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Is Amateur Theater In Your Future?

The holidays are approaching, which means get-togethers are beginning to fill calendars. It’s the beginning of the season of giving, sure—but it’s also the season of gathering. Children, adults, crazy uncles, friends-of-friends, and friends-of-friends-of-friends can all come together to celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving, Festivus, Christmas, Hannukah, or just plain old Winter Break.

And in the midst of all this celebration, it’s possible to find yourself at a point where the pumpkin pie is reduced to crumbs, the eggnog is drained, and that old copy of Scrabble that’s missing half of the vowels ceases to amuse as you pull it out for round 12.

In these circumstances, what’s a family or group of like-minded companions to do for entertainment? Well, how about trying out some amateur theater?

The Skeptics
Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. Nothing rallies people together like some old-fashioned amateur theater, but there will always be the naysayers. “Nay!” they will cry, “Amateur theater? We have no acting experience! We are not creative! What business have we with anything dramatic?"

That’s where the qualification of “amateur” comes into play. Assuming a group of cohorts or a loving, judgment-free family gathering, there should be no shame when it comes to amateur theater—only amusement and enthusiasm.

Pick the loudest person in the room to help stir your fledging thespians into action. Even the stuffiest of relatives and acquaintances will be disarmed by the good-hearted cheer. For family gatherings, you can have children as your principle actors, as they are generally the most enthusiastic of the group, and their antics will melt skeptical hearts.

Amateur theater unifies the disparate crowd—don’t underestimate its power to turn boring evenings into unforgettable stories and inside jokes.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative
“But doesn’t theater mean memorization? Will we have to recite some classic play written by a white male during the 18th century?”

This is one of the best parts about amateur theater: it also means amateur playwriting. Don’t try to perform Shakespeare. Instead, invent your own classics. Have a concept team brainstorm what the subject to tackle and come up with an idea of what scenes to cover. Then figure out a plot and improvise the rest.

Some topics that are ripe for dramatization include family histories or local legends. Reinvent well-known events or reimagine some of the group personalities to create epic parodies of reality.

Get creative with your props. Just open Christmas gifts? Incorporate them into scenes. Did someone bring an epically terrible dish to the Thanksgiving potluck? Make that a key plot point. The sky is the limit, but the more absurd the narrative, the more likely your success.

One of the fundamentals of amateur theater is the layers of badness that mix with the layers of creativity. Like a game of Pictionary when you can’t figure out whether a disco ball or a giraffe is being drawn, part of the essential beauty of creating and staging plays on the spot is their laughability—intentionally or otherwise. Make them “awfully” good.

The Future – Thinking Big, Amateur Style
Sometimes, the joy of amateur theater is too great to contain, and once you’ve created some successful adventures, you’ll want to invite others to partake.

One notable example: a group of friends out in Lincoln, NE decided to create an on-the-spot play with some friends at a Christmas gathering in an old house’s attic. They liked the result, so decided to perform more plays at future parties. Eventually, the group outgrew the attic and drew a crowd to fill the house’s backyard.

A few years down the line, thanks to Kickstarter, a community of excitable friends and sheer chutzpah, their productions now gather thousands of locals and online viewers. Some of their efforts include musical versions of Jurassic Park, Dr. Quinn, and X-Files. The group is now a registered nonprofit dedicated to giving creatively to their community—all this from a few friends’ just-for-fun attic play.

Ultimately, amateur theater is all about community, thinking big, and trying to be both imaginative and brave.

These are values you will want to pass along, whether to your local community, gatherings of friends or even future generations. Spread some creativity, get out on that stage (or into that living room), and act your heart out with some amateur theater.