Home Theatre AMERICAN THEATRE | Indiana Rep’s Janet Allen, Benjamin Hanna: Staying Energy

AMERICAN THEATRE | Indiana Rep’s Janet Allen, Benjamin Hanna: Staying Energy

AMERICAN THEATRE | Indiana Rep’s Janet Allen, Benjamin Hanna: Staying Energy


Benjamin Hanna and Janet Allen. (Photograph by Kerry Barmann)

There’s a bittersweet tinge to Indiana Repertory Theatre’s fiftieth anniversary season. Although the celebratory 2022-23 season featured manufacturing highlights just like the Indiana premiere of Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese language Woman and a season-concluding hit within the basic whodunit Clue, the season additionally marked the ultimate hurrah for IRT’s longest-running creative director Janet Allen, who has, in a roundabout way, form, or type, been round IRT for 4 of its 5 many years.

“It was definitely not as festive as a fiftieth earlier than COVID might need been,” Allen conceded throughout a joint interview alongside Benjamin Hanna, who was introduced as Allen’s successor earlier this 12 months. “COVID remains to be very, very current in our lives, when it comes to attempting to maintain the work onstage and attempting to maintain understudies prepared and all that stuff. It definitely had its challenges, but it surely’s an important milestone.”

Allen’s time at IRT dates again to 1980 when she labored as the corporate’s dramaturg and literary supervisor. She stepped away for a stint in New York Metropolis earlier than returning later that decade to function affiliate creative director. In 1996, Allen was promoted to creative director, and for over half the lifespan of IRT, she has led the corporate artistically and as co-CEO, most lately alongside managing director and co-CEO Suzanne Sweeney.

There was no scarcity of flowers for Allen as she steps into retirement. The town of Indianapolis’s mayor’s workplace declared June 6, 2023, Janet Allen Day in Indianapolis, and Governor Eric J. Holcomb awarded Allen with the Sagamore of the Wabash. The latter award places Allen alongside presidents, athletes, and different celebrities. It was an honor that Allen mentioned was “form of surreal.”

“In our world, you anticipate company, basis individuals to get all these accolades,” Allen mentioned.

Moreover, in early June, IRT introduced its $6 million Again to the Future capital marketing campaign, which is able to, partly, assist the renaming of the group’s Upperstage Theatre to honor Allen. That little shock, Allen mentioned, was one thing her colleagues across the constructing have been in a position to hold secret from her for 2 years. “Both I’m tremendous not observant or they have been actually good,” Allen joked.

They have been simply actually good, Hanna reasoned. As Allen passes the IRT baton to Hanna, native audiences will already be acquainted with his work. As a director, he has led productions of Fahrenheit 451, The Guide Membership Play, and this season’s Clue. As a six-year affiliate creative director on the theatre, he inaugurated IRT’s Inclusion, Variety, Fairness, and Entry initiatives. Beforehand, Hanna’s expertise has included stops at Youngsters’s Theatre Firm in Minneapolis, Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California, and Penumbra Theatre Firm (now the Penumbra Middle for Racial Therapeutic) in St. Paul, Minn.

Earlier this week, Allen, Hanna, and I took a look forward to Hanna’s tenure, spoke about theatre sustainability, and mentioned the distinctive challenges and alternatives that include working a theatre deep within the coronary heart of the Midwest. The next dialog has been edited for size and readability.

The forged of the IRT’s 2023 manufacturing of “Clue.” (Photograph by Zach Rosing)

JERALD RAYMOND PIERCE: Janet, what made it really feel like this was the fitting time to step away?

JANET ALLEN: Effectively, this was not a quick choice. I truly began speaking to board chairs eight years in the past about wanting down the pike. I mentioned, “I believe I’ll be an age the place I’m going to be able to be carried out by then.” Initially, we have been going to do a two-year announcement, however then COVID hit, we opted not to do this. However I principally am simply prepared for the theatre to have new management and I’m able to have a brand new chapter.

