What is community theatre?

Community theatre is the prevalent type of theatre in the United States.

Even though there are community theatres and community orchestras, there is no formal definition of a “community” arts group. In the past, the term connoted organizations in which the artists are not paid, but today the term embraces a wide range of theatres, from groups in which no one is paid to multi-million dollar organizations.

These groups may perform musical revues…dramas of the Hmong culture…Shakespeare…new works. Overall, community theatre is made up of actors, designers, directors, stage managers, backstage and crew people who create theatre for its own sake.

Founded in 1952, TRP is the oldest community theatre in the Twin Cities. It is the fourth-oldest in the state, after Duluth (1914), Fargo-Moorhead (1946), and Rochester Civic (1951).

In the 1960’s and ‘70s, as part of its community outreach programs, TRP toured one-acts and cuttings of shows that demonstrated various illnesses (e.g., The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds for alcoholism) to medical students at local universities and hospitals.

Every two years, a Festival is held by the American Association of Community Theatre to select the best community theatre in the country. Entrants advance through three levels:

  • At the state level, TRP was named first-place seven times;
  • At the regional level, TRP was named twice as the top theatre in seven states;
  • At the national level, TRP was named to first-place in the United States in 1973, and represented our country at an international theatre festival in Monaco.

TRP has a paid staff of 5 full-time (equivalent) positions and its artistic directors receive an honorarium. No other positions are paid.

People who contribute time and talent include:

  • theatre professionals — who are paid for their work elsewhere but volunteer to work on a certain show, for a certain director, or for the experience and exposure;
  • experienced non-professionals — people who have worked in theatre, often with degrees in theatre, but do not make a living in theatre. They choose involvement based on the role, the director, and their schedules;
  • aspiring professionals — including those who have recently graduated and want to build their resume or who have recently moved to the Cities;
  • and those with no experience in theatre crafts. They come from all backgrounds with a desire to learn new skills or apply their skills to the arts.

In a typical year, more than 250 people volunteer more than 35,000 hours. These hours (which don’t include the artistic directors or paid staff) came from actors, stage managers, designers, and others who created nine mainstage productions…box office, house managers, and other support staff…people volunteering professional services, such as bookkeeping, graphics, legal work, services for patrons with disabilities…hours in workdays, in meetings…and more.

Community theatre is typically self-supporting, with 70-90% of operating budgets from “earned income” (which is income from ticket sales and season tickets, as opposed to “unearned income”, such as grants and donations).

TRP has a policy of open auditions. In 2018-19, 391 people auditioned for shows at the theatre; 34% of them (134) were new to the theatre.

The theatre offers training and experience in stage lighting, sound, costuming, set design, stage management, and other technical areas. Virtually every production has first-timers backstage.

TRP is one of the founders of the Minnesota Association of Community Theatre and a charter member of the American Association of Community Theatre, where TRP people have regularly served on its Board. The annual award of the state association, given to recognize outstanding contributions to theatre, is named in honor of Richard and Kay Fliehr, who were instrumental in developing TRP, the state association and the national association.