Monday, March 09, 2009

ACT (what’s in a name)

Why do I care?

• Co-founder
• President for initial five years
• Compiler of original Constitution and By-laws
• Member of Board of Directors for initial ten years

My first thoughts about an organized community theatre group here on PEI were in 1993 during rehearsals for Theatre PEI’s production of Blue Castle. Someone commented on how wonderful it was to be doing something with like minded people and the observation was strongly endorsed. Can you imagine… not having to pretend an interest in or knowledge of hockey / football / curling, in order to have a conversation? Just kidding. But it really was wonderful!  I asked why there wasn’t an organized community theatre group in Charlottetown. No one answered.


It wasn’t for lack of theatre. There was a plethora in the community, both inside and outside Charlottetown. In addition to summer groups such as The Charlottetown Festival and Victoria Playhouse, Theatre PEI had a busy fall / winter season. However, these were professional and / or semi-professional groups that were for those pursuing a career in theatre. They were not ‘amateurs’ doing things simply for the love of it as is the true definition of amateur (from the latin amātor lover). UPEI Theatre Society was active, but was mainly for students. A number of ‘mushroom’ groups sprang up from time to time to do one or two shows and then disappear. Often these groups got together for the purpose of making money. They quickly learned how expensive and risky it is to produce a show and were lucky if they didn’t lose their shirts. 

I couldn’t understand it. Elsewhere, I had been involved with a number of long-standing community theatre groups and knew what I was promoting was not novel. Every chance I got I asked the same question. “Why are we waiting around until someone gets the urge to do a show? Why don’t we create a group that makes sure these shows and activities take place?” People soon started asking me why I didn’t start a group if I wanted one so badly. Good question. The answer was that I needed a director. I knew how much time and knowledge directing took and knew that wasn’t for me. So, I started bugging a director.

I think I first worked with David Sherren in the Confederation Centre community production of Christmas Carol. I was impressed—particularly with his use of a large cast. Few people have the eye to see the whole stage and to move people around using all aspects of its layering. I added him to the list. During the 1993 Confederation Centre community Christmas show David was one of the targets. Normally he just smiled, this time he said “You never give up do you”. Ooooopppss!! I thought I had blown it. A few weeks later I got a message from him saying “If you really want to start this group, let’s go.”

The new group’s first meeting and first read through took place in my living room. I was elected President, and stayed in that position for five years. Membership was set at $25 (and hasn’t risen since).

We needed a name. There were many proposed but only one got the majority of support. “Abegweit Community Theatre” Support yes, but not 100% support. Everyone realized how good and effective the acronym ACT would look on posters and ads, but it was suggested that using Abegweit (which some felt was already overused on the Island!!) Community Theatre would be as bad as using Anne’s Community Theatre. So we had to find another name that would allow us to keep the acronym ACT.

I pored for hours over the “A” section of every dictionary and encyclopaedia I could put my hands on. I had almost given up when it hit.  ACT already had its name. What I had been searching for was simply justification for using those three letters.  That is when I hit on the following…

Question:  What is ACT?

Answer: (a community theatre)

I almost jumped out of my skin. The answer was so simple and yet had far ranging effect. I had no interest in creating an insular group that was only interested in itself but one that practiced the social side of community theatre. I wanted a association that would be an active part of the community, helping and developing community theatre whenever and wherever it could so.

• attending other groups’ productions

• sharing sets, costumes, materials and spaces

• taking financial risks other smaller groups weren’t able to

The phrase (a community theatre) is a definition / a motto, not a name. That is why it is in parentheses and lower case. It is an explanation of what we are trying to be—- not a single, inward looking group only interested in self-promotion, but an association that sees the community of theatre and understands that this community is part of the theatre.

In the constitution the group’s name is ACT (a community theatre). The constitution also allows for the group to use the short name ACT

ACT (a community theatre) includes more than the performers in whatever production we are producing. Much more! In fact, those performers who enjoy the applause and public recognition are only a small part of who we are.

ACT (a community theatre) includes all those people who never go on stage – but call shows; direct shows; produce shows; build, paint and move set pieces; build and collect properties and costumes, sell advertising and tickets, write stories, lend items, and buy tickets. Yes, the concept of (a community theatre) includes even the audience. An audience is as much a part of any performance as whatever might be taking place on-stage. Without them it is just a rehearsal or class. It is also that ‘inclusive’ attitude that is so expressed and implied by the use of the brackets.

ACT (a community theatre) is bigger that any production we do. In fact, productions are only part of what we do.

There are a number of other groups putting on productions, but no other group has the following purpose embedded in their constitution. From the October 1995 Constitution and By-Laws Article 2 identifies our Mission Statement as…

ACT is a community-based, amateur theatre association with a mandate to:

1. foster and encourage amateur theatre the local;

2. foster and encourage artistic and practical development of Members through exposure to workshops, mentoring and productions;

3. foster and encourage awareness of all facets of amateur theatrical productions;

4. collect and make available materials supportive to the development of community theatre in the local area;

5. Stimulate cooperation between ACT and all persons and groups active in community theatre on PEI.

Until amended in 2005, productions did not have a more specific mention in our constitution.

ACT Out (a meal and a show) and the ACT Reading Club were conceived as monthly activities that stress the social side of getting together with like minded people.

Despite our knowledge of the importance of ‘branding’ and ‘common look and feel’, how have we allowed ACT (a community theatre) to be altered?

• The poster for our first production of Our Town credited A.C.T. rather than ACT

• We chose a logo that nixed the brackets because someone thought they didn’t look good. It would have been preferable to have kept the short name ACT in the spotlight and move (a community theatre) below where it could be seen as supporting the ACT in lights. That’s where the off stage folks normally are anyway!

ACTa community theatre. This derivation has never (to my knowledge) been voted on and accepted by the general membership. I personally dislike this derivation as I find the italics flaccid and the bolded small first letters weak and unattractive.

• An ACT COMMUNITY THEATRE PRODUCTION – This is not and never has been our name. ACT is a democratic organization and there are procedures available for changing things like names. A ‘name change’ has to be voted upon at our Annual General Meeting before it can be used.

• The Guardian refuses to accept our name; our “legal name” is ACT—without periods.

I admit that all these actual and attempted changes are hard to take. Although I recognize the right of the group to change its name as well as its focus, it will always be ACT (a community theatre) to me

The original name of our group still has validity. It speaks to who we are and what we hope to be.

What’s in a name (ACT)ually, quite a lot!!


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Posted by Gerry Gray on 03/09 at 08:28 PM
AdministrationConstitutionMandateACT News • (0) CommentsPermalink
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