After I take a look at Bob Falls and Barbara Gaines and numerous us which can be retiring, I believe it’s controversial that we stayed in our seats too lengthy, as a result of the era forward of us actually did. They stayed of their seats for a very long time. We have been with considered one of our main funders yesterday, and our board chair mentioned it is a once-in-a-generation form of management change, and I don’t suppose that’s going to be true going ahead. I don’t suppose that individuals your guys’ age need to keep in these jobs perpetually. So I believe we’re simply in a giant interval of change, which is actually good and actually vital.

Ben, you’ve been round IRT for a number of years now, so are you able to each discuss to me about the advantages of with the ability to go the baton to any individual who has been within the constructing, who is aware of the group?

JANET: It’s dreamy good. I used to be promoted from affiliate creative director. Our managing director was promoted from CFO. So our boards simply suppose that’s regular, and we’re all the time saying to them, it’s not that ordinary in our enterprise. We did a nationwide search that was an essential piece of our puzzle, but it surely was great to have the ability to hand all this to Ben, as a result of there’s nothing handy. He holds all of it already.

BENJAMIN HANNA: After I was employed [as an associate], we sat down and I mentioned, it is a step on my solution to creative management. Whether or not it’s right here or someplace else was to be decided. And the way lengthy I stayed right here was about our relationship, about whether or not I’m nonetheless being of service to the establishment, and whether or not I’m nonetheless rising additionally. When it turned actual that that is the time, the query was not simply, do they need me, however do I would like them? Can we need to transfer ahead collectively? And as numerous my colleagues are going via search processes proper now, it’s actually about constructing a relationship that feels such as you’re in the fitting area for one another in that second.

I believe what Janet talked about about possibly it’s not as soon as in a era is partially as a result of we’re re-navigating how lengthy one may be of service and wholesome and entire in a neighborhood. COVID has modified a few of our tradition of what we would like from our profession, our area, our work/life steadiness. I don’t know that so many individuals now are approaching CEO roles with, “I need to do that for 25 years,” as a result of we additionally know the burden of these roles. We all know the sacrifice of these roles together with the advantages that include it.

IRT manufacturing supervisor Malia Argüello and Janet Allen within the rehearsal room for IRT’s 2022 manufacturing of “A Christmas Carol.” (Photograph courtesy of Indiana Repertory Theatre)

Janet, you’ve seen Ben behind the scenes. What’s a side of Ben’s management fashion or character that you simply suppose makes him the fitting particular person for this function transferring ahead?

JANET: Ben’s authenticity as a human, his wonderful listening expertise, his open-heartedness, his need to make work holistically, humanly, his pleasure in storytelling—these are all issues that I sensed about him when he was interviewing for the affiliate creative director job. Then I definitely discovered that every one these issues have been terribly true when he acquired right here. 

We serve a multi-generational viewers and we serve a really, very broad viewers. We serve individuals who go to the theatre everywhere in the world and are very refined arts shoppers. However we additionally serve individuals who have by no means been to a metropolis and by no means been in a parking storage and by no means eaten in a metropolis restaurant and who come to see Christmas Carol as a result of it’s a giant deal with they’ve heard about from different individuals. It’s actually arduous to get your arms round all these ends of the spectrum. Ben got here with already numerous expertise in multi-generational [audiences], and that was key. You need to have that.

He’s additionally a Midwesterner, and I’ve acquired to say—it isn’t that you simply can not lead an establishment like this coming from a coast or from a significant metropolis, but it surely takes some change in values and tempo and considering, and it takes some better largess and a few much less cynical edges. Ben had carried out time on coasts, I had carried out time on coasts, and that concept of coming again to the Midwest, as each of us did, I believe has numerous worth.

The opposite piece that Ben introduced that we didn’t have institutionally was an actual deep coaching and apply of DEI work. That was one thing I used to be very deliberately on the lookout for when he got here right here as an affiliate. He had actual deep toes in that work, and we would have liked that work desperately. We had carried out a few of that work, however all of it exterior. We would have liked an inner advocate and ally and languager and pusher about this work.

