The Name of the Game
Summarized from the American Association of Community Theatre on the history of Community Theatre: aact.org
The name “Community theatre” was coined by Louise Burleigh in 1917, also known as “art theatre,” “little theatre,” “amateur theatre,” even “tributary theatre.” The European Art Theatre Movement, which is usually credited for having given impetus to the American Little Theatre Movement, had begun prior to the turn of the century with revolutionary changes in theatre technique, playwriting, and acting style. As early as 1909, Percy MacKaye wrote of the need for “civic” theatre activity, which he saw as “the conscious awakening of a people to self-government in the activities of its leisure.” (The Civic Theatre, 1912).
And in North Dakota, Alfred Arvold and Frederick Koch were working with “pioneer people” to develop scripts reflecting their life experiences (Kenneth Macgowan, Footlights Across America, 1929).
In New York City, several non-commercial groups were founded around 1915: the Provincetown Players (which nurtured Eugene O’Neill), the Washington Square Players (which evolved into the Theatre Guild), and the Neighborhood Playhouse, which is still thriving as a theatre training school today. It’s interesting to note that many of the original community or little theatres, especially those in large metropolitan areas, evolved into professional theatre groups (e.g., the Pasadena Playhouse, the Pittsburg Playhouse, and the Cleveland Playhouse).
The Evanston (Illinois) Drama League was founded in 1910. Initially their purpose was to study the drama and encourage professional theatre by organizing audiences and studying plays. When the “Road” collapsed, they developed a new purpose: to encourage theatre production in their own communities. This had a profound effect on the development of community theatre.
After World War I there was a shift of rationale for the Little Theatre movement. While many of the earlier theatre groups were dedicated to the new European “art” of theatre (producing plays by Ibsen, Maeterlinck and Lord Dunsany), and others were primarily concerned with community stories and civic pride, in 1923 Clarence deGoveia declared that the future of the Little Theatre lay in training and developing the American playwright (The Community Playhouse, 1923).
Over the next two decades, over 100 community theatres were founded. Some did indeed provide playwrights with opportunities to develop their craft. Others filled the gap left by the death of “the Road.” Founded primarily by individuals, not groups or clubs, the theatres were representative of all kinds of people, a real-cross section of each community.
In 1968 Robert Gard, Martin Balch and Pauline Temkin wrote: “Community Theatre occupies a peculiarly important position in the American theater picture. It is the largest, by far, of the theater’s numerous segments, and has the best chance of reaching the average citizen and family. In the bigger cities its clientele is the neighborhood; in smaller ones, a fair cross section of the stable, educated population; and to countless localities not served by the professional or the educational theater, it offers the only opportunity to see live drama….It engages more people in theatrical activity, albeit part-time, than all the rest of the American theatre put together, including schools and colleges.” (Theatre in America: Appraisal and Challenge, 1968
This incredible opportunity to impact our communities brings a responsibility with it. It is apparent from reading the literature that theatre professionals have been holding community theatres accountable to the ideal of theatre as an art form and not just a form of recreation and social intercourse. Gard, Balch and Temkin felt the Community Theatre Movement was adrift in 1968. Not only had most community theatres seemed to have abandoned “theatre as art,” but now they were seeming to revel in theatre as “diversion,” a social gathering place, a place to have “fun.” The authors were concerned about community theatres operating so independently and in such grand isolation from each other. They deplored the lack of a national organization, such as the Drama League had been, to guide, teach, and challenge community theatres to do their best to grow in skill and creativity.
To help get grown azz kids vision as an educational production development center dedicated to the education and promotion of good business relations between artists and enutenquers and Businesses. We created a theatre company called The Playground. The Playground allows GAK to incorporate all the aspects of our Community production including TA psychology.