Skiles Test's glass coffin and the play bringing it to life 

No Exit's The House of Blue Lights showcases Indy's Gatsby

click to enlarge All images are from a rehearsal for The House of Blue Lights - ED STEWART.
  • All images are from a rehearsal for The House of Blue Lights
  • Ed Stewart.

In the 1900s, rumors swirled around a mysterious Great Gatsby-esque millionaire named Skiles Test, who lived in a house adorned with blue lights on Indy's northeast side. Although known as a kind man, Test was most often tied to creepy folklore surrounding his love for animals and an alleged woman in a glass coffin that could be found on his estate.

Now, Indianapolis' No Exit has devised a production based on Test's life that they're calling The House of Blue Lights. With several performance times lined up for the upcoming two weekends, the show marks No Exit's first fully staged production since the company named Lukas Schooler as its new executive director in October 2015.

Fittingly, the production will be performed in an eerie building (Carpentry Hall, 164 Steeples Blvd.) on the campus of the historic Central State mental hospital. The venue couldn't be more perfect for the production, according to Schooler.

"The space really has an unsettling vibe that fits the show," Schooler says. "There is a mysteriousness to it. We don't really delve into a whole lot of mental health issues, but I think through the storytelling there is a perceived notion that there could be..."

The initial idea behind this show dates back to a Big Car event that Schooler attended in 2010 called Test Fest, which was held at the Skiles Test Nature Park.

"I'm not from here, so I had never heard of him before," Schooler says. "I found out about this incredibly intriguing story about a man who appeared to be very sympathetic, but the community around him formed this myth about the House of Blue Lights. I realized that this had a long-lasting effect, not only on Indianapolis but on pop culture in general." After having this idea planted in his brain, Schooler pocketed it, eventually proposing Test's story as the basis for No Exit's latest show.

click to enlarge ED STEWART.
  • Ed Stewart.

"Everyone just brought a list of ideas to the table," says No Exit company member and The House of Blue Lights director Ryan Mullins. "We listed everything we could imagine locally, nationally, imaginary, real. From there, we went through and singled out a few things that were good candidates. We did a couple rounds of voting, and Skiles Test and the legend of the House of Blue Lights came out on top."

After deciding on this idea, the members of No Exit began doing extensive research on Test. From here, all sorts of ideas for the show began to surface, which the company then presented to local playwright Bennett Ayres.

"Bennett was able to take all of our ideas, condense them, and throw some ideas to the wayside that just weren't going to fit, and he added his own spin on it as well," Schooler says. "The spin that he added was something that none of us considered, and we're really happy with it."

No Exit called upon the talents of several other local artists for this production, enlisting costume designers, sound designers, videographers and more to help them with this rather large undertaking. As a result, The House of Blue Lights is No Exit's biggest show to date. In fact, there's three generations of performers in the ensemble, with the youngest being 15 and the oldest being 50. 

Schooler says: "We have a lot of performers. We have a lot of designers. Our lighting, set and tech budget is through the roof for this, so that's definitely been a challenge. But, the buzz about the show has been so great that we've been able to receive some sponsorships to help us too."

In looking ahead, No Exit plans on doing less shows a year, instead having a few that are larger in scale like this one. Ultimately, Schooler hopes that The House of Blue Lights serves as a good example of what's to come with the production company.

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