Center Stage SPOTLIGHT

The Online Journal for Center Stage Playhouse

Community

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.)

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7 comments on “Community

  1. George Domenick
    September 5, 2012

    I couldn’t agree with Neil more stongly.

    I hope the “future” committe at Center Stage is able to re-create a community of theater people again and learn from past mistakes. Remember it is by learning all aspects of the live theatrical experience that we become more understanding of each others roles and more knowledgeable about what it takes to create.

  2. centerstageplayhouse
    September 5, 2012

    Like any family, Center Stage has had its skirmishes and rough patches, especially over 40+ years, but the good times outweigh the bad. The current group who are volunteering their time to bring Center Stage “back from the brink” have their hearts in the right place. Thanks for your honesty. We won’t let you down.

  3. Lucille P. Loiselle
    September 5, 2012

    Didn’t like the choice to drop “community” when it happened.. don’t like it now and totally agree with Neil .

  4. Lee
    September 7, 2012

    I agree. Completely.

  5. Lee
    September 7, 2012

    “Waiting for Guffman” is to blame, the negativity associated with community theater I mean

  6. Uncle Hank
    September 11, 2012

    With all due respect, (Don’t you hate when someone starts that way….) Hey I wish the community would have shown up the last 5 years but that’s not what happened. You put out a call for a show that calls for a cast of 8 and only 10 people show up and 5 of them are for the one female lead what else are your options? As far as “ringers” where were all those Bronx folks ?I know my eyes are getting bad did I miss them ? And where were the audiences community ? Sadly “Exonerated” was one of the best show CSP ever did and we never filled the house. The reality is most of our “community” who work on shows existed in Westchester, Connecticut, Brooklyn and elsewhere. Yeah even the dreaded NYC which the Bronx is part of I might add…. Howard, Ida, Jill and Lucille were the only ones even barely close by. And how many times can one go to the well to ask those members to “do lights one more time” when no one else would? The way I see it is there were a lot of personality conflicts. X didn’t like Y. B didn’t get complimented enough. And nobody sang Kumbaya anymore.Past mistakes. Hey perhaps we should have, But the one thing Center Stage never compromised on was the quality of the show. The show came first. You want everyone happy go throw a party. You want real theater work through all the the problems. On a brighter note I wish the future committee all the best. You have a clean slate.
    Show us that community then when you do put it back in your name.

  7. centerstageplayhouse
    September 11, 2012

    Good points, Uncle Hank. I think there was never any doubt about the quality of the productions that Center Stage mounted over the years. And the previous Board certainly gave their fair share of blood, sweat, and tears to the cause. Audience development has been a major issue for many local theater companies, and there are many, many reasons for the dwindling attendance. It’s something we need to keep exploring. The name “Center Stage Playhouse” is much more marketable, but we hopefully will let you all know that we have not abandoned the spirit of “community,” while maintaining the high standards everyone has come to expect. We are firm believers that there is an audience for live theater out there. We might keep making mistakes, but hopefully we will do our best…together.

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