Ben, as you take a look at the years you’ve been in a position to work with Janet, but in addition Janet’s general legacy, are you able to inform me a little bit bit about what you’ve been ready to remove from her work with this group and the way you hope to construct on that as you progress ahead?

BEN: I’ve been considering loads about this. One of many issues that I’ve discovered from Janet, she used to inform me, “I can see you consternating. I can see you overthinking one thing that in your intestine you realize. You realize what the reply is in your coronary heart, in your spirit. You realize.” In case your intestine and your ethical compass and your values say do that factor, then what it is best to do is do it after which take care of the aftermath.

The best way that selections have been made for the neighborhood, that forward-thinking mentality, is why we’re sustainable. The willingness to make these selections concerning the future and never simply the current, not simply, “Do I be ok with this second,” however, “Am I making ready for the subsequent era? Am I ensuring that there can be a theatre right here 10 years from now, 50 years from now?” I believe so many creative leaders that I’ve labored for earlier than are eager about the current second and the current challenge. In doing so, usually they put together an unstable future for different artists to make work, as a result of they’re not truly eager about the assets that can be required for the longer term.

I believe we share a love of constructing artwork in service to neighborhood. These are neighborhood organizations—the way in which that we entry them, the way in which that we now have to consider the limitations that have been created far earlier than we have been in these roles and the way we now have to dismantle them. Janet mentioned to me, as a brand new affiliate, “What limitations do you see? What do you see that I’m doing proper now that must be dismantled or that I stored from my predecessor or that the establishment is holding due to a monetary X or Y? We’ve got to consider find out how to dismantle these issues.”

You’ve touched on it a little bit bit, so I’d like to ask extra straight for you each to speak concerning the distinctive nature of being the regional theatre for Indianapolis, and Indiana particularly. Particularly for you, Janet, I’m curious if there’s something that you simply want you knew about working this firm, on this area, on this state, on this metropolis, whenever you first began as creative director in ’96 that you simply now know?

Andre De Shields in “The Gospel In keeping with James” at IRT. (Photograph courtesy of Indiana Repertory Theatre)

JANET: As a result of I used to be affiliate creative director for 10 years earlier than I used to be creative director, I felt like I knew loads about Indiana. I used to be the primary creative director that was not from New York to guide this theatre, and that mattered to me. I used to be born in Chicago and grew up in central Illinois and went to Indiana College to graduate faculty. I began to get this concept that we have been doing numerous world canon stuff, however we weren’t on the lookout for something that was actually about our personal yard.

I’m a dramaturg by self-discipline and keenness earlier than I turned an affiliate after which a creative director. One of many first issues I did as creative director was launch what ultimately turned the Indiana sequence, by which we’ve commissioned many performs. We’ve discovered and produced performs that have been based mostly on a chunk of Indiana historical past or literature. Actually, we’re attempting to mine: What’s it to reside right here? That was an essential piece to me, and I believe definitely to our donors, as a result of we now have a restricted endowment that commissions for the Indiana sequence.

We did that a few years in the past as a result of I believe it represents that, sure, the truth is there are numerous values to residing within the Midwest which can be completely different. Whereas a few of them could also be related residing in Ohio or Indiana or Kentucky or Michigan or Iowa, there’s additionally actually place-specific issues. Lots of them aren’t joyful tales. One of many hardest ones was a fee we did with Charles Smith. Charles had carried out a number of commissions for us, and he was to attempt to discover a play within the Marian, Ind., lynching in 1930, a really searing piece of Indiana historical past. It was one of many final lynchings in the USA, simply an unspeakably horrible occasion largely as a result of it was memorialized as a photograph after which bought as a memento.

It took Charles a really very long time to seek out his solution to what this play (The Gospel In keeping with James) needed to be. These journeys have been the journeys which have actually mattered to me personally. How can we make a play? How can we activate a playwright’s curiosity and instinct and zeal to seek out performs in historical past right here? 

BEN: I believe what Janet mentioned initially is actually essential. Being the one one, you’re going to be the primary for thus many individuals. A number of the limitations on this constructing are simply the truth that it truly seems too epic. I can’t see that I’d be capable to go into that constructing. We don’t go into these buildings anymore. We go into malls which can be concrete containers, so that’s accessible. However as a result of we’re not up to date, as a result of we appear like an odd palace of some variety, there may be this inaccessibility simply within the constructing itself.

How we program to ask individuals who won’t come to The Reclamation of Madison Hemings, as a result of that’s only a step too far for his or her first theatre expertise—it’s essential right here to keep in mind that we’re programming for each considered one of our neighbors. Going to see Clue could be very accessible due to the movie, due to the board recreation. Then, when you’ve sat within the theatre and also you’ve seen Clue, then possibly the content material of one thing else may be fascinating to you. Now the constructing shouldn’t be the barrier. The parking shouldn’t be the barrier. Possibly even the ticket price, which you thought could be $300 since you noticed Imply Ladies on Broadway as soon as or on the Broadway tour, now you notice there’s a possibly extra accessible ticket value for you.

JANET: After I was affiliate creative director, I heard a narrative from a board member that has actually caught with me. It was Libby Appel’s final manufacturing as creative director earlier than me, and she or he was doing The Tempest with six actors that was very extremely theatrical and really a lot about transformation. I used to be explaining to a board member who has numerous privilege, travels extensively, sees artwork everywhere in the world, and I mentioned, “That is going to be a manufacturing of Tempest like you’ve got by no means seen.” He mentioned, “Janet, I’ve by no means seen The Tempest. I simply need to see The Tempest. I don’t need to see some large previous riff on it.”

That is what Ben’s speaking about. For a lot of of our audiences, not solely are they going to see a basic play for the primary time, they’re going to see it for the solely time. Now, you’ll be able to let that strain crush you, or you’ll be able to bear in mind as you might be inventing—and we now have to invent to be artists, we’re all the time going to be making it out of ourselves and our corporations within the second that we’re in—but it surely’s so essential to recollect on a regular basis that, for many individuals in our audiences, that is the primary time they’ve seen a basic play, and it may be the one time. They need to come out with some actually indelible reminiscences. That’s our context, and it’s a brilliant essential one. I attempt to hold that in my head on a regular basis.

“The Tempest” at Indiana Repertory Theatre, 1996. (Photograph courtesy of Indiana Repertory Theatre)

Is there the rest the 2 of you want to share with readers?

JANET: I’m simply going to underline or carry a little bit larger a few of what Ben talked about: sustainability. As a result of we’re the one LORT theatre within the state, the largest nonprofit theatre within the state by loads, sustainability holds a really excessive worth for us. Significantly our foundations, but in addition all our donors, anticipate that once they put money into us, they don’t seem to be investing in us so we will spend all their cash in 5 minutes. They’re investing in us in order that this theatre can be right here for his or her youngsters and their grandchildren. That, we discover on a regular basis, is a very completely different worth than numerous our friends. I believe significantly friends in cities the place there’s numerous LORT theatres or there’s numerous competitors, there’s extra sense of, “How can we compete favorably with our friends?”

That’s not what we take into consideration. We’re eager about, “How can we make prudent selections to make nice artwork within the second whereas additionally ensuring this establishment is right here in 50 years?” I believe it’s a barely completely different name to service than a few of our friends have. I used to really feel like an endowment was form of unsexy once we have been constructing an endowment within the early ‘90s, that individuals thought, “Oh God, that’s so stodgy of you guys.” Now I’m so grateful that this metropolis holds that worth extremely, as a result of we’re going to be right here. Are we going to do as a lot programming as we did earlier than the pandemic quickly? Most likely not, however the selections are made with that eye to the longer term. I don’t know, I’m utterly an animal of that viewpoint. I’ve by no means labored in a special viewpoint. I’ve heard that viewpoint be judged or ridiculed exterior of right here, however I don’t remorse any of that. I’m so glad that’s a worth that we maintain.

Jerald Raymond Pierce (he/him) is the Chicago Editor for American Theatrejpierce@tcg.org

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