What is Community, really?

On Tuesday night, I hauled myself down to Boston to attend the 27th Anniversary Eliott Norton Awards.  To be honest, I was dreading the evening.  I normally avoid these things as a best-practice step to staying sane.  But, you know, re-entering the theatre scene after a mom-hood absence means pounding the pavement.  So I strapped on my heels, called me up a date (my lovely friend and fabulous ex-co-worker Ms. Rafson) and off I went.

It was actually quite lovely with the exception of the somewhat excruciating thank you speech from Al Pacino on behalf of the late Paul Benedict.  (Mr. Benedict being one of those actors I can identify by sight but didn’t know his name nor his connection to Boston.)  Mr. Pacino, however, freely admitted he was a rather shy speaker and then continued to prove this ineptitude, but, you know, the entire audience was drooling into their open programs anyways so it didn’t matter.  And he told a really good joke.

There were some musical selections, some heart-felt speeches, some lousy speeches, some faked speeches, some inspiring speeches…and a lot of tossing around of the word “community.”


It’s a word we like to use a lot in theatre.  It’s a word that comes up even more when we’re faced with the cuts in grants, giving, and butts-in-seats.  But, what does it really mean?

Community, according Mr. on-line Miriam Webster:

1: a unified body of individuals: as a: state, commonwealth b: the people with common interests living in a particular area ; broadly : the area itself <the problems of a large community> c: an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location d: a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society <a community of retired persons> e: a group linked by a common policy f: a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests <the international community> g: a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society

Well, that’s dry isn’t it?  It entirely lacks the connotation:  support, enthusiasm, critical dialogue, empathy.

With all of the squeals of glee, back slapping, and zealous hugging, we all seemed to exhibit a very clear sense of this connoted community. But how much of this was real and how much for show?  We were, after all, there to impress ourselves with our showmanship, go ga-ga over a few outfits, coo to each other a bit, and pay homage to a group of individuals who, no matter what they say about supporting the arts, can still make or break a show.

Maybe, the reason I have a hard time with this concept and our interpretation, is that I’m a teacher and I’d much rather see everyone soar than only a few of us rocket to the moon.

The point I’m trying to make is…we toss around the word Community with love, compassion, and thrill.  But I think it’s time to steady the word in our hands, present it with reverence, and then embrace it into our hearts. No more tossing and hoping it will land on its feet on its own.  Let’s give it some wings.

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