Professionals and Pro Ams

In her column in this month’s American Theatre, Theatre Communications group Executive Director, Teresa Eyring talks about the recognizing the growing number of Professional Amateurs in our society. Now this topic is nothing new. I have posted on the subject of Pro Ams. Andrew Taylor has done so on a number of occasions. His students did a research project on the topic. Charles Leadbetter and Paul Miller who coined the Pro Am term, wrote a book on the subject.

What makes Teresa Eyring’s comments special is that she leads a major service organization and therefore is in a position to exert greater influence when she says it is worthwhile to heed a trend. (Though she was certainly influenced by all this discussion of Pro Ams.) What she has to say hasn’t impacted my thoughts about Pro Ams in any direction. But it is good to see an arts leader like her encouraging people to explore the possibilities.

So if the words of all the aforementioned folks haven’t gotten you to ponder the concept, maybe Eyring’s will. She acknowledges that a transition that embraces Pro Ams can be difficult.

“If these shifts are irreversible and true, the question for professional arts organizations is how most effectively to embrace and respect audiences and potential audiences as they self-identify as creators, with a capacity for meaningful involvement in the artistic process that has often been closely held by professional theatre artists and organizations.”…

“…For theatres and theatre artists, this trend presents questions that are both practical and semantic, such as: What do we do with the word “professional”? In the 20th-century arts world, this word has often been used to instruct the public, critics and funders to expect an experience qualitatively superior to that which is non-professional or amateur…”

“…However, with the growth of a pro-am culture that goes beyond art into science, technology and other realms, the power of a professionals-only province continues to fade—or at the very least, the nomenclature is less effective and meaningful. Some of the teeth-gnashing over this development has to do with how the public will know the difference between what is excellent creative expression and what is merely average…”

“…if theatres can find ways to tap into the growing interest among individuals in participating in the actual creation of art and the arts experience, perhaps we can move this trend to a tipping point of sorts, bringing theatre into a new period of cultural ferocity and ascendancy.”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “Professionals and Pro Ams”

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