Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

03 June 2011

The Amateur

I am spending some time working on an essay about amateur theatre. It's taking me longer than I want it to, and this is partly because I am finding it difficult to write the essay without spending some time (indeed, rather a large amount of time) justifying the fact that I am writing about amateur theatre at all. I mean, who writes an essay about community theatre? Community-based theatre, sure, but community theatre? So, the following justification is what I have come up with...

Theatre performed by amateurs, often referred to as community theatre, is largely ignored in scholarship on theatre and performance and for reasons that, perhaps, make quite a bit of sense. Critical discourse about specific cultural products and artistic endeavors legitimates those products, bestowing on them a certain amount of respect concomitant with the academic gaze. If scholars are reticent about creating a critical discourse about amateur theatrics, then, they have many reasons for such reticence. Amateur theatrical productions of plays often happen many years after their world premières, and speaking about original productions makes much more sense than speaking about those productions’ delayed reflections. Amateur productions are also frequently performed by amateur actors with limited training; they tend to be done on small budgets, in small spaces, and for relatively small audiences. It is easy, then, to view community theatre as committed to reproductions of vastly more important original productions and as smaller in every way when compared to those originals.

If, however, theatrical productions are never the same twice because of the specific medium of live performance, and if each production of a play or other performance text re-inscribes that text through repetition, then the widespread critical silence around amateur theatrics ignores the flexible capabilities that theatre studies possesses to examine cultural events as they are repeated in society. Revivals and other repeat performances – including those produced by amateur theatre practitioners – re-inscribe and re-articulate cultural norms and hierarchies in addition to rehearsing and repeating challenges to those norms and hierarchies. Amateur theatrics are, in fact, an integral component of the dissemination and transmission of the knowledges, political strategies, and formal innovations that professional theatre practitioners wish to introduce into the cultural lexicon.

Maybe. I sent this to my friend Ayana and she was into it. What do you think?
...and I also have to figure out where something like this goes in an essay. Sigh.