Thanks to grants from the Central Indiana Community Foundation and Lilly Endowment, professional summer Shakespeare will return in August to White River State Park. Heartland Actors Repertory Theatre has staged free productions in the park every year except one since 2008, but funding has always been an issue.
The foundations' funding—$50,000, which covers about half the production expenses—will go toward not only paying actors, but also the purchase of a new sound system.
“Our only complaint that we’ve heard over the years is with our sound,” said Butler University Theatre Department Chairwoman Diane Timmerman, a former HART company member who recently took over as HART's producing artistic director. “We just haven’t had the money to purchase or rent a decent sound system.”
(Full disclosure, HART staged a play of mine in 2008 and I was involved in the early days of its development.)
For its first three years, summer Shakespeare was under the umbrella of the White River State Park Family Fun series. Since then, HART has had to search for funding each year, with last-minute saves every year except for 2011. The pledge of ongoing support from CICF (led by Brian Payne who, not coincidentally, ran Shakespeare Santa Cruz before moving to Indianapolis) means HART can focus on long-term planning, including the possible construction of a permanent stage in the park. HART currently uses the amphitheater between the NCAA Hall of Champions and the bridge to the Indianapolis Zoo.
“We have a fantastic designer working on a plan for the permanent,” said Timmerman. “But it’s still in its embryonic stage. It’s a state property—there are a lot of hoops to go through."
Robert Whitt, executive director for White River State Park, applauds the return of theater to the park and is open to the idea of a permanent stage. "We are open to anything that would enhance the experience of our visitors. But we have a number of considerations. That's one of the best vistas in the park so we wouldn’t want to do anything that would obstruct that view. The other thing is, we have a lot of other uses for that area. It's popular for weddings, for instance. And we need to take all of that into account."
While the permanent stage isn’t happening this year, other changes are in the works for the Aug. 9-10 performances of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Loyalists will note that there will be a slight change in the orientation of the audience and performance space—a move aimed at keeping the sun out of the audience’s eyes (Timmerman would prefer Indiana switch to Central time, but realizes that’s unlikely). HART is also considering adding premium (paid) seating for a small section and is working to attract food trucks and wine and beer purveyors to add to a festive atmosphere. Previous productions drew an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 people, many armed with picnic baskets, wine and even candelabras.
It’s a lot of work for two performances. But the space can handle up to 2,100 people. “If we get 2,000 people to come to ‘Shrew,’" said Timmerman, "we would consider that a big success.”
“I have two jobs right now,” Timmerman said. “One is to make sure ‘Taming of the Shrew’ is an awesome production. The other is to build an infrastructure for the company so we are not ever again in the 11th-hour situation we found ourselves in during the last two years. And we’d like to build it to more weekends, create new programming, and have multiple shows in repertory.”