Book Review: Not Quite the Handbook


Note: this article was previously published in the September 2003 issue of KC Stage Magazine (link no longer active).

The Community Theater Handbook: A Complete Guide to Organizing and Running a Community Theater, written by Gary P. Cohen. Published 2002 by Heinemann Publishers. 154 pages. ISBN # 0-325-00441-2. Buy at

When I first saw this book over at, I was eager to get it. Having been sporadically involved in community theatre for a little over 8 years, I was hoping it would help me with many of the questions I had for the running of a community theater — fundraising ideas, typical board positions and politics, and how to expand artistically while still keeping an audience in the house.

I received it on interlibrary loan, and I have to say I had mixed reactions. It’s not a bad book — it did give me some ideas (three longhand pages of notes/ideas), but I didn’t feel it was a ‘complete guide’ to running community theatre.

It was more designed for those who had never worked in theatre before, despite the introduction that claimed it was also for those familiar with production and looking for ideas. It helped in being a general instruction booklet, giving a general definition of the various aspects of a theatre (technical positions, for example). However, most of this I already knew — it was the type of stuff usually covered in an Intro to Theatre class.

It also was geared heavily toward the production of musicals. While I know musicals are a lot more complicated to put on, the book failed to have the same kind of interest in the production of non-musicals. Cohen seemed to have the attitude of, ‘If you’re stuck doing regular plays, you can use the same information.’

Finally, while it did give some non-production ideas (websites of various theatre resources a high plus), it hardly covered board politics at all. I got the impression that Cohen thinks community theatre boards of operation are completely separate entities from the actual production and performance of a play, and board politics are not to be considered a topic for this book.

While the book wasn’t a total loss, I wouldn’t recommend it as a purchase for anyone already familiar with community theatre. If you’re just starting out and don’t know anything, or would like a good refresher as to the definitions and areas of a theatre, then it’s a good purchase. Otherwise, I would just get it from the local library for one read-through.

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