The Indiana Festival Theatre is underway in Bloomington, and the move to Indiana University’s local campus has proven worthwhile to managing director Drew Bratton.
“By moving into our full-time theater spaces here on the Bloomington campus we’ve had the ability to do more technically complicated theater, do larger scale productions,” Bratton said. “We were sorry to leave Nashville and the tradition of the Brown County Playhouse, but with the opportunities to do more and involve more students and members of the community, our summer company has grown immensely.”
IU’s summer theater program was located for years at the Brown County Playhouse in Nashville, until it moved to the Bloomington campus in 2011.
Everyone involved in the summer program, including the students, are paid a professional salary for their work. This makes it a unique, first-time experience for a lot of the cast and crew.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we run a full-fledged summer based company here in Bloomington,” Bratton said. “It’s sort of the first of its kind.”
Bratton said the Theatre Department at IU focuses on students’ academic responsibilities during the school year, so students usually make up 100% of the cast and crew for shows during the fall and spring semesters.
And that’s the other key difference with the Indiana Festival Theatre — they bring in professionals to work alongside the students.
This year two designers on faculty joined the team: Reuben Lucas on scenic design and Linda Pisano on costumes. And as they’ve done since the summer program came to Bloomington, the company is recruiting professional actors through the Actor’s Equity Association, including Hillary Clemens, Andy Sullivan, Jenny McKnight, David Kortemeier and IU professor Nancy Lipschultz.
“There’s a little less hecticness in the summer, simply because everybody involved isn’t also going to class,” Bratton said. “We have a little bit more time, we can work rehearsals during the day without too many conflicts. They get a taste of what that really feels like, to be in that professional world. That being said, there’s the whole added pressure of trying to do five shows in a really compact period of time.”
Work for the IFT started in May and continues throughout the summer, which means students are doing five shows in what Bratton said would normally span five months.
He explained another challenge, that the sets this year are quite different from one another, making the component of scenic construction and changeovers day to day truly transformative.
“It’s really quite miraculous to see,” he said. “Some people actually see two shows in one day, so you can see Twelfth Night with a mid-Shakespearean setting in Italy, and later that evening you come back and it’s The Miracle Worker, and it’s America in the 1880s. That’s part of what people always talk about as theater magic. A lot of work goes into the theater magic, but we’re happy to create that illusion for people.”
Twelfth Night is a Shakespeare comedy being performed this year in repertory with the Helen Keller drama The Miracle Worker.
Chad Singer, a sophomore at IU, is performing in Schoolhouse Rock Live! and Twelfth Night. It’s Singer’s first time in the summer program, and his first time on a main stage. He joined because he plans on going into musical theater after graduation.
“It’s really inspiring and eye-opening to be working with professionals,” Singer said. “I’m very motivated and driven when I’m with those people.”
“Being in Twelfth Night, I don’t think I’ve ever understood more of [Shakespeare’s] language than in that process,” said Jennifer Smith, a rising senior at IU who is also house manager for Schoolhouse Rock Live!. “ Everyone in the show is so talented, and they’re all really good at communicating the story with language that’s kind of difficult to understand.”
Schoolhouse Rock Live! is this year’s show for children, a musical based on songs from the popular 1970’s animated series.
“We have seen an older crowd turn out that grew up with the cartoon,” Bratton said, “and a lot of people raised in the 70’s are raising kids now too. We like to do programming that’s for kids but doesn’t play down to kids, doesn’t make their parents fall asleep with boredom.”
To cater to a younger crowd, it’s being performed in a small studio space separate from the other four shows.
“The kids are really responsive,” Singer said. “It’s cute, we bring them up to dance, it’s really fun to see their reactions. The Studio Theater provides a more intimate experience for the audience, it’s nice for the kids.”
Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times