HISTORY OF C.R.T.
In 1965, the Theater Division of the Indiana State University Department of Speech began producing plays during the summer under the name ISU Summer Theatre. The initial company, headed by Tom Headley, was composed of ISU students and the theater faculty. At a time when most academic theaters across the country were producing one or two plays for the benefit of summer students and audiences, this group produced a very ambitious slate of plays: The Rainmaker, Ladies of the Jury, Toys in the Attic, and Shakespeare’s As You Like It. In the early years, Summer Theater was treated as an extension of the academic year, with students doing the plays during the summer as the major part of their practicum requirement for their course of study in the Theater Division. The program also attracted graduate students—primarily high school drama, speech, and English teachers from across the state who needed to work toward a graduate degree in order to upgrade their teaching credentials and who wanted to gain valuable experience and be a part of good theater. Over the next few years, paid actors and technicians were brought in to augment the company.
The theater was located in the Cotillion Room—a ballroom on the second floor of the old Deming Hotel (which had been bought by ISU and renamed the Deming Center) at the corner of Sixth and Cherry Streets. This arrangement had distinct advantages for some: students and other out-of-towners could be housed on the seventh floor and could breakfast and lunch at one of the two restaurants on the ground floor. It was possible to spend entire days working and living without having to leave the building except to walk the block to the Dreiser Hall scenic and costume shops. Of course, the obligatory after rehearsal snack or after performance party necessitated walking a few blocks to the Waffle House on Third Street or the Saratoga at Fifth and Wabash.
The major disadvantage of the arrangement was moving in and out. Every May, the technical staff, aided by the stalwart ISU moving crew, carried more than 50 risers up the stairs, along with other assorted platforms, flats, many lengths of pipe, dozens of large lighting instruments, great lengths of heavy electrical cable, and boxes of miscellaneous hardware necessary for the construction of a theater. The pipe grid, which would hold the lighting instruments, had to be refitted and hung from the framework above the false ceiling of the ballroom. The risers were installed in the long narrow arena theater configuration. A lighting booth was constructed. Cables were run to the backstage area located in the old kitchen. The antiquated air conditioning system was kick-started (and nurtured very carefully thereafter). Several rooms around the corner of the hallway were transformed into dressing rooms, a make-up room, and a green room for the actors and crew. And every August it was all struck, can-led back down, and carted to Dreiser Hall or a storage facility.
The Deming Center was not available for the 1978 summer season, so that season was produced in Dreiser Hall. By the next year, the New Theater was ready and hosted its inaugural summer season. That year was also the inaugural year of Cabaret Theater—an extra production designed to raise money for the operating fund. This began a string of 22 straight years that Diana Stewart would write a new musical revue for the summer. Each year, Diana wrote the script around the available talent so the entire company could have a little stage time.
Tom Headley was the Artistic Director of Summer Theater from its inception until 1974. Jack Oblak took on the job until 1976 when Gary Stewart arrived. Gary was responsible for introducing the rotating repertory structure in 1976, changing the name to SummerStage in 1983, upgrading its status to “Professional Stock Theater” in 1986, and hiring actors who were members of the Actor’s Equity Association. He continued in this capacity through the 1998 season. Lew Hackleman was the Artistic Director during the summers of 1999 and 2000 and was joined by Gary Stewart as co-head for 2001. Arthur Feinsod became the new chairperson and Artistic Director effective with the 2001-2002 academic year.
One of Feinsod’s first ideas was to introduce an International Initiative, with each summer bringing together members of the company with actors from a specified other country. The concept entailed continuing the SummerStage tradition of presenting a four show season but having at least one show carrying a theme, style or characters of relevance both to the host and guest cultures. We also hoped that there could be some reciprocal arrangement whereby the show would tour
Thus, in summer 2002 was the “Russian summer,” with English-speaking actors from two eminent Russian theaters, the Moscow Art Theatre and the Nikitsky Gates Theatre, producing Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchardwith a cast of Russian and American actors sharing the stage. At the end of the SummerStage season, the cast and crew did not make it to Russia but they did travel in that direction, stopping instead in Santa Cruz, California where they presented an outdoor performance of the Chekhov play in amongst a grove of cherry trees!
The following summer actors from Mannheim Germany’s TIG 7 Theatre came to Terre Haute to join our actors in producing plays that touched on themes of our shared past, particularly the musical Cabaret directed by Kristin Kundert-Gibbs and Bertolt Brecht’s The Jewish Wife directed by Arthur Feinsod. The following May, SummerStage toured the Brecht play along with two other one act plays to Mannheim and Heidelberg Germany where SummerStage helped TIG 7 inaugurate their HERE AND NOW FESTIVAL, which still performs plays in English in Germany today. In May 2012, Julie Dixon performed Teresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates at this same Mannheim festival in a production that Dale McFadden had directed for the 2011 season.
During summer 2004 SummerStage brought to Terre Haute actors from Trinidad/Tobago for which they presented the world premiere of a Calypso musical entitled The Brand New Lucky Diamond Horseshoe Clubdirected by the celebrated Trinidadian playwright/director Tony Hall, with music by the king of Trinidadian calypso David Rudder. The following winter this musical was performed in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, with ISU and SummerStage alum A.J. Davis performing the same part in both locations.
Summer 2005