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Should You Start Your Own Theater Company?

One of the most frequent questions asked of us here at the Green Room is "How do I go about starting a theater company in my area?" Great question -- but to my mind, there's another question that must be answered before you should even think about the logistics of starting up a company. That question is "Should you start your own theater company?" Forthwith, our observations on the matter.

If You Build It, Will They Come?

The first thing to do is think about your reasons for wanting to start your own company. New companies that succeed do so first and foremost because they are meeting a need in their communities. For some communities, it may be that there is no local theater at all; in that case, the need for a new theater company is obvious. Or maybe there's a need for better theater -- this can happen when there are other theater companies in the area, but their level of expertise is not what it could be. Perhaps the productions are amateur, or they are unable to offer a full season schedule. Finally, maybe your local company has such high standards that parts are available only to a select few. In that case, maybe your community needs a theater troupe for Everyman, a non-exclusionary company that lets everyone who's ever dreamed of being on a stage realize that dream. This type of company has a broad, community-based view and a strong desire to teach theater arts to anyone with a desire to learn.

Cutting-Edge Theater, Egos and Other Voids

The above scenarios take into account that there is a void in the community arts scene, and that your new theater will fill that void. But are community needs all that count? How about fulfilling the needs of the actors who are fed up with the trite old chestnuts or lightweight fluff that their theaters prefer to do? What about theater as education? There's more to theater than Neil Simon and Annie -- how about the need to shake up a complacent community that needs to learn how to think?

Theater that tackles tough issues and doesn't flinch from presenting a sometimes ugly, difficult, or painful reality seems most often to be the answer for actors and others asking these questions, and it is frequently the type of show that readers who want to start a new theater company seem to prefer. It's interesting, but the majority of folks who've written us to ask about starting their own company are not doing it because there is no theater in their area; there is one, but it has problems. Most commonly, we hear that the resident theater company is:

a) run by a bunch of timid old fogies
b) interested in producing nothing but fluff
c) afraid of offending anyone
d) afraid of intellectually challenging material
e) all of the above

Rather than dismissing theaters that don't do cutting-edge works as a bunch of dim old dinosaurs, it might not hurt to ask why your local community theaters are so convinced that this type of fare won't sell. Often this assumption is based on the fact that comedies do a bang-up business, while dramas play to half-empty houses. Don't make the mistake of thinking that the local companies prefer to do fluff simply because they're afraid of doing anything else; they may have learned that they can't do cutting-edge theater and also pay their bills.

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