Community theatre refers to theatrical performance made in relation to particular communities--its usage includes theatre made by, with, and for a community. It may refer to theatre that is made entirely by a community with no outside help, or to a collaboration between community members and professional theatre artists, or to performance made entirely by professionals that is addressed to a particular community. Community theatres range in size from small groups led by single individuals that perform in borrowed spaces to large permanent companies with well-equipped facilities of their own. Many community theatres are successful, non-profit businesses with a large active membership and, often, a full-time professional staff. Community theatre is often devised and may draw on popular theatrical forms, such as carnival, circus, and parades, as well as performance modes from commercial theatre.
Community theatre is understood to contribute to the social capital of a community, insofar as it develops the skills, community spirit, and artistic sensibilities of those who participate, whether as producers or audience-members. It is used as a tool for social development, promoting ideas like gender equality, human rights, environment and democracy. Most of the community theatre practices have been developed based on the philosophy of education theorist Paulo Freire's approach of critical pedagogy in theatre and implementation techniques built by Augusto Boal, known as Theatre of the Oppressed. Freire's approach attempted to stimulate social change by encouraging the audience to build capacities for critical thinking through participation in active dialogue. The participants would identify issues of concerns and discuss possible solutions, with an enhanced tolerance for different perspectives with regard to the same problem. Such plays are then rarely performed in traditional playhouses but rather staged on streets, public places, in traditional meeting spaces, schools, prisons, or other institutions, inviting an alternative and often spontaneous audience to watch.
Community theatre is distinct from amateur theatre which, while it may be community-based, is non-professional.
Partly inspired by Antonio Gramsci's interpretation of culture, the seminal theatre practitioner Augusto Boal developed a series of techniques known as the Theatre of the Oppressed from his work developing community theatre in Latin America.
In Britain the term "community theatre" is sometimes used to distinguish theatre made by professional theatre artists with or for particular communities from that made entirely by non-professionals, which is usually known as "amateur theatre" or "amateur dramatics." Notable practitioners include Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop, John McGrath and Elizabeth MacLennan and their 7:84 company, Welfare State International, and Ann Jellicoe founder of the Colway Theatre Trust, now known as the Claque Theatre and run by UK practitioner Jon Oram.
Community theatre in the Netherlands came about after the ending of the "theater-in-education" movement. This "theatre-in-education" movement lasted from 1970-1985. The big theatre in the Netherlands which was created originally for "theatre-in-education" and subsequently community theatre is the Stut Theatre. This theatre idea was started in 1977 by Jos Bours and Marlies Hautvast, who when they first starting creating plays at the Stut Theatre, realized this kind of community-theatre had a complete different approach from "theatre-in-education."
Community theatre in the United States was an outgrowth of the Little Theatre Movement, a reform movement which began in 1912 in reaction to massive Victorian melodramatic theatre spectacles. However, the country's oldest extant community theatre group, the Footlight Club, has existed since the 19th century and performed every year since 1877.
The American Association of Community Theatre represents community theaters in the U.S., its territories, and its military bases around the world.
Theatre Passe Muraille sent ensemble casts into rural communities to record local stories, songs, accents and lifestyle. Their employment of collective creation was thus taken to an unheard of scale and spread across Canada. Passe Muraille facilitated the first production of Codco, which employed personal experiences of Newfoundland culture in their shows.
The Boardmore Playhouse, named in honor of Elizabeth and Harry Boardmore, is a 337-seat venue which is the centre for the performing arts at Cape Breton University. The Playhouse is home to CBU Boardmore Theatre which presents an annual season of plays, including plays for young audiences, four to five full-length plays, a bi-annual Shakespeare production and a bi-annual Broadway Musical, and a one-week one act play festival with an emphasis on new play development. Throughout the school year and summer months the CBU Boardmore Playhouse is also involved with a number of community projects. The Playhouse provides practical expertise to community theatre groups in the form of workshops for young people as well as advice and leadership in summer theatre programs. Open auditions are held each September for anyone interested in getting involved in any aspect of the theatre. Auditions are held the weekend following the first week of classes.