Just scrub the damn toilet.

It happens once every few years.

I get an e-mail from some poor soul who feels utterly betrayed by one of Denton’s nonprofit theater companies.

How were these folks mistreated? Not by a testy director or their cast mates, and they aren’t up in arms over questionable content in a script. The problem is that someone asked these shrinking violets to clean the toilets in the Campus Theatre dressing rooms.

In the past,  I’ve simply clicked “delete” and gone on to take care of actual business. Squeamishness about cleaning a commode isn’t an expose in the making.

Now that it’s become a pattern for  affronted volunteers to contact the newspaper because someone asked them to – gasp! – pick up a toilet brush and help clean the bathrooms, I figure it’s time to break my silence.

Here’s my advice: If you’re so emotionally bruised to be asked  to clean a commode, the best thing to do is to make this production your last. Denton’s hardworking, nonprofit performing arts community doesn’t need entitled twits like you raking the muck about how gross it is to have to swab the powder room.

Seriously. Don’t audition again. It’s for the best. You’re too fragile for the rigors of volunteer theater.

Denton’s nonprofit theater circle enjoys a wide pool of professional-grade talent, not to mention a roster of smart men and women who work off stage to make the magic happen on a shoestring budget. When things run so smoothly, and when performances win state and national contests, people get spoiled.

Some folks  start thinking that the professionalism is the work of a paid staff.

There is a paid staff at the Campus Theatre, a space shared by a number of nonprofit performing groups in north Texas. A bare bones staff. Those staffers will tell you that the bulk of the work in staging plays, concerts and musicals is done by people who work eight hours a day before they show up to rehearsals. (After rehearsals that last roughly 4 hours, they head home to piles of laundry, children who need help with their homework and spouses.)

It isn’t often that professionalism comes back to bite a nonprofit, but it does for the companies who share the Campus Theatre, because a few volunteers think the companies should spring for a full-time janitor. (The theatre already employs a custodian, but the building is often in use 10 hours a day or more, and throughout the weekends.)

At minimum wage, a custodian working four hours a day for five days a week would cost the theater nearly $7,000 in a year. For a nonprofit theater, that $7,000 means a number of things: fewer shows in a season; a hike in subscription and single ticket prices; and possible cuts in programming staff. Since the recession, funding for the arts has diminished. In some cases, it’s dried up completely.

Think I sound like a hard-ass? I don’t. It’s not the  squeamishness about latrine duty that gets me. What bothers me is that whiff of privilege that some volunteers have. Someone asked them to pitch in, and they alerted the newspaper.

When people join a nonprofit production, they volunteer to nurture the creative soul of the city. They’re grooming an avocation, or teaching other people how to put on a show worth the ticket price. They aren’t there to  feed an ego.

Newsflash:  It’s not all about you. It’s about the effort, the ensemble, the learning and the magic of theater done well – or at least done honestly.

Denton didn’t get several companies (and at least two fledgling professional companies) without some sacrifice. Most of the volunteers? They’ve taken on backstage custodial duties without complaining.

For the few who reel at the idea of cleaning a toilet: There are no stars on the dressing room doors at the Campus Theatre. Remember that. And the next time you feel compelled to take your disgust to the local newspaper?


Either roll up your sleeves and help your peers with the chores, or negotiate quietly with a cast or crew mate to switch tasks. Hey, you might even ask the stage manager to give you a different chore. It’s not that bad.

And honestly? You’re not too good.


One comment on “Just scrub the damn toilet.

  1. Kyla Welch
    August 11, 2011 at 3:28 am #

    Also, I think it is important to note that people are ASKED to help out. If any volunteer feels that they cannot perform a task, they are asked to help out in another way. If everyone cleans up after themselves there really is no duty – even whisking a brush in a toilet – that is a monumental task. I currently work at the Campus, but in the past 20+ years I have been a volunteer cast and crew member on many shows. I have toted the trash, swept the stage, cleaned make-up out of sinks, vacuumed the the dressing rooms, and even cleaned the toilets. Did I wish that there was a team of custodians to come do all that after a tough rehearsal/performance? Of course I did, but as you noted, the community performance groups work with very small budgets and the few dollars spent on a custodian must go primarily to cleaning up after the hundreds of patrons that come through most weekends. I would also like to point out that the part-time custodian does check and clean dressing room toilets if cast/crew leaves a mess, as well as clean up soda cups, food wrappers, etc. left by cast and crew on tables/floor of the backstage areas. Thanks also for pointing out that the vast majority of volunteers do all of these tasks after exhausting rehearsals/performances without complaint. They put the community in community theatre.

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