Recently, I was at a preview performance of Peter Pan at Carleton University. A play like Peter Pan is certainly an ambitious choice for a university theatre company. It has several very technical elements: sword fights, a giant crocodile, a fairy, and flying actors. The cast is also huge. Generally, previews are not reviewed and I will honour tradition and not review this show;however, I think a general discussion of the pros and cons of community theatre staging these large technical shows might be interesting/useful.
Let’s deal with the cast size first. There are certainly advantages to having a large cast. The first being a guaranteed large audience (friends and family of the cast). Large casts also allow more people to be involved in the show. I think, for a university theatre company, there is something nice about a show that gives a large group of people the opportunity to share the experience of putting on a play.
The downside of large casts is that it is very difficult for a director to give each actor sufficient attention. There simply is not enough time. Often (but not necessarily) the performances will suffer as there are not enough talented actors to play every character. Also, a large cast will also most likely involve more costuming, props etc., which can put more pressure on the stage managers keeping track of it all and the costume/set designers etc. who have to produce everything (probably on a shoe string budget).
The second issue is the highly technical aspect of these large productions. On the positive side, it is great to take on something challenging that will require a lot of creativity on the part of the production team. Fight choreography, elaborate sets, and complicated lighting design can be a lot of fun. There are many in the theatre community who live for these kinds of technical challenges. Everyone has to start somewhere, and university theatre can be a great place for people with an interest in the technical side to have an opportunity to get some experience.
That being said, the more technical elements there are in a show, the greater the risk that there will not be sufficient time to pull everything off. One or two technical elements carried off well will, ultimately, have a greater impact on the audience than a show with a lot of technical elements that are not completely successful.
So here’s a few questions for you: Should community/student theatre companies attempt large highly technical productions? If so, what are some strategies to mitigate the obstacles? Care to mention any other positive/negative aspects that I’ve missed here? or share stories of successful, or unsuccessful, community theatre productions with large casts and a lot of technical elements.