I worked for a professor once who insisted on pronouncing the word “amateur” in the French manner — stressing a long, open “a” sound at the opening, and a simple “t” rather than the harsh “ch” sound we Americans give it. I found it somewhat affected, at first, but eventually came around to his way of saying it. Not only does it make the word sound much more pleasant — and thus less conducive to derogatory use — but it makes clearer reference to the word’s Latin cognate, amator. In plain English — lover.
Amateurs get short shrift these days. Perhaps they always have, I’m not enough of a cultural historian to say. But it certainly seems that a decade of ‘American Idol’ has now qualified everyone in this country to pass judgment on those who love to perform, but are clearly no good. Simon Cowell’s entire career, in fact, is based upon the premise that he is doing god’s work by disabusing — in as rude a manner as possible — these poor, passionate wannabe performers of any illusion they may have of their talent or potential for success.
While this may be entertaining — and the depths of sadism responsible for that fact is an entirely different matter — it does a great disservice to our cultural well-being.
We kid ourselves into believing that only those good enough to be “professional” deserve to sing… or dance… or act… or what have you. And we forget that there is an entire world of performing that is done not with the goal of being discovered, or “making it.” But that is done because those who do it feel enriched by it, because it lifts them from the mundanity of their everyday lives, because they love it.
They may sing off-key in their church choirs. Or write bad poetry. Or put on plays that are difficult to watch. But they take joy in what they do, and I find that beautiful.
I guess this has been on my mind because I’m taking part this weekend in the Monroe County Civic Theatre‘s Director’s Symposium. It’s an annual event they put on — a mix of scenes from a variety of genres — and this year is a celebration of the organization’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Last night, during the dress rehearsal, Janice Clevenger (who has been with the troupe all twenty-five years), was talking about the organization’s beginnings, its goal of providing greater community theatre opportunities, and how it hoped to distinguish itself from Bloomington’s other theatre groups at the time. Namely, Town Theatre, New Works Repertory, and the Bloomington Playwrights Project — two of which are long defunct, and one of which is still kicking but has made a very real shift away from its amateur roots in recent years.
It occurred to me that, between the ever-increasing offerings at the University, and the professional aspirations of community organizations like the BPP and Cardinal Stage Company, it must be very hard for groups like MCCT — or the newer Theatre of the People — to find any room to breathe, much less grow, as an artistic organization. And that saddens me. What audience will patronize these amateur groups, when they can easily get Broadway-lite at the Theatre Department or the Buskirk-Chumley? What donors will give to them, when they can just as well give to the BPP or Cardinal and more clearly see their dollars being spent?
At any rate, at 7 pm tonight, Friday, and Saturday, at the Bloomington Playwrights Project, the Monroe County Civic Theatre will be celebrating twenty-five years of community theatre, and I shall be there.
In other news, I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head all week…