The Online Journal for Center Stage Playhouse
When Center Stage Playhouse changed its name, it raised some eyebrows. Neil Schleifer shares his thoughts on the ever-present value of “community” in theater, even if the idea of “community theater” might be out of vogue or carry unintentional negative connotations in certain circles. Let the discussion begin…
by Neil Schleifer…
What does Center Stage Playhouse mean to me? First and foremost, it meant to me community — a community of relative-locals from the surrounding area uniting to bring in relative -locals to experience the joy and catharsis of theater. That’s why it kind of broke my heart when the Board of Center Stage decided to drop the word “Community” from the name. That made a statement — in my opinion, the wrong statement.
The Playhouse seemed to be bringing more and more people into the productions with seemingly no interest in fostering community; rather those people had an agenda — to build a resume. My experience in “Center Stage Community Playhouse” involved cultivating a list of friends that grew over the years, faces and presences with a vested interest in creating a community that served a community. I would see many of the same faces and welcomed more as I took turns acting in productions (Compleat Works of Shakespeare), directing productions (Working), or costuming productions (The Elephant Man, Hay Fever, Urinetown), and always, ALWAYS attending productions.
I wondered, as shows consisted almost entirely of “ringers” from NYC, how many of them ever came back to do backstage work, work concessions, or even just attend another production? Maybe if they felt like part of a community, they would. But Center Stage was no longer a community, was it? We’ve said it publicly, by removing it from the name.
I wish it were a community again.
(Editor’s Note: We hear you, Neil, and the others who have expressed similar thoughts to yours. While the choice to change the name was a hard decision, it was motivated by a desire to counter some of the negative perceptions and stereotypes that have gravitated to the term. It was not an attempt to abandon the principles on which Center Stage was founded, the principles that continue to drive our mission. We hope to convince you, other veterans, and brand new audiences, that we are still committed to community, while continuing to deliver the same high standards that people have come to expect throughout Center Stage’s rich history. It’s a legacy that we want to carry forward into the future, a fresh start without the baggage of negative perceptions, but still clinging to the many undeniable positives that we all remember from along the way. This is definitely a discussion worth having, and we hope you and others join us, not only in the constructive debate, but in the hands-on effort to carry the torch to those who love theater and those who might be experiencing it for the first time.)