Ah, community theatre. For some of us it's a stepping stone between college theatre and professional theatre. And I've spent an awful long time hunkering down on that stepping stone.
In college theatre there's a certain understanding that if you come to the theatre, willing to work, we will find a place for you. To only allow persons who show theatrical panache into the school theatre is like only allowing people who show promise as surgeons to dissect frogs in Lab. This is as it should be; the college theatre is there to teach, to allow young people to try on the theatre.
In professional theatre the understanding is more like "We need people who know how to do this work at a very high level. If you can bring something wonderful to the table, if you can really make the audience sit up and take notice, then we can use you." Or so I imagine; I can't say I know from experience.
Community theatre vacillates between these two approaches; sometimes finding room for persons with limited theatrical ability, other times striving for a professional-quality company.
I've had great times in both kinds of situation. The more relaxed and inclusive approach allows for really fun people to participate, and really puts the "community" in community theatre. I've met a lot of wonderful people in these shows. But the "As close to pro quality as we can get" approach is the only one that really hones, rather than dulls, serious theatrical skills.
One problem community theatre directors often face is a lack of good performers showing up for auditions. If you're trying to craft a pro-quality show, you need pro-quality people turning up at the audition. But it doesn't always work out that way. The other night I was at an audition with a few standout performers, but not enough to fill out the cast. I'm terribly curious to discover if the director will cast "from the audition" or will open her little black book and ask capable performers whom she knows but who didn't audition to consider stepping into the production. If she casts from the audition it's going to mean taking people as they are and trying to coax good performances out of them. Half the cast will be skilled performers who can really sparkle, half won't. There's a lot of community theatre that's similarly uneven.
It intrigues me just how much pro-level talent there is out there that doesn't go pro, though. Some folks took a s--b at being working actors, came home, and haven't taken a second s--b. Lots of people have family considerations; sick parents who need care, kids to raise, all that. Some, like me, are basically too lazy and afeared to take that leap into the poverty-stricken world of professional acting. I have self-induced trouble in auditions that approach professional norms. Perform a memorized monologue? I always strike out with those auditions, and heaven knows I can memorize a monologue just fine. I seem to have a neurotic block on memorizing a monologue for an audition, though; I always turn out with a really half-baked performance and blow the chance. This last one was simply cold readings from the script, and since I've read the script it was a breeze. In the pro world, though, you need memorized audition monologues, and until I get over my block I'll never be able to play the audition game with the pros. I think I can perform at a close-to-pro level, but applying for a job takes different skills from doing the job.