Theatre director Anne Bogart writes in her blog post “Community”, “The subject of the theater is not only the fictional community within a given play but also the actual communities that come together within the time set aside for performance: the actors, the audience and those behind the scenes of any production. The subject of a classic play is the history of audiences and creators who have encountered and interpreted the play in the past. The subject of the theater is always, in part, the act of being a community.”
The community that develops each evening at Actors’ Theatre’s performances in Schiller Park is particularly clear to me as I speak with audience members every Thursday through Sunday night while administering audience surveys. ATC’s audiences come from all over Columbus, the suburbs, as well as points around Ohio to sit in the grass and watch live, outdoor theater. And, especially when the grass is packed with blankets and lawn chairs, the energy in the air is electric; the alchemy of eager audience members and focused performers creates a thrilling, palpable static that crackles and sparks when a show begins.
Off-stage, outside of the rehearsal and performance process, Actors’ Theatre takes a unique measure to foster community among the cast, crew, staff and board. Every Sunday night after the show during ATC’s season from May-September, Interim Artistic Director Philip J. Hickman and his wife, Mikelle, host anyone involved with any of ATC’s four summer productions for dinner at their home in German Village. It’s a chance for everyone to come together in a relaxed atmosphere, organized around something other than rehearsal, a board meeting, a production meeting, etc. It allows cast members from different shows to spend time together, and creates a space for building relationships, something that enhances the long hours many of these people spend together in the process of doing a play.
It’s easy to think that this time outside of the rehearsal process or the daily work of running a theatre company is superfluous, a nice touch but not necessary. I’d argue that measures of this kind–the ones that build relationships within an organization–are actually vital to building strong relationships between an organization and their community. Especially in an arts non-profit (where burnout is a serious concern for staff, and artists are often working multiple jobs) unstructured, social time around a meal allows for communal celebration and rejuvenation, helping everyone do their best work when they walk back into the office or out on stage.