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Re-defining Community Theatre: Art for Non-Artists

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

An Interview with Artistic Director, Thomas Young

By Celine Dirkes

Early this year, Broadway World New Jersey awarded ReThink Theatrical Best Community Theatre in New

Jersey! Now that’s some exciting news, but what exactly does it mean? For those of us who may not be in the theatrical know, what are the Broadway World New Jersey Regional Awards? For that matter, what does it mean to do the “best”? Most importantly, what does it mean to be a “community” theatre? I sat down with two of ReThink’s leaders to see if I could figure those answers out.

ReThink, Artistic Director, Accessible Art, Theatre, Storytelling
Thomas Young, ReThink Theatrical's Artistic Director

First up, ReThink Theatrical’s Artistic Director, Thomas Young.

CD: So you guys recently won an award from Broadway World New Jersey! Can you tell me what that award was?

TY: Yeah, so Broadway world has different regional awards that they give out every year, and we were nominated for two categories: one of which was best community theatre, and the other was best world premiere of a play for Robin Hood. I think we were pretty close to winning that one, I think we came in second. And we had won best community theater for the New Jersey Region, of the 2018 Broadway World awards.

CD: Congratulations!

TY: Thanks, we’re really excited about it.

CD: So, ReThink is a really unique organization that straddles the line between community and professional theatre, and one of your major missions is to serve the community that you’re a part of. Can you tell me a little bit about that mission?

TY: Yeah, so we believe strongly in bridging a gap and being a pipeline for two types of audience. One is folks who consider themselves “non-artists”. Right? I think we all know someone in our lives that is like “You know what? Theatre’s not for me, art’s not for me, I’m just not going to be a part of this.” And as we know, everybody has some creativity and potential within themselves to be creative, to understand stories, which is a human thing that we all share. And so, we at ReThink Theatrical believe that there is a divide currently between non-artists and ARTS with a capital A, and sometimes seeing a modern dance piece, or going to an art gallery, or being a part of a modern theatre experience can be a little alienating, it can be a little scary for folks who may not want to be a part of that. So ReThink believes really strongly in inviting folks who might not feel as comfortable or empowered as other people to participate in the creation, in the listening, in the retelling of stories. And that happens in a million different ways, one of which is the actual productions—our shows themselves—which we believe are accessible in their titles, and the way in which we present them, and they’re legible, and they are relevant and they are representative of the community. We also believe strongly in making the process of production itself—for the cast, and the staff, and all the people helping and volunteering—to be as accessible and as useful and impactful as it can be.

CD: Awesome, so my little follow-up and last question for you then is what does it mean to you as Artistic Director to bring your best to the community?

TY: Yeah, I believe that everything in Theatre should be in service of the audience. If we’re just serving ourselves, I believe that you might as well not have an audience at all. It’s very self-serving, and it’s a little selfish of us to just sort of keep those stories to ourselves. And so what that means artistically is first of all creating content and a story that folks can relate to and automatically get some buy-in, which is why we do things like Wonderland and You, and we try to pick Shakespeare shows that people have at least heard of once or twice in their life, try to do musicals that folks have maybe heard of, or fairy tales or things like that, that get people in the door and say “Hey, I’ve heard of Sleepy Hollow, I want to go and at least participate in this, I feel comfortable bringing my kids to this.” Versus—and while they’re important and great—things like Waiting for Godot are a little scary and alienating for folks who might not understand it and they might not even want to be a part of that to begin with. So, first of all we believe in that, and then what’s successful is when people get to come into the story and we use all forms of storytelling from acting, singing, dancing, set design, to the environment itself. Using all these different media to tell a really specific, tailored story to the audience to bring them in, to make them laugh, to make them cry, to make them engaged with this material. To go home and remember this story, to come back again. And I think that an indicator of success would be how many repeat people come: How many kids are paying attention for this whole production? How many people are laughing during the production? How many people are going to go to an art gallery after this because they saw "XYZ"? How many people are going to go to a modern dance concert who have never gone to one, after they saw Macbeth because it had a modern dance component to it, right? How many people are going to, maybe, download a folk album after they saw Robin Hood? Those are the kinds of things that we’re trying to do, to present, and that’s how we're going to sort of start measuring success in terms of bridging a gap between a community and its’ culture and stories within it.

Want to read more from ReThink’s leadership team about bringing our best to the community? Check out my interview with Executive Director, Stephanie Bond.

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