The spotlights are shining bright. Unfinished wooden structures are waiting to be transformed into a well-designed stage set of a high-end hotel living room. A crew shows up after work to put in another long night’s effort into the rehearsal. Welcome to community theatre.
Despite the hard work, the Scarborough Players, a non-profit community theatre company, attracts people from a wide range of professions such as independent designers, educators, and government officials.
“Everyone you see on stage, and everyone you see backstage is a volunteer, ” said Stefan Budansew, the producer of the current production, The Innocent Eye Test.
Everyone you see on stage, and everyone you see backstage is a volunteer.
— Stefan Budansew
Heather Peterson, the stage manager and set designer for the play, said that unlike professional theatres, community theatres like the Scarborough Players are more about passion and fun.
Peterson has been involved in the Scarborough Players for about five years. She graduated from theatre school and worked in the theatre business for a short period of time. She was later forced to take a break from theatre for professional reasons. However, her passion for theatre has not been taken away by her day job as a web designer.
“About five or six years ago, I decided that life has stabilized and I can go back into [theatre] again. I didn’t want to do professional theatre anymore. I wanted to do community theatre because it is more fun,” she said.
Peterson said there are several reasons for people to become part of community theatres like the Scarborough Players.
“You get people who perhaps wanted to get into professional theatre but decided eventually that community theatre was a better fit because it was more about the love,” Peterson said. “It is all about just playing and being somebody completely different than what you normally are.”
Community theatre is also a place where people can bring in their strength and develop crucial skills though practice, Peterson said.
“We also get people who kind of fall into it by accident because they like to do stuff like painting or building or other volunteer work,” she said. “There are some people who get into it because they want to increase their confidence at work. Instead of taking speech art [courses] and toast masters, they want to do it on stage.”
Budansew said that auditions are open to everyone regardless if they have a theatre background or not.
Besides the passion and the love, Scarborough Players face many challenges as well. The most dominant of which is the lack of funds. Being a community theatre, it has to deal with a low budget.
“Right now we make enough [money] to just cover our costs,” Budansew said.
Unlike professional theatres, Scarborough Players does not have the budget for marketing and publicity, said Katherine Turner, the president of Scarborough Players.
“The need to reach new audiences is really critical. So publicity and marketing wasn’t an issue 10 years ago but it’s huge now,” Turner said. “We are all volunteers and we don’t have the budget for that [kind of marketing].”
Selling enough tickets to sustain the life of the Scarborough Players is crucial.
“We have huge expenses” Turner said. “So our ticket sales have to cover the cost of our existence.”
Finding a balance between day jobs and volunteer work at the theatre is another major challenge for the staff of the struggling Scarborough Players.
“This isn’t our job. We all have real jobs outside of this and we all have real lives outside of this,” Budansew said. “Nights [for rehearsals] can get long sometimes. And it is not just sacrificing the nights.”
The long nights at the theatre allow the performers to make significant progress.
“Everybody has a day job. Because they have day jobs, we can’t rehearse until evenings or weekends. So we do two nights a week for this show. Each for three solid hours. Sometimes another three hours on the weekend,” Peterson said.
“It is an incredible commitment of time, talent, creative energy and passion,” Turner said.
Despite the challenges, the show must go on. Scarborough Players’ current production The Innocent of Eye Test will be on stage on Mar. 8. Until then, the crew is feverishly working on the final touches.
Scarborough Players is also devoted to supporting local youth.
“Right now with the economy and the recession, we are not doing so great. But any money that we do get over and above, we give [it] back to the community. We have already helped the city of Toronto with some other youth arts programs,” Budansew said. “We also offered a scholarship to a local high school.”
People haven’t done it since high school and wanted to do it again.
— Katherine Turner
The spotlights hanging above the stage will keep on shining until late at night. Day jobs and long hours spent commuting cannot stop people from loving theatre. The crew certainly does not see the intense rehearsal as an extra burden on their shoulders. On the contrary, spending the night on the lightened stage and living in the moments of fantasy for a short period of time seems to be a perfect way to conclude their day.
“People haven’t done it since high school and wanted to do it again,” Turner said.
Scarborough Players is a sister company to The Scarborough Musical Theatre and The Scarborough Guild. The three groups originally formed a joint organization called Play House 66, which is the former name for Theatre Scarborough.
I thank Jennifer for taking the time to come out to our rehearsal and the Toronto Observer for this pre-production report on community theatre and “The Innocent Eye Test”. I have attached a link to some early production shots, and invite you and your readership to come out to see our show – running March 8th – March 24, 2012.