Producing Community Theatre in Urban Areas

*This is a companion piece to the original article focused on rural theatre in California community theatre.

California is a large state, with both urban and rural areas. For this article, we asked community theatres throughout the State about the effects of the differences in population and resources of these geographies. We also take a look at the National perspective, with responses from theatres throughout the United States. Learn about the differences and similarities, and find solutions to common concerns about producing theatres in rural areas of California.

*For the purposes of this article, we will consider urban to mean a population of greater than 50,000 people.

Responses from California Community Theatres

For theatres located in an urban area as described above, what is your community's population?

The majority of participants in this survey were from rural areas. We are grateful for the participation of the California Community Member who identified as located in an urban area. Community theatres through the U.S. also provided information for this article, so there is a nationwide perspective.

While not exempt from the challenges of producing theatre in general, the benefit to doing so in a denser area is obvious: a greater pool of both talent and patrons to attract. Larger cities, or those identified as urban, often have what could be identified easily as an arts ‘scene,’ so there is often inherent interest and support from residents and visitors. In other words, there is energy and a community in line with the activities a community theatre presents. And while existing alongside other forms of culture within a community (symphony, local museums, art galleries were specifically cited examples), it's TV, movie, sports, and technology that seem to be a bigger competition for community theatres in urban areas. And it might be surprising to learn that even theatres located in areas denser with population can still struggle with audience willingness to see new, unfamiliar, or riskier work. In other words, a larger city does not necessarily mean more open-mindedness.

"People who attend one 'cultural event' are often much more inspired to attend other events."

Choices to see theatre are as vast as the choices to participate in theatre. While talent or volunteers may seem opulant in a larger population, there are also more opportunities to pull these folks involved in several directions - making competition for participation as well as patronage. Adjusting volunteer programming or expectations for those auditioning/designing can be key to managing this challenge. One theatre mentioned encouragement of participants (both on and off stage) to be as involved as they like, and encourage volunteers to introduce their family and friends to get involved, too.

"I see visibility and relevance as different ideas but for visibility, we constantly support other non-profits by donating tickets to their fundraisers, we advertise on radio and print and we use a lot of social media. We try to create relevance by picking shows that patrons can relate to, or that provide a family outing, or address issues that may be prevalent in our viewers lives."

Responses from National Community Theatres

"We are trying to develop a recognized brand with the introduction of a new logo and website."

Some examples of arts programs or culture in an urban community include:

  • Professional children's theatre, no professional adult theatre; concert hall, arena; a presenting theatre; symphony; opera; museums

  • In the same city, museums, art galleries, concert venue, ballet companies, symphony. With 30 minutes or less, MANY of the above plus professional theatres. NYC on hour away.

  • In the immediate community there is a major focus on sports rather than fine arts. However, in the greater metropolitan area, there is an abundance of Chicago institutions.

  • Several dance companies, the City does an occasional play and offers a venue for the arts, a strings orchestra, a performing choral group, and Yuma Community Theater.

  • Pensacola Opera, Ballet Pensacola, Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, Pensacola Children's Chorus, active theatre depts at University of West Florida, Pensacola State College, Panhandle Community Theatre, Pensacola Museum of Art, T.T. Wentworth Historical Museum, Historic Village, US Naval Aviation Museum, monthly Gallery Nights, Gulf Coast Arts Festival, Belmont-Devilliars Fine Arts

  • Symphony, museums, touring houses, numerous community theatres

"Our greatest local competition is not another cultural institution, but overwhelming interest in sports teams.

Some examples of how national community theatres create visibility in their area with other cultural and artistic options:

  • Our brand is strong and we have been here for over 100 years

  • I'm a social media and publicity maniac.

  • We advertise in their programs!

  • We strive to advertise where we can get the most visibility for the money. We also try to offer a theater experience to all those that are interested. That includes patrons, actors, and production.

  • Partnerships with relevant organizations/businesses to connect back to the community. i.e. partnered with Humane Society for a cat (and dog) adoption event in association with CATS.

  • Attempt to find the slot we hold, and try to reach our main target audience, while providing a variety of other offerings to remain relevant to the whole community

"Right now our biggest "problem" is our growing downtown area. We have no dedicated parking (we are in an historic building in the historic district), and our patrons are losing their "regular" places to park to growth and re-development. 20 years ago there was plenty of room, but our patrons are resisting learning to walk to us."

Is geography/traffic an issue in attendance or participation in your community theatre?

"We have pros in all the other arts, but no professional theatre at this time. With our size community, attempts at paying actors would make ticket prices untenable. Active community volunteers bond together across county lines and school zones to create the unity that makes our city greater."

Generally, how far do the majority of your patrons travel to see or participate in your theatre?

"The challenge is not the urban-ness but getting their attention in the face of other things to do."

We are grateful for the participation and responses given at the National level for this article.

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