The troupe that I founded and from which I have retired is changing and evolving. I was flattered to recently be asked a question about the changes being contemplated by the group.
The question was:
A question has arisen as the troupe has been trying to standardize some of its policies and to plan for its growth. It was suggested that the troupe become a two-tiered organization, having a level for beginning actors and another for advanced, more experienced actors. With this set up, the troupe would be offering open auditions twice a year, with all being cast. The third show would be an invitation-only audition with no casting guarantees.
I (this board member wrote) am not convinced that the suggested two-tiered approach is representative of our mission. To me, having two-tiers contrasts with our ensemble approach and sets up competition instead of encouraging mentoring. Also, we stress the importance of theater for all teens and how it can benefit them, and I feel that by limiting it to "talented" teens, even only for one show, that we are not fully living up to this mission.
The board member requested my input as founder, as one there when the mission was originally crafted.
This issue has been brought up from time to time; as you note, it is a thorny issue. In past years, we had tossed around ideas of invitation only shows; having limits to how many were *in* the troupe, period - so, a membership cap, with guaranteed casting once you were "in"; having an educational track open to all with advancement to the troupe following; and Travel Troupe as a solution.
When we first formed the organization, it was seen as a spin off of the (younger) 4-H performing arts club I'd founded, which we imagined might be a sort of "feeder" troupe (all very informal- don't tell 4-H on us!). The 4-H club was where younger actors, and newer actors, could explore without pressure. The new troupe was where the "serious" actors went.
Well, that didn't work out past the "first generation"; partly due to my time constraints, and partly due to the changing group dynamics, the 4-H club became less and less active- what vital parent support we had had shifted to the new teen troupe.
In the early years, in a very real way, Travel Troupe was the elite troupe. It was started by invitation with longer time members and presented quality shows for a few years.
Something else- on a couple of occasions - one being Zoo Story- one of the troupe asked for a specific project, which the board approved and sponsored. This was youth initiated and formally requested. So, that is one route: a core group of artists find a project they would like to do, and ask the board to approve and sponsor it.
An interesting note to me is that the intermittent pressure and/or calls for an "elite" squad always seemed to come from those (or the parents of those) who had been "newbies" recently, felt that they had "arrived", and were now looking down on the "newbies". The call *never* came from folks like my son A, like MD, like DH or AG, long-timers who had experienced the magic of successful ensemble.
So, having said all that: You are looking at a core dilemma for theater. Collaboration vs. competition. A (I believe - false!) dichotomy between ensemble and excellence.
This is what I believe: there are many, many organizations that force actors to compete to participate. There are few that work to build ensemble.
I believe that ensemble *can be* a path to excellence. However, there is a requirement that in order to build ensemble, you have to spend time- not one show but several shows, not one season but many seasons. If you are in it for the long haul, you know your time and your role will come. You look at the success of the season and the troupe.
It may be that there is no longer a large enough "core" of artists who have been working and have experienced making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. It does take continuity.
I do not have answers for the evolving organization; as has been noted many times, the organization is changing and evolving to what it will be from what it has been. I hope my comments, such as they are, may be of some assistance.