Twerpshire Hathaway


I love me some community theatre. I’ve been acting in it, and loving it, for seven years this July. Sometimes it’s (amazingly, movingly) great, and sometimes it’s (agonizingly, painfully) terrible.

But so are kids and that doesn’t stop people from having ’em.

From time to time I run into folks who aren’t as fond of community theatre as I am. Folks who aren’t as fond of it, and who like to share that lack of fondness verbally. Dissing the interests of others is, I mean– that’s kind of weird, right?

Sometimes these- and other- people ask me why I do community theatre instead of “real theatre,” as they so charmingly put it. And they don’t know it, but more often than not this question makes me want to shake them by the face.

See, it’s kind of like this:

An image you may find amusing if you like your numbers aggravating.

Let’s say you’re somebody who digs numbers. You dig numbers, so you go to college and major in Seven or Avogadro or Counting or something. You graduate, maybe even with a 4.0. (See? I know some numbers too.) Then you go out and apply for a job at companies that like people who like numbers- insurance companies, accounting firms, grocery stores (cash registers, duh)- and then you sit back and wait for the interview requests to start pouring in.

In the meantime, people you know- well meaning idiots who love you- say things like:

“Berkshire Hathaway employees make tons of money using numbers. You should go work there.”

Oh? I should, huh? Okay, well I’ll do that then. Throw on the ol’ Willy Fioravanti, walk in through the front door, and sit down at the first desk that strikes my fancy.

Ah, but you know it doesn’t really work that way. You don’t work places that are great simply because they’re great and you want to work there.

So you snap back to reality. You snap back to the interview calls tying up your phone. Except that they’re not tying up your phone. The real calls are few and far between, and often non-existent from the Big Guys. Maybe it’s because you’re good at pi but bad at 11. Maybe it’s because your plus signs lack professional polish. Or maybe it’s because they’re just not looking for someone right now who does what you do.

So you gratefully accept the position at Mom and Pop’s Bean Counters, even after a friend (read: “friend”) let’s fly some doozie like:

“Mom and Pop’s Bean Counters? I hear they’ll take anybody. You should at least be working at Aunt and Uncle’s Legume Talliers. Their receptionist’s phone has way more buttons.”

Numbers made relatable.
© We Sign

But you don’t let it get to you because you’ve met Mom and Pop. You’ve interviewed with them over burgers on the grill. They are awesome and chill and professional and dependable and the commute is practically walkable.

So you don your Kohl’s shirt-and-tie-combo-pack, head on in to work, and enjoy the fact that the day ends at 5 pm no matter what, that you are awesome at using numbers in order, and that Pop brings the basset hound in on Fridays.

It’s not that you no longer want the Berkshire Hathaway paycheck or prestige. It’s just that those things don’t appear to be in the cards for you, no matter how many times you apply.

But!- and here’s the important part: You can still be a totally rockin’ counter of things someplace else.

Aw yeah. Look at you all countin’ up in there. Right on, right on.

So, back to theatre where those kinds of assumptions and statements are just as absurd as they are in the “working” world. Back to:

“The Rep is a great theatre. You should act there.”

(Responses to which are almost always followed by “It can’t be that hard to get in,” and “You must not be trying hard enough,” all, incidentally, based on the totally erroneous premises that 1) this is the only theatre in town where one could possibly want to act, and 2) once again all you need to get into a place is the desire to get into it.)

And back to:

“XYZ Community Theatre? I hear they’ll take anybody. You should at least be acting at ABC Community Theatre. Their ushers have nicer name tags.”

But you don’t let it get to you, because screw them anyway. You’re fine. It’s fine. It’s all fine. And a lot of fun. And the source of some of your greatest memories and friendships and experiences. And you make people laugh there. And you make them cry. And you get to play parts you’d never be considered for at places that offer direct deposit. And you get recognized at places like the Vitamin Shoppe and it weirds you out. And you get reviewed in the paper and that weirds you out too.

And even though it doesn’t pay, and even though the hours are long, and even though you still get asked condescending questions in an unintentionally insulting fashion– you still love it. You wonder why you feel like you’re always being asked to justify your participation in it, but that’s fine too because by now you’ve gotten pretty good at that. You’re still fine. It’s all still fine.

And then?

And then you blow a community theatre audition.

That.

And then you fear that friends who don’t respect community theatre will make some well-intentioned but totally humiliating comment about the situation and mid-blush you’ll have to come up with some kind of response because they’re your friend after all and you can’t just ignore them even though it’s so awkward blowing it for something they look down on, while not really being totally awkward because you were there and you know the other auditioners were solid, and yeah you mind that you weren’t cast but you also kind of don’t because sometimes that’s just how it goes so it’s fine and all but still upsetting and at least now your weekends will be free, though really that just gives you more time to worry that you’re getting too fat for the parts you want to play which doesn’t really matter too much yet because at least you’re still in your 20s even if only for a few more months but even that is all good because “30 is the new 20” and you love how that sounds because… it’s got numbers in it and… you know I always… wanted to pretend… I was a mathematician…

I forgot where I was going with this.

