|Your correspondent, center, directing a rehearsal of AGAMEMNON in Las Cruces, NM.|
In my frequent crossovers between professional and amateur theatre, when I hear disparaging talk about the latter, it has been hard for me to remain in the room.
Professional theatre buys a luxurious amount of time. You can pay people for a full-time commitment. You can accomplish a lot when people are available for eight-hour rehearsal days and don't need to work other jobs. Money can't buy happiness, but it can buy rehearsal time. In that sense, professional theatre has privileges the amateur theatre does not.
In non-paying theatre, the actors are squeezing the same preparation into what leisure time they have around jobs, school, families, and so on.
In professional theatre, you may also benefit from actors who have more training and experience, but I've worked with some highly trained and experienced people in non-paying theatre, and of course salaries and Equity contracts don't guarantee quality work.
I love working in professional theatre. I like being paid to do this work, and I like the assurances of a professional environment: hours of rehearsal time, a knowledgeable crew, actors who are expected to be prepared and focused. This summer, I directed a show under an Equity agreement in Albuquerque and it was a delight.
In non-paying theatre, we can keep ticket prices low enough that most people can afford to see our shows. This only works because there are people willing to work hard for little or no compensation. They trust the theatre not to exploit them for profit. They donate their time and creative labor to a cause and, I would hope, because they enjoy themselves while doing it.
My expectations in a non-paying environment are not "lower," but there are different constraints and pressures. I can't work with Equity actors but I frequently work with experienced and well-prepared non-Equity actors who care strongly about the work. I also work with less-experienced performers who are eager to learn and not defensive about it. We need to be creative, working within very slim budgets. And those performers must find time for a good deal of homework and study amid their other obligations. God, I love these people.