This year Cabaret Poe will leave its ominous Irvington home for Theatre on the Square. Over the years, Poe (and with it Q Artistry) has definitely gotten its sea legs. The show has been marked as an annual favorite for theater lovers. Now, the production value will match the high level of anticipation.
The roots of Q Artistry actually began with Poe in Chicago.
"I am ashamed to admit that I was not really a Poe fan, and then I happened to come across the poem Annabel Lee," says Ben Asaykwee, founder of Q Artistry. "I was so moved and inspired that I sat down at my piano and began to write music to it."
At the time of Q Artistry's creation, Poe was just getting its start too. They began with a performance at an all-night arts festival. After Asaykwee moved back to Indy, Q moved with him.
One of the other members of Q told him that he should consider pursuing Poe further and really fleshing out into the musical that he wanted it to be.
"Just hearing someone else say that to me — again, this is the first musical I have written, eight years ago at this point — if she feels that way surely she isn't alone," says Asaykwee. "And if I can get people to re-experience Edgar Allen Poe's pieces, in itself that's awesome."
Since they have come to Indy the show has taken a near cult following; even from those who are not as well versed in theater. In fact Asaykwee notes how he hears about people coming to see the show who have never set foot in a theater before.
"It is countless the number of times that people say that when they specifically come to see Cabaret Poe," says Asaykwee. "We either win them over or at the very least they come back to see Cabaret Poe again. But nine times out of ten, I see them at other shows and see them going to more theater."
Eventually Q hopes to move to a pay-what-you-can model, to open their doors even wider. It's the broad net of Poe that keeps the show going each year.
Though little of the show changes year to year, there are occasionally different actors and tweaks to the script. This year the cast will remain the same as last — aside from a new shadow dancer. Keeping much of the cast the same will help to keep the boat from rocking too much at a new location.
"That's the beauty of the show, new staging and theatricality but the actual work isn't changing, ... when we first started going into rehearsal it was a little daunting," says Asaykwee.
Asaykwee is particularly excited about the names on the bill this year.
"They can bring what we know and make it better," he says.
While in Irvington, the group would have to do what Asaykwee calls "gorilla theater," basically making an empty room into a space that has the right lighting and sound for a musical.
"Production value is going to be completely different this time," says Asaykwee.
Their lighting designer Brent Winderlich will be able to step up the dramatic lighting this year. It helps that he doesn't have to make a light tree before the curtain call.
The teamwork with Theatre on the Square came from Lori Raffel, director of development at TOTS, and Asaykwee both saying how much they wanted the organizations to collaborate. Q was in need of a larger space, and Raffel wanted to host Poe for some time.
"He is just a freaking genius," says Raffel. "I had seen Cabaret Poe before, and I thought it was so smart and so classy. I am a huge Edgar Allen Poe fan.
"Just working with those guys is really fun. There are always ideas going back and forth. It reminds you why you are in theater and why you love it so much."
Asaykwee sees a huge potential for crossover in the new collaboration.
"In the most base form I think we are going to expose each other's audiences to the other organization, which is a huge thing," says Asaykwee. "That is probably the number one thing we wanted out of the relationship. And number two, even though we are both theater organizations, there is a fundamental difference in the way we are designed. Theatre on the Square was always designed around doing already existing plays [that fit a certain genre] where we have always been designed around the playwrights ... making sure audiences were exposed to Indiana work."
One of the defining characteristics of Q is its commitment to showcasing Hoosier playwrights.
"It seems like now there are so many more opportunities for people to produce their own work," says Asaykwee.
Along with giving a home to local playwrights, Q and TOTS will be giving gallery space to local artists in the lobby along Mass Ave. The artists this year will be Rita Spalding, Michelle Craig, Dave Windisch, Kris Komakech, Kat Robinson and Emily Schwank.
We stopped by Rita Spalding's house while she was working on her pieces — the three main cast member's eyes painted over the Poe works that they perform. Julie Lyn Barber on the Conqueror Worm and Renae Stone on The Raven.
"When she does The Raven it gives you chills," says Spalding. "I knew I wanted to do something quick and fun. When I think of The Raven, I think of Renae's really intense look."
Spalding lives in Irvington so Poe has been an annual tradition, and a reason for her to take friends to the theater. Her personal favorite Poe piece is the Conqueror Worm.
"It is dark and moody and speaks to the human condition," says Spalding.
One of the dangers of leaving the Irvington Q location is losing the grandness of the stage there that pairs perfectly with Poe. Asaykwee hopes that the artwork sets the mood for Poe when you walk through TOTS' door.
"Cabaret Poe fits beautifully in Irvington but now it will be even more fun to see it stand out beautifully on Mass Ave," says Asaykwee.
When: Oct. 3-31
Where: Theatre On the Square, 627 Massachusetts Ave.
Tickets: $20 adult, $15 student/senior