In conclusion: If you’re going to ask a question, try not to be an jerk about it because you never know how many run-on-sentences you’re up against.

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23 comments

  1. I love you.

    And you didn’t blow that audition.
    You’re too good at counting for that.

    …It’s just this one, friend of my heart.
    You’re going to be all right,
    and I love (love!) that you love (love!) community theatre.

    More people should–
    maybe then it wouldn’t be the ill-treated red-headed stepchild of the acting world.

  2. You’re a really good essayist. Why aren’t you writing for XYZ Online Magazine? I hear they pay really well, and it can’t be THAT hard to get published.

  3. Something else I’ve found about acting is that you’re expected to want any job you can get, whether it be selling cars, acting in terrible local films, wearing a giant furry animal costume while kids pull on the tail, etc. At least community theater gives you some discretion about how you use your talent. Sorry you didn’t get cast this time around; rejection sucks, no matter what the context (speaking as someone who was rejected for a student film).

    1. As far as being expected to want any job you can get- that part has always been so weird to me. I know some great actors do brilliant work for years on stage then get their biggest accolades for the car sales commercial, the furry animal costume commercial… it makes me want to pull my hair out sometimes! I know these people can do- and have done- such amazing stuff, only to have others consider something wacky (which, admittedly, may’ve been quite funny and good) to be the epitome of their careers thus far. I want to scream “But you have to see what else they’ve done!!”

  4. You are an extremely talented actress. The local community theatres are lucky to have you on their stages. It makes selling tickets a whole lot easier (Oh… by the way, a community theatre is just as much a quality business as a professional theatre… let just don’t pay their actors).

    … and if it makes you happy, who cares what other people think.

    Speaking from experience, being a numbers guy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

  5. I always tell people that I love theatre too much to make it my livelihood. There are lots of people out there who are as talented and passionate as yourself. Rejection is high, sustainable sustenance is low. You find yourself gratefully accepting things like the aforementioned mascot gig just to be able to drive thru Micky D’s (been there). That’s why they call it a job. Community is SO underestimated. You can pick and chose (to a point). I only audition for groups with quality reps. This way I get to do what I love and meet amazingly talented actors like Ruth! (excellent piece, BTW. You write good!)

    1. I’m right there with you about only auditioning for groups with reputations for quality. If I’m already devoting countless hours of my time and gallons of gas to a project for no financial compensation, I at least want to know I’ll be treated professionally, everyone attached to the project will show up when they’re supposed to, and the set won’t be left unfinished due to in-fighting. :S

  6. The hard part for me is when I run into acquaintances, or seldom seen friends, and in an attempt to make pleasant conversation, they ask” so what are you acting in now”? How many times must I say, “Nothing.”, while my mind goes back to that last painful audition? The problem is that all they really remember about me is that I have acted, which is not all I am, but all that is unique as far as they are concerned. Not a complaint but just an observation.

    1. I HATE THAT. I’ve started replying with “Well I just closed such-and-such…” but I always feel like a hack once more than a few months have passed since such-and-such actually closed. :S

      As to everything else you said: Agree, agree, agree.

  7. Oh Ruth.

    This give me a warm fuzzy, and you made me laugh out loud. I want you to write a book about community theater, and I will read it and give it to all of my friends at Berkshire Hathaway.

    And, for the record, the phones here have TOO many buttons, and sometimes the big bucks aren’t as big as you think, and you’d rather be working for Mom and Pop anyway.

  8. So, a very dear friend from the theatre world recommended that I read the writings of another very dear friend from the theatre world: yours and you. I’m glad I did! I often preach and proclaim that quality theatre isn’t determined by the budget (including pay to the actors!) or the facilities, but by the people creating the event. Your article inspired me to modify that philosophy to: “Quality theatre isn’t a place; it’s an experience.” Thank you for making that experience possible!

    As an analogous story, I used to wonder as a “yout’” why some seemingly well-connected, highly-talented and historically-experienced theatre actors/directors/teachers were working in Wisconsin rather than in the Big Cities on either coast. Now I more often think: “Thank the Theatrical Gods those folk happened to be around to help impart some of their knowledge and wisdom and help influence impassioned little folk like me.”

    1. I’ve been wondering that same thing since my first community theatre experience seven years ago. I just hope the fellow that brought me into the fold knows how thankful I am that he was there to impart his knowledge and wisdom to influence impassioned little folk like me. ;)

  9. Ruth, I think you are awesomely talented and I was so proud to share the stage with you in Twelfth Night and I hope we have many more opportunities to act together again! You rock! See you Sunday!

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