Community Theatre as a generic term and concept
The term is a broad one, used in a variety of senses in varuious countries, but basically it refers to performances made by, with, and for a particular community. The projects and products tend to be driven by socio-political and educational imperatives, stressing the need to involve and address performers and audiences alienated by, or disenfranchised from, the conventional amateur and commercial theatre. The emphasis is often on devised or improvised work, deriving from, based on and addressing the problems, needs and issues that pertain in that particular community.
The concept emerged as an integral part of the radical theatre movements in the 1960s, when theatre was a state of upheaval internationally and seeking political relevance. In this sense perhaps quite closely allied to the larger movement which gave rise to such concepts as Theatre for Development, Popular Theatre, People's Theatre and even Applied Theatre.
However, the concept is clearly to be distinguished from conventional amateur theatre, even though participants could include ordinary citizens, as well as the involvement of Amateur, Semi- Professional or Professional playwrights, performers, directors and so on as facilitators.
Community Theatre in South Africa
Community theatre became a widely used term in South Africa in the period 1980-2010, but one which has never been satisfactorily defined (see Community Theatre above).
In South Africa the term is used in a range of meaning stretching from something approximating the older concept of Amateur Theatre (i.e. local theatre lovers who do plays for a hobby) to socio-politically committed organisations (often NGOs) intent on involving and conscientizing the particular community in social and political change. This range exists not only in the vocabulary of the critics and scholars, but in that of the practitioners themselves.
Under the new legislation and practices following on the 1996 White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage, the latter definition of a community theatre as one which has an educational and social obligations within particular communities (and thus has access to earmarked funding for these purposes), has gained credence and is argued strongly by a number of practitioners and critics. (Cf Loren Kruger, 1999). However, much of the argument seems to be negative, divisive and oppositional, tending to define it by attacking the shortcomings of amateur, professional, art, serious, and other forms of theatre, rather than indicating in what way community theatre is a distinctive form in itself (if there is indeed a single defineable entity one might designate "community theatre").
Given the shape of the theatrical system from the 1990s onward, with its base in non-conventional venues, eclectic performance forms and festival circuit, such nitpicking appears a little gratuitous, and for the general public the distinctions are far less clear and make little difference to what they go to see and support.
Nevertheless, a * EXPAND
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