In one sense we've always had community theatres, because theatre is so often the expression of a particular community.
But in the sense of community theatre as we know it in this country today, we are talking about a much shorter history.
America had amateur acting companies in Boston before the Revolutionary War, and one of the oldest continuing community theatre
groups in the country, The Footlight Club, founded in
1877, makes its home in that city today. In the West, a Community Theatre was founded in Salt Lake City in 1853; and in
the South, the Thalian Association of Wilmington, North Carolina, has been in existence since the 1788, hosting
a number of community theatre groups.
But the community theatre movement didn't really take off until the turn of the last century when, with the advent of
movies, the small-town professional playhouses either closed due to the competition from this new artform or were
converted to movie-houses. Theatre-lovers in these small communities still wanted the real thing -- live theatre -- and
they took heart from such European examples as the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Antoine's Little Theatre in France, and
others, and began to produce amateur theatre in small groups and associations all across the country.
At first known generically by the term "little theatres", these groups soon came to prefer the appellation
"community theatres" as more accurately reflecting their goals and ideals: to celebrate, promote and perform
the dramatic arts using the pooled talents and resources of the community.
Today, there are literally thousands of community theatre groups around the country from gypsy troupes that have just
started, to more established companies in remodeled opera houses such as the Lyric, to larger
associations that have built their own six and seven figure theatre houses in larger metropolitan areas. In the spirit
of community, many sponsor competitions, play writing contests and scholarship programs.
The average community theatre doesn't aspire to professional status (although most aspire to professional standards).
Only a small percentage of members go on to pursue a career in professional theatre. All of them, however, share a love
and enthusiam for theatre that pre-dates the present movement and is rooted in the history of
the dramatic arts dating back to Thespis and beyond.
We've seen an ever-growing number of these troupes hosting web-sites, which is only natural since the web is another
form of community. We've listed a few of these sites as links, and you can find more at Theatre
Central's page devoted to these groups
and at the American Association of Community Theatre's pages.