Photos courtesy of Courtney Remley
Diane Timmerman, professor of theatre at Butler University, serves as Executive Artistic Director of the Equity theatre, Indianapolis Shakespeare Company, founded in 2006 as the Heartland Actors' Repertory Theatre. The name changed in 2016 to reflect their focus on producing plays by Shakespeare.
As part of a Lilly Endowment Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts & Cultural Innovation grant, Timmerman spearheaded the move of Indy Shakes from White River State Park to Indy's Riverside Park, working with the Indianapolis Parks Foundation, Indy Parks, Indiana Landmarks and Ratio Architects, along with the Arts, Parks, & Public Spaces (APPS) Committee of the Near Northwest, the Riverside Business Association and the Riverside Parade Committee, to create the new Taggart Memorial Amphitheatre, which was slated to open in Summer 2020.
And then came COVID-19.
A year later, I am catching up with Dr. Timmerman for an email Q/A:
RITA KOHN: "Midsummer Night's Dream" --so much grief, mischief, and finally a happy ending; what for IndyShakes makes this a perfect awakening from COVID-19 stress --of course Shakespeare had his own shutdown stress--what should audience members know about The Plague in Shakespeare's time to give them hopefulness for now?
What's special about this play that lured you all to produce it at this time?
DIANE TIMMERMAN: We knew we wanted to open the brand-new Taggart Memorial Amphitheatre with joy and magic and love and laughter. Midsummer was the perfect choice!
KOHN: IndyShakes thrives on volunteers. What continues to be your needs, and how can people sign up and serve?
TIMMERMAN: We are continuing to build our wonderful Board and Associate Board. Interested folks can email Board President Ben Tebbe at firstname.lastname@example.org. If someone is looking for a shorter-term volunteer opportunity, our Indy Shakes fundraiser, Bard & Brews, is coming up on Thursday, September 23, at Guggman Haus Brewery. Anyone interested in joining the fun as we prep that event can contact our Marketing & Development Coordinator, Courtney Remley, at email@example.com. And if anyone has specific volunteer skills they want to share with Indy Shakes, I would love to hear from them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KOHN: This Riverside Park site started and closed down--argh--are there positive aspects because of COVID-19?
TIMMERMAN: As so many others have stated, I do think Covid gave everyone the space to reflect about what is important and what has not been functioning well in our society. We were all set to launch into our online "A Midzoomer Night's Dream" last year when the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement with George Floyd's murder happened, and the subsequent upheaval occurred across the country and here in Indianapolis. Suddenly we did not want to do a comedy. Our artists of color and our Near Northwest neighbors were hurting. And those of us at Indy Shakes who are Caucasian saw the pain and felt it, too. A core group of artists created "Past Words Present Times," a series of filmed Shakespeare monologues that spoke to the moment. Each actor introduced their piece and gave the context for the original meaning of the monologue. Then they shared what the words meant to them right here right now and why they had selected it. The performances were incredibly moving. And cathartic. Later in the summer, we produced Midzoomer, and that felt right, too. And then in December 2020, we produced "Speak the Speech" a series of spoken word pieces by some of Indy's top talent and hosted online by Indy Shakes Company Member Kelsey Johnson. Covid brought us these riches, and for that, we are grateful.
KOHN: IndyShakes has a rich story; to trigger the conversation for returning IndyShakes audience members, what are some of the highlights from your nd?
TIMMERMAN: We are moving into a 9.24 million dollar amphitheater thanks to Lilly Endowment, who awarded the Parks Alliance, Indy Parks/Riverside Park, Indiana Landmarks, and Indy Shakes with a Strengthening Indianapolis through Arts and Cultural Innovation grant. This is quite spectacular for a company whose first Shakespeare--Merchant of Venice--was a one-night affair on a bare-bones budget in White River State Park in 2008. So a highlight has to be receiving this grant with our grant partners. It is truly a dream come true. Along the way, each Shakespeare production we have done has had its own riches. I hope that returning audience members take a moment to visit our website and scroll through our production history and find their favorites from over the years.
KOHN: Community support has been enduring from the up and down White River Park stage to 'a permanent space of your own'--what makes it special to be at Riverside? What forward from now can we expect?
TIMMERMAN: Indy Shakes is seeking to redefine the intersection of professional theatre and community. This is happening because we have been lucky enough to land in the Near Northwest, a beautiful area of Indianapolis comprised of Riverside and many other neighborhoods. The community here is vibrant and active, and the neighbors have generously allowed us a seat at their tables. We are on committees with our neighbors, we are working on projects with neighbors and other local non-profits, and we even purchased a piece of property at 2717 Rader Street near Frank Young Park and Aspire House, a beautiful 1897 fire station being restored by the Aspire Higher Foundation. Our vision is to build Shakes House (inspired by Aspire House) on the Rader Street property to create a theatre center that serves the neighborhood in exciting and creative ways.
KOHN: Who earns a special shoutout for making this production possible? What else do we need to know?
TIMMERMAN: We would not be able to offer high-quality, professional Shakespeare to the community for free were it not for our generous foundation partners, corporate sponsors, in-kind supporters, and individual donors. Without all of the giving on their part, we could not do what we do--and paying artists is one of our core values. At the top of the list of Thank You's belong all of the artists, designers, directors, technicians, managers, interns, company members, staff members, and board members who all give of their hearts and souls to make each production a success. Probably the root of our success is that this is like a Shakespeare Summer Camp for grownups. We have so much joy in what we do; there is so much laughter and such a strong bond amongst us all new and old. And those of us who are "old" (!) are smiling ear to ear this year as we will have real dressing rooms instead of tents and real bathrooms instead of portapotties. And we'll be performing in truly one of the finest amphitheaters in the country, which seems almost unbelievable. It does not get any better than this!!