Young thespians from the Southside don’t have to venture so far from home anymore to get stage time now that the Agape Performing Arts Company calls Our Lady of the Greenwood home.
Agape (pronounced ah-gah-pay), Greek for the type of love that God has for all his people, is a ministry of the church and gets free rehearsal space but no funding.
The troupe was founded by Dr. Kathleen Phipps in early 2016 and caters to the 10- to 26-year-old age group. A lifelong theatre advocate with directing credits spanning more than 25 years, Phipps, has been involved with youth theater on the Southside since 2011.
She earned her doctorate in theater from Michigan State University in 1993. Recent shows under her direction include “The Music Man,” “Shrek: The Musical,” “Les Miserables,” “Godspell” and “Into the Woods Jr.”
Phipps praises community theater because of its many assets. “It’s a great place to meet people who are interested in the fine arts. It’s so rewarding to watch the kids grow in their skills and gain confidence on the stage while building long-lasting friendships. That confidence is carried over to real-life situations. The public benefits because it gets to enjoy great theatrical productions. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
“We have some kids who are great dancers, singers and actors,” said assistant director Tracey Rollison. “You will see some of our kids in productions performed by the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Buck Creek Players and Footlite Musicals,” added Rollison, who also serves as the company’s community relations director. In other words, she can fill in wherever needed, although her forte is creativity and choreography.
She and Phipps are blessed to have Lynel Duffey assist with the casting process. Duffey directed and performed on Broadway and TV for years. The staff also features Christa Runion, who started at Disney World in Orlando Fla., and has choreographed and acted for Buck Creek Players, Indy Fringe and had a lead in “Calder: The Musical” at Indy Fringe last fall.
While Agape calls Our Lady of the Greenwood home, most of the company’s productions are staged at McGowan Hall, 1305 N. Delaware St., on the Old Northside. “There is only so much we can do at Greenwood because it was not constructed as a theater,” Rollison said.
Built in 1922 as the first Knights of Columbus council in Indiana, the theater is described as gorgeous by Rollison. “There are no posh luxuries, but the woodwork and period detailing are beautiful.”
The hall, which also hosts cultural, civic and private events ranging from wedding receptions to dances and concerts, seats about 300 people. Its balcony is being renovated by Alex Kalscheur as his Eagle Scout project so it meets building codes, and it will seat an additional 150 people when completed. Other parts of the theater are being revamped by McGowan’s volunteer with help from troupe members and their families.
Kalscheur has been in several productions, as has his sister, Ava, 14, an actress who also serves as stage manager.
“Ava is just terrific and highly organized; she is on point all the time,” Rollison said. “There is a lot of talent in that family.”
Although the troupe’s members come from all over Greater Indianapolis, most of them and the staff members reside on the Southside.
Because Agape’s shows resemble massive Broadway presentations, the stage has to be built out, taken down and stored for each production. And a lighting and sound system has to be brought in, as do props and roughly 200 costumes.
“Eventually the theater hopes to have good, permanent lighting and sound systems,” she said.
One might think that performing about 13 miles from home would result in smaller audiences, but that’s not the case.
“All of our shows except one have sold out,” said Rollison, noting that several have been performed at Our Lady of the Greenwood and Roncalli High School.
The troupe is rehearsing for “Scrooge: The Musical,” which will be staged for eight performances the weekend of Nov. 3-12. Tickets range from $4 to $15 and are available at www.agapeshows.org.
“We are able to keep our ticket prices low because we do all the work,” Rollison said, “and we don’t have any well-paid staff members. There’s just the occasional honorarium.”
We are attempting to make accessible, top-quality theater something that the Southside is known for,” Rollison said. “Carmel has The Palladium and a dozen other things. The Southside doesn’t have much aside from one community theater and school programs.”
When away from the stage, Rollison keeps busy as a wife, a freelance writer/public relations person and a mother of three – Alec, 21; Bella, 18; and Gemma, 12; all three are Agape veterans. Her husband, Doug, a professional artist, is a production artist for the company.
Rollinson, who can be reached at 317-709-3730 for more information about the troupe, earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Taylor and Indiana universities, respectively.
Critics have nothing but praise for Agape: “You would be mistaken to assume that this was some charming little effort,” one said, “with cute kids attempting adult roles ... among the very best of shows I have seen from any youth theatre company.”
Another noted that the presentation was breathtaking with voices that rival professionals.