Soon the curtain will rise for Civic Theatre in the new Booth Tarkington Theatre at Carmel's Center for the Performing Arts. As this 97-year-old community theater settles into their new home with their season opener The Drowsy Chaperone, NUVO reached Artistic Director Robert Sorbera by phone.
Of the move Sorbera said, "It's been a long time coming.We started [looking for a new home] just short of ten years ago when we were still residing at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's [Showalter Pavilion]. They had decided to terminate our lease, and they were kind enough to give us several years notice. So we went out looking for a place, and settled upon an interim theater in what was then Marian College."
After making $1.5 million in renovations to Marian University's auditorium, Civic Theatre chose to leave Marian for a brand new home. Sorbera said, "At the end of the day both parties were happy. They ended up with a great theater, and we had a good stay there. But you have two institutions with different cultures. Where as here, at the Center for the Performing Arts, there is a performing arts culture. I think we'll fit better here."
Moving north brought more than just a new home, Civic also changed its name. "We've gone from the Indianapolis Civic Theatre to the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre," said Sorbera, "which really isn't much of a name change because for many years we've technically been the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre of Indianapolis. We've always had that association with Booth Tarkington."
The Center for the Performing Arts Booth Tarkington Theatre offers Civic a whole host of amenities. In addition to a spacious parking lot and access to restaurants, the new space affords Civic something to be exceptionally excited about. "We've really never had an appropriate and well appointed rehearsal hall or classrooms," said Sorbera. "And we finally have those things."
He hopes audiences will stay with Civic on this journey. "A lot of the audience will follow us and some of them won't for whatever reason. Our audience was pretty spread out in all directions. We'll just be able to attract people from other communities. We're hoping to become part of the immediate community, but also a wider community."
As for developing relationships with their community neighbors, Civic's education department has already established a foot-hold. "Enrollment [in classes] has been really swift." said Sorbera." We've more than tripled the number of classes that we offer for children, young adults and adult adults. It's something rewarding, challenging and personal to anyone involved in theater. There are so many benefits to this kind of education. So we are thrilled to have the space to do it."
Sorbera also hopes to connect with the community through their productions this year. "You want to come out showing yourself as what you are," said Sorbera. "And what we do are a combination of musicals, comedy and dramas, mainly on the commercial side. We want to show that we can create in a variety of genres."
Sorbera is eager to see how Civic grows once it has settled into its new home. "We will become other things," he muses pointing to one of the faculties' most interesting features. "There is a studio theater here, at some point we'll do plays in. Something different. Something we wouldn't put on our main stage, something that wouldn't necessarily be under the same pressure."
Sorbera points to the scarcity of such an occurrence. "In 1973, [Grace Showalter] gave $1 million to build a theater and that was the theater at the IMA, called the Showalter Pavilion. As far as I know, other than high schools, that was the last theater built in Indianapolis... It shows real vision and real courage on the part of the people who organized it, planned it and followed through on it. It's pretty rare to have one built, and we feel like kids in a candy shop."
Sorbera is confident that Civic will continue and even further its mission through this new vehicle. "We're a place where people on both sides of the footlights can find a way into the theater."