Hendricks Civic Theatre Invites the Community to Play a Role
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
At times our world can feel fragmented, disjointed and contentious. Thankfully, certain things tend to always bring us together, and the arts is one of those things.
“Theater has taught me so many lessons in life, one of which is that people can be totally disconnected on all kinds of issues but still come together for the thing they love,” says Karla Janning, Hendricks Civic Theatre (HCT) president. “Theater really connects people on a level that you can’t explain until you do it.”
Like so many lovers of the arts, Janning views theater as her happy place.
“In life I’ve suffered many failures and disappointments, but any time I’ve done things with the theater, I’ve only had fulfillment and support from people around me,” she says. “That was something I didn’t expect to get, this whole new family.”
Each year HCT puts on six productions, including a kids show in the spring, a family musical in the summer and four other plays (a mixture of comedies and dramas, one of which is a Christmas show). In years past, some of their most popular performances have included “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Twelve Angry Men” and “The Foreigner.”
“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ opened up a narrative of talking about things that people usually don’t like to talk about,” Janning says. “That was good to see.”
While they try to pick shows that are well-known, they would also like to start doing lesser-known shows that the community will still want to see due to confidence that HCT will put on quality productions. Each year the board sends out a survey to the community to get an idea of the types of shows people are interested in.
“We want to know if they’re ready for a show that maybe challenges them with regards to a moral compass, or challenges them with questions of race and color and those kind of things,” Janning says. “We’re just hoping that they’re ready to not just see the same shows they always see because it’s what they know. We’d like to up the ante a bit and invite folks to step out of their comfort zone.”
In May, HCT will present a comedy called “Play On!” at Longstreet Playhouse in Danville, where they hold the majority of their shows. In July, however, HCT is performing “Mamma Mia!” at Danville High School. Down the road they’re hoping to utilize the new Performing Arts Center in Plainfield. Currently the town is working on building a new Town Hall portion first. The previous Town Hall area will be torn down and that’s where the bulk of the Performing Arts Center will be. Construction of the Performing Arts Center likely won’t start until later this year and won’t be ready for use until sometime in 2023.
The HCT team is always interested in attracting more volunteers who want to help with shows or serve on the board. Volunteer jobs include working the concessions area for shows, ushering, or helping to categorize the costume room or prop room. If you’re intrigued but worried that you’re not the right fit because you’re not a seasoned thespian, worry no more.
“You don’t have to have ever set foot on stage,” Janning says. “We need the business end of the board – people who can do paperwork and marketing. No acting experience is necessary.”
The bottom line is that they’re looking for theater lovers. To volunteer, go the website and click on “Play a Role.” You can also submit a director application if you’re interested in directing a show. Janning estimates that between the casts, volunteers and audience members, HCT touches between 1,000 and 2,000 people per season.
Janning, a lifelong fan of the arts, is committed to theater and feels it’s important for many reasons.
“If you want to get scientific, countless data shows that communities that have a vivid arts community enjoy better health, better connections with one another, and they tend to work better together on projects outside of the arts,” she says.
From a personal standpoint, Janning has found that theater is a great place for people who aren’t sure where they belong.
“We have extroverts, introverts and everyone in between,” she says. “I love it when a parent comes up to me after a show and tells me they were shocked when their shy child said they wanted to audition. On stage they’re a totally different person. I’ve heard that time and again.”
Janning encourages everyone to give theater a try. If you think you may want to audition but are nervous because it’s your first time, HCT is the perfect place to get your feet wet.
“We’re a community theater that wants people to flourish,” Janning says. “We’re going to encourage you, support you, hug you, love on you. This is a safe, comfortable space. Everyone is there to help everyone else out. That’s what I love about HCT.”
Should you audition and not get a part, they will always find a way to include you in the show, working backstage or in some other capacity. In fact, many people enjoy contributing behind the scenes.
Historically the biggest pool of people who have auditioned at HCT have been Caucasian, but they would love to see that change and have people from all walks of life sign up for audition slots. HCT is hoping to attract more diversity to both auditions and the board.
“We’re trying to get the word out that we embrace diversity,” Janning says. While they’re one big happy family, they are always welcoming new members into the fold. They have brand-new people involved in almost every show. Through the years many families have performed together on stage.
“That’s always the most fun,” Janning says. “What happens a lot is that kids have gotten cast in multiple shows, and then a Christmas show comes around and they encourage their mom or dad to audition too. As parents, that’s really rewarding when your child wants you to participate in something with them.”
Anyone can become a HCT member with just a $25 donation. Those who want to make a monthly donation can do so as well. They are also always looking for business or individual show sponsors.
“We have lots of expenses with our shows so when we can offset those expenses, it helps a lot,” Janning says.
The HCT team wants to hear from the community. They welcome fresh ideas and faces, as well as honest critiques and suggestions.
“We’ve been providing community theater for 40 years and we’re ready to grow,” Janning says. “We want the next 40 years to be that much better.”