INDIANAPOLIS — 2021 marks a new era for the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company.
The nonprofit theater organization, also known as Indy Shakes, will take the stage at a new venue, located at Riverside Park.
Executive Artistic Director Diane Timmerman describes the Taggart Memorial Amphitheater as a world class facility.
"We feel like we won the lottery," she said. "Literally. I'm not exaggerating. This is one of the finest, if not the finest amphitheaters in the entire country."
Funding for this project did not come by chance. Indy Shakes worked with the Parks Alliance, Indy Parks, and Indiana Landmarks to apply for and receive a $9.2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.
The venue will not just benefit the theater company. Located on the near northwest side, the goal is to bring much more than the Bard to the community.
"We're seeking to redefine the intersection between professional theater and community, and we want to learn how to be great community members," Timmerman explained. "So, we work with wonderful people like Ron Rice, to learn more about the community, to help out with various committees and activities, and just to be involved."
Rice describes himself as a community builder of the near northwest side and praised the way the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company is working with the neighborhood.
"Every time we do any meeting, anytime we do any event, you'll always see someone from Indy Shakes there," Rice said. "And you'll always see them asking first. Before they do, they ask. And that's all we've ever asked anyone else to do."
Performer Shawnté P. Gaston, a member of the company, agrees.
"Indy Shakes doesn't just show up when it's time to do a show, they're actively here and listening to the community and trying to find ways to help and make this a better place for everyone," Gaston said.
Rice said the Taggart project is part of the larger Riverside Park master plan. He said residents have been asking for a cultural or entertainment attraction for more than a decade.
"This neighborhood has spent a lot of time hearing things and never receiving them, so for this to actually be done, when we asked for it, number one, is a huge win," Rice said. "We can actually perform the things that are important to us, that are culturally relevant to us. Indy Shakes has been a huge partner, not only with their own programming and casting and employing folks that look like us, but also working with new programs."
The organization also purchased property at 2717 Rader Street, near Frank Young Park and Aspire House. The site will be the future home of Shakes House, a space for community gathering and learning that will also provide job opportunities and housing options.
While that may sound ambitious, Timmerman remains humble.
"We're the newcomers on the block. This is a very established neighborhood, there were arts in the park well before we were a thought in anybody's mind and so we're picking up part of that torch and assisting that," she said.
Rice said other organizations can learn from Indy Shakes.
"We're trying to get more folks to understand that when you come in and listen to what the residents want, it'll give you a better understanding of what they need and how you can help and also how you can work together with them as opposed to working at them or to them," he said.
At the center of the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company's community vision is the work and legacy of Shakespeare himself. It's something Gaston said is important.
"Having this facility here means that the kids will be able to see Shakespeare at an early age and so that tells them at an early age, oh, I have access to Shakespeare, I can see Shakespeare, I understand Shakespeare, I enjoy it. Maybe that means I'm smart," she said. "So just planting that seed can change a life."
Indy Shakes will make its debut at the Taggart Memorial Amphitheatre with performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream, July 22 to 24 and July 29 to 31.
That includes an ASL-interpreted production July 29 and two livestream dates July 29 and 30.
The shows are free, but you must register for a ticket.
For more information go to indyshakes.com.