As someone who has reviewed a plethora of musical theatre performances from professional casts in massive venues to local amateur dramatics that are performed in hyperlocal churches, halls etc. It is important for me to constantly consider the company that is staging the production and have actually received feedback on my reviews commenting that I should be more lenient as they are “just a local theatre company” but as a reviewer, you are critiquing the show you are seeing and therefore have to comment on the use of props, quality of performance and staging used as it would be unfair to tar professional and amateur productions with the same brush as such. This has sparked an eternal debate within myself as to whether or not theatre critiques should review community theatre productions.
Fundamentally, community theatre is about getting a group of people involved in a project and encouraging them to have fun/enjoy the process. What it’s not about is creating perfect west-end worthy performances every single night as that’s what the professionals are for. Amateur dramatics is produced and created by members of the public which the audience will relate to. Creating a fun and enjoyable actors for the community is the key aspect of such productions and so a reviewer starting a show wasn’t as good as the same show performed by a professional company is missing the most important part of the process. Don’t get me wrong putting on a good show is important, but everyone involved having a good time while doing so is the purpose of such projects. Surely if the cast has developed new skills and are having fun who are critiques to state it is not a good show or not. Generally speaking, community theatre for adults is performed by people who passionate about theatre but are not perusing a career in the field but still want to be a part of something. This means cast members oftentimes have other commitments such as jobs, families and other prior commitments that stop the show from becoming there number one priority. This means on average, community theatre production have less rehearsal time. Additionally, these companies have a more restricted budget meaning the standard of creative workers is limited which on top of less rehearsal time can result in a show that is of ‘lower standard.’ It is unfair for reviewers to state that the dancer or singing was not as good as it could be as the performers have to balance all their other commitments. Similarly to the first point, community theatre is created by members of the community for members of the community. If as production brings in an audience that has an enjoyable evening watching friends and family members in a show (who are also enjoying what they are doing) then it is unfair to say a show is not good. The idea of community is the central idea for these companies and if it is creating/developing this then it is wrong to suggest the show was unsuccessful etc.
Despite all this, it is clearly a positive review can benefit a local theatre company. Money and funding is very important for shows but it’s not the be-all and end-all of everything. I have seen many productions who have cleverly and creatively used their budget to produce very incredible productions by using the skills or cast/crew members or people they know. A company can still be creative without generous funding with regards to staging and props etc. I have in fact seen many productions that have been better than their professional counterparts due to their clever use of creativity and innovation. From a reviewers perspective theatre is theatre and theatre requires reviewers. A critic’s purpose is to share their thought and opinions on shows with the hope of inspiring potential readers to go and see the show they are reviewing. This is a way of marketing the show and potentially bringing in more of an audience which can only benefit the shows. The size of a production’s audience is super important for both professional and community theatre which is only benefitting by the positive reviews they have received. For those community theatre performers who want to peruse a career in the performing arts, they will have to become accustomed to reviewers. In the future, there will be critics who will try to slate performances and unfortunately, this is super common nowadays. This does not give permission for reviewers to rip into performers but it does mean that actors should be prepared for this in the future and there is no better way to experience this than in community production.
Overall, reviewers should be aware of how the show they are watching is meant to have an amateur feel as it is simply that amateur production. However, it is important for community productions to be reviewed as it could influence the crowd that gathers to see it. This balancing act is very difficult and takes a very talented reviewer to maintain this equilibrium! I personally think that Critics should review community theatre productions but it takes a special kind of reviewer to see both perspectives of the show!