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Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre Executive Director Reflects On 30 Years With the Organization

Photography provided

Individuals involved in local performing arts comprise a group who pursue their passion more as a labor of love than full-time employment. Michael J. Lasley, however, has managed to carve a career out of his almost 30-year affiliation with the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre.

Lasley, the current executive artistic director, has been involved with the organization in many capacities since 1990, and will celebrate his milestone anniversary with the organization in January 2020.

When asked what initially attracted him to the Civic Theatre, Lasley says, “I needed a job!”

“Community theater is tribal. Everyone knows each other. I started doing community theater in 1983 when I was in high school. I studied theater at IUPUI and then at Ball State. After graduating, I got a job with King’s Productions through a Ball State alumnus,” he says. “When the job was over, I returned to Indianapolis. Again, through alumni connections I was hired by Civic Theatre.”

His first job with the theater was working in the carpentry shop by day and running the sound system at night. As the years went on, his tenure included performing, sound designing and administrative duties. He served as producing director for 15 years and supervised budgets, timelines and staff. In August 2016, he was named executive artistic director.

“This business is built on challenges,” Lasley says. “The most challenging times I’ve been through were the two moves I was point man for. In 2004 the theater moved to Marian University, and then in 2011 it relocated to the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. For two years I met with the representatives from Carmel two or three times a week in order to design and plan the facility.”

Another hurdle that Civic Theatre had to deal with was a major financial and leadership upheaval in 2015. As a nonprofit, it committed to more than it could handle.

“The City of Carmel has been great champions for us,” Lasley says. It was able to renegotiate and stay at the Center for the Performing Arts as a result.

As the longest continually operating theater in the nation, it has put on hundreds of shows. One of the most successful produced under Lasley’s watch was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. It was the first musical of its scale that the theatre attempted, and the first under Lasley’s direction. Featured during the 2000 holiday season, it was extremely popular. The theater has brought the show back nine additional times since then.

“One show I have to mention is 42nd Street. I met my wife of 25 years, Marni Lemons, when we were both working in the production. We’ve been together ever since,” Lasley says.

Since Lasley has been at the helm, the seasons under his direction have shown record breaking sales. His dedication and hard work made it possible. He realizes that staying at one theater for 30 years is extraordinary.

“Civic Theatre is a true community theater. We only have 10 full-time employees, three part-time employees and hundreds of adjunct workers. Over the years, thousands of people have come through our doors to volunteer in one capacity or another. Those of us who are on staff never slow down. We are constantly busy opening a show, holding auditions and thinking about what’s coming up next.”

Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre is located at 3 Center Green in Carmel. For more information, such as ticket information and upcoming shows, visit civictheatre.org or call 317-843-3800.

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