Back in 1999 my daughter auditioned for mad Theatre’s first production.

She was auditioning for ‘Pippin’.  Thankfully, Erin was cast as a dancer, ensemble member for this premiere production for mad.  While I was happy that she was cast I was leery of her being involved with ‘theater folk’.

Being suspicious and unfamiliar with theater practices, I insisted on accompanying her to the first rehearsal.  I was hooked.  I accepted the role of Stage Manager and that’s how this all began.

Being involved with community theater for over 20 years, I have seen a lot of stuff.  There is a reason for the happy/sad faces that typically represent theater.  Not just the tragedies and comedies performed, but for the personal highs and lows that accompany this passionate pursuit.The highs are fairly obvious; sold out performances, standing ovations, solid box office, the joy of watching audiences completely engaged in a show.  Some highs are not so obvious.  Some of our actors have achieved very successful acting careers, paying jobs that support them well.  We have seen engagements on and off stage that have led to long lasting, happy marriages.  Through theater we have seen some independent businesses begin and thrive.  But, most importantly, we have made truly wonderful long lasting friendships with hundreds if not thousands of people who love theater.

The lows, unless you’re directly involved, are pretty much hidden to the community at large.

The lows are devastating and discouraging.  As volunteers, we put our heart and soul into each production.  And when a production is marginally attended we start to doubt ourselves and our choices.  When a patron brings a child to a clearly ‘R’ rated show and then insists on a refund, it’s confusing.  When the venue creates impossible requirements, it’s expensive.  When an actor quits mid-show, it’s discouraging and confusing.  When staff (paid or unpaid) fails to complete their assignment or does unsatisfactory work, it’s frustrating.

Because of all the potential lows in theater, support is absolutely critical to the success of local, volunteer theater.  Getting sponsors, donations and press is vital to success.  Moral support is great, but financial support is what will keep local theaters afloat.  I can assure you, because all of us are volunteers, donations will be applied to only productions, not pockets.  Plus, there are perks for donating – depending on the organization it can range from free tickets, elite parking, gifts and recognition.

Even in the best of times community theater is challenging.  It’s a challenge to find talented volunteers to organize the company and execute entertaining productions.  It’s a challenge to find high energy, talented, free talent.  It’s a challenge to keep your financial integrity when shows do not meet budget.  It’s a challenge to find venues that aren’t too expensive and are available.  So, it’s a challenge.

But, during a pandemic, damn near impossible.  It’s hard to stay enthusiastic and energized when you cannot do what you love for months or even years.

This is precisely why I am so proud to be part of mad Theatre of Tampa.  Our board is committed to our future.  We continue to meet monthly, checking in on each other, sharing news and talking shop.  I love these people and the joy it brings to zoom with them on a regular basis.  We at mad Theatre have been through challenging times before – we are no stranger to difficult situations.  We have weathered these times and will weather this one too.  While it is heartbreaking; missing our friends, the laughter, the art, we will be back when it’s safe for everyone.
In the meantime, stay safe, hug your loved ones, donate to a local arts organization and keep your chin up, this will ultimately end and we will all be stronger.

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