CARMEL — “Every show has its place. Every show can be healing. Every show can bring us together. Theater has the power to heal.” That is a lesson Don Farrell says he learned while directing and choreographing a jukebox musical in his hometown in Georgia, after the September 11 terror attacks.
Now as the artistic director and co-founder of Actors Theatre of Indiana, Farrell is helping put that healing power to work, as the country grapples with another historic crisis.
ATI is a professional, not-for-profit theater based in Carmel. The pandemic forced the organization to cancel a production in March and pause normal operations — putting actors, designers, directors, choreographers, and other artists out of work. But members of the organization did not ask what you can do for them. Instead, they immediately focused on what ATI could do for the community.
Beginning in March, Actors Theatre streamed free live programs on Facebook, featuring performers calling in on Zoom from their homes. Farrell said they felt called to action to give the community an escape. The shows proved to be very successful, with people tuning in every Friday through the end of May.
That sparked more conversations about how to safely entertain the public. Soon ATI was putting on drive-in performances. One of those shows, a holiday-themed production in November, featured a special guest: Broadway star Michele McConnell, who set a record with the most performances as Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera.
The innovative partnerships did not stop there.
In December, Actors Theatre of Indiana streamed a stage production of A Christmas Carol. The one-man show featured Tony award-winning actor Jefferson Mays. That opportunity came about through the group TBD Pictures, which worked with theaters across the country to promote and offer the play to local online audiences. $20 of every ticket sold went to help sustain those theater companies.
Now ATI is giving new life to one of its own shows. The 2019 production of Alabama Story is streaming online from January 18-February 14. The story centers around an Indiana native who becomes a librarian in Alabama. Her life and livelihood are put at risk when a children’s book sparks controversy.
Farrell says ATI filmed the performance for archiving purposes. The recording was never intended to be seen publicly. Once again, necessity led to a creative opportunity. This time, the partnership is with Actors Equity Association, the labor union representing U.S. actors.
“They came up with a new agreement because of COVID-19 to help theater companies,” Farrell said. By offering the show to rent online, “we're able to give that story another life, of our production, and hopefully reach even more people with this great impactful story.”
Looking ahead, Actors Theatre of Indiana plans to keep creating however possible, as the pandemic continues. More drive-in performances will be scheduled as the weather warms up. While entertaining and supporting the community is top of mind for ATI, Farrell says support from the community is important.
“We don't have a big safe in the back with tons of cash, even though we're located in Carmel, Indiana,” he said. “That is not the case. We are going many times without pay just to kind of keep the lights on and pay everybody else's bills or get the paychecks out.”
To stream Alabama Story and to learn more about Actors Theatre of Indiana, go to atistage.org.