The Mud Creek Barn Playhouse is a community theater and happens to be the oldest continuously operating community theater in Indianapolis. This volunteer-operated organization was originally launched by a group of women who joined together to serve their country and community. This simple act would become the foundation for an organization that has entertained and served the Geist community for more than 70 years.
Years before the theater was even a concept, the women of Mud Creek Valley began to feel socially isolated from friends and activities as a result of gas rationing during World War II. The women decided to come together to support those serving in the war by sewing bandages and blankets for the Red Cross. The camaraderie and sense of community these women developed was an inspiration to continue meeting once their services were no longer needed for the war effort.
The women decided to meet weekly during the day, and occasionally meet in the evenings in order to include their husbands. When the women became interested in once again forming a collective purpose, a man named Sol Blumenthal, who had participated in theater in Chicago, suggested the group form a theater. On February 23, 1950, the first official meeting occurred at the home of Arthur and Grace Payne.
The first performance spearheaded by the group was staged in a barn known as the Murphy barn, located on Sargent Road. A significant effort was required to create a stage in the barn, with makeshift seating made from bales of hay and stalls converted to dressing rooms. Most of the community was involved, and because of the civic-minded founders, the proceeds were donated to the Castleton Volunteer Fire Department.
With the success and growth of the theater, the organization grew and its leaders realized they needed a permanent home. Members Merz and Mary Condit offered their empty barn, located just west of Sargent Road on 86th Street, for the group’s permanent headquarters. As a result, the group had a permanent playhouse and members came together to create the area’s first community center. The barn offered space for art classes, square dancing, movie nights, costume parties, book club meetings and neighborhood pitch-ins.
For 13 years, the Mud Creek Players successfully presented at least one to two plays per year. On a July afternoon in 1963 the barn burned to the ground, and Crestview elementary school leaders provided their auditorium for that day’s scheduled show. The members and the community came together, and enough donations were gathered for the group leaders to buy the property at 86th Street and Mud Creek Road. The little barn on the property has been the organization’s home ever since.
Over the years the facility has been used in a variety of capacities, including a voting poll location and a meeting place for the Mud Creek Conservancy. The organization helped to block efforts for the development of a turnpike that would have destroyed much of the area’s green space, and also blocked efforts to damn Mud Creek for a reservoir that would have flooded the area.
“I imagine that most people in the Geist community are unaware of the role that our organization played over the years in protecting our community,” Board President Michelle Miller Moore says.
Miller Moore is proud of the organization’s history and excited about its future.
“We are forming an exploratory committee to build a new stand-alone structure on the property, to provide a Mud Creek Valley community arts center,” she says. “This is something we hope to accomplish in the next ten years that would provide a community center for this part of the city. The reason is that there is really not a community center in this section of Indianapolis.”
The Mud Creek Barn Playhouse currently hosts multiple shows every year, and offers ways for children and teens to get involved. The children’s summer camp program, called BARN R.A.T.S.(Really Awesome Theater School), is a great way for local kids to get started in theater. The teen program, called The A.C.T. (Association for Creative Theater), is operated 100% by the teens who are involved, alongside adult mentors.
When long-time Board Member Judy McGroarty moved from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis in 1997, one of the first things she wanted to find was a local theater.
“This has been the most welcoming, warm, embracing environment – really a family feeling,” she says. “I have been a member for 23 years and I will continue for as long as I am able. A gentleman stopped by one day just because he wanted to see what it was like inside. He ended up reading for a part, and has been a member ever since.”
The Mud Creek board members are passionate about welcoming additional members, inviting patrons to attend performances, and encouraging young people to get involved to keep the influx of new ideas and energy flowing.
The Mud Creek Theater is located at 9740 E 86th St in Indianapolis. For more information, call 317-290-5343 and explore mudcreekplayers.org.