Everything You’ve Been Afraid to Ask About Theatres…or is it Theaters?

Many people have gone to the theater, but do most people understand the ins and outs of the different kind of theater houses? If you could use a guide, here it is: we asked and answered the questions you, casual-theater-goer, may have well been wondering but were too afraid to broach. If you’ve got any other questions but don’t see them here, tweet us at @pinellasarts.


What is the difference between a professional and community theater?

At a professional theater, everyone, or almost everyone, who is helping to bring the show to the stage, is getting paid for their time and effort. This includes the director, the actors, the stagehands, set designers, costume designers and hair and make-up artists. The American Stage in St. Pete is an example of professional theater.

A community theater, however, is run mostly by volunteers. The Francis Wilson Playhouse in Clearwater is a community theater.

A semi-professional theater is just what it sounds like–some of those who are participating in the production, typically the director, designers and lead actors, are paid, while some, such as the ensemble cast, are not.

What are some other professional and community theaters in the area?

A Simple Theatre, Hat Trick Theatre Productions, and the St. Petersburg Opera Company are some examples of the professional theaters in Pinellas County.

The Dunedin Showcase Theater, the Eight O’ Clock Theatre, the Gulfport Community Players, the Players of Safety Harbor, the St. Petersburg City Theatre and the West Coast Players are a few of the local community theaters.

Are all professional theaters for profit?

No. Many professional theaters put any money made directly back into the theater. St. Pete’s Simple Theater keeps productions pared down so that they can both pay their cast and crew and keep ticket prices low for audience members.

I keep reading about union vs. nonunion in regards to theater companies. What’s up with that? Are union actors/productions better than nonunion ones?

Many stage actors are a part of the AEA–Actors’ Equity Association. Actors who are in the union can perform in union productions, but need special clearance to perform in nonunion productions. Nonunion members will have a more difficult time getting cast in a union production. While the AEA does help, actors earn better benefits, more money and access to certain auditions and productions, it does not speak to the merit of the actor, company, or production. For past auditions, freeFall Theater requested Equity membership, while American Stage included nonunion performers, if they had previous experience.

What is Regional Theater?

A professional or semi-professional theater company outside of New York City that produces its own seasons.

What do you mean by “produces its own seasons”?

The answer to this question takes another often-asked question into considerationäóîthat is, what is a local production house compared to a touring house? A local production house, also known as a building-based theater company, makes and stages its own productions. It has a permanent staff that may include administration and production departments (set designer, wardrobe, lighting, etc.) and decides which plays it will stage. It hires the cast and crew it needs to complete the job. This can be a professional or a community theater.

A touring house, also known as a receiving house, is mostly a venue or place to stage a production. A touring company, much like a touring band, has a dedicated performance it learns and then cast and crew travels together to stage the production at various towns’ touring houses. Ruth Eckerd Hall is a local example of a touring house.

What’s the best way to get involved in local theater?

Go see a play! Support your local theatrical community. Consider volunteering. And then, if you’re brave enough, most of the theaters announce auditions on their websites.

You’ve used both “theatre” and “theater” in this article. What’s the difference?

While some say that theater is the venue and theatre is the art form, generally, there is no difference between the two. Theater is the preferred American spelling, but some companies and venues make the stylistic choice to use theatre.

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