more, and whom she met while in her first play at Menlo Players Guild, fourteen years ago. To contact the author of this article, email Peggy Burgi at [email protected].