“Will you zip me up?”
I swung my camera to the side and helped the actor into her costume. She rushed off back toward the stage. I was only there to take pictures of the show, but as anyone who has ever been involved in community theater knows, if you have hands, they’ll put them to use.
I joined the cast of Stepping Out, a comedy centered around a tap class, roughly two weeks before opening night, camera in tow. I had acted with this particular group before, and seen one of my closest friends take their small stage countless times, but through the viewfinder was a different perspective to a familiar experience.
Taking pictures made me more aware of the work that goes into these shows–the long days, the longer nights. These actors are not getting paid. They get nothing from it other than the joy it brings them to be under the lights. In spite of exhaustion, tired voices, and sore feet, acting is fun for them.The rush they get is from more than just the abundant amounts of tea they are drinking. Even as I stood there with my camera, almost too tired to click the shutter, they were still changing into and out of costumes, dancing, and giving every ounce of themselves up onstage.
More importantly than the effort these shows require, it made me more aware of the intricate community within these groups. Everybody is everything, and they draw on all their resources. Actors help with tech, directors put on makeup. The same actors onstage in this show will be working backstage the next. Everyone relies on each other because they know they are reliable.
Community theater is more than just a community coming together to create a show. It also creates its own community. The months of rehearsals, the close quarters of the church they use as a theater, the dinners after shows. All these throw people together in a way not quite found anywhere else.
As a result, the family that come out of these shows is one-of-a-kind. It is a loud family, a dramatic family, an exhausting family, but it is also a resourceful family, a welcoming family, and a loving family. Community theater actors do more than act together. They vent to each other, make faces from backstage at each other. During the show, they walk together, work together, and laugh together. I stepped into this world again only briefly, but peeking behind the curtain let me see the family in the wings.