Bringing Broadway to your backyard

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Actor’s Theatre of Indiana reflects on its mission and what it means to be professional

From left, Judy Fitzgerald, Cynthia Collins and Don Farrell founded Actors Theatre of Indiana after moving from New York City in 2005.

In 2005, Cynthia Collins, Don Farrell and Judy Fitzgerald, three professional performers, traveled from New York City and founded the Actors Theatre of Indiana. Despite the existence of several other theater companies in the area, ATI has one primary difference: it is the only professional Equity theater company in Hamilton County. This key distinction is not only visible behind the scenes, but also on the stage.

“The main difference between amateur and professional theater is that it is a hobby for one group, and the other is made up of paid, union actors that do it for a living,” said Collins.

“The assumption is that we must have another ‘real’ job, and we say ‘this is a real job,’” said Farrell.

“Nobody would ask that kind of question in larger cities outside the Midwest. People here just don’t see Indiana as as much of an entertainment and art area as other places in the country,” said Collins.

Membership in the Actor’s Equity Assocation, a labor union founded in 1913, is viewed mostly as a sign of the actor’s success. Equity actors are viewed by others in the field as truly being a professional.

“The union was initially meant to protect the actors, but now more than anything, it legitimizes them,” said Farrell.

“When you get that union card, it shows you are invested. It’s very much the equivalent to a master’s or doctorate in other professions. It really is,” said Fitzgerald.

As a result of ATI’s contract with Equity, the company gains access to a wide array of the nation’s greatest performers, including those from Los Angeles and New York, specifically Broadway.

“We want to bring all those great people and blend them with our Indiana talent. We have a spectrum of talent onstage that is anchored by the union talent. It is enhanced by that talent and allows the other talent to grow. You are going to do your best work when you are surrounded by great people,” said Farrell.

Between seasons, all three of ATI’s cofounders routinely audition for and perform in professional shows throughout the country, allowing them to work with other professional actors and crews which they can bring to Indiana when the time is right.

“We are actively engaged in what is going on across the country, in terms of theater,” said Farrell who had returned from a professional performance in Pennsylvania and another in Bloomington only days prior. “We are constantly able to create something fresh and new by bringing out so much talent from so many different places.”

“It’s everything. It’s the entire product from stem to stern that is invigorated by all of this great talent,” said Fitzgerald.

Operating as a not-for-profit organization, ATI may not always have the set and studio space of other theater companies in the area, but they promise they have the talent.

“We don’t see other theaters as competition. To me, they add to the variety of the area. There’s always going to be a place for Community Theater. There are people who didn’t go into the business, but they need that outlet,” said Collins.

“Personally, I would rather have a great actor on a bare stage than a bad actor surrounded by bells and whistles. After seeing our shows, a lot of our subscribers go to other shows and then they really begin to understand the difference between professional and community.”

During the last year, ATI’s focus on professional talent has proven quite successful. The number of season subscription holders has increased by more than 50 percent, and may double before the end of the company’s upcoming eighth season.

“We’re excited to have the community supporting us. The future is very bright for ATI,” said Farrell. “We are expanding and continuing to grow daily.”

Join the cast of “Gypsy” in the Studio Theatre at the Center for the Performing Arts after the September 7 performance for desserts and drinks to celebrate the inaugural performance of ATI’s 8th Season! Tickets to the opening night performance and after party are available for $28 by using promotion code ATICURRENT28 at www.actorstheatreofindiana.org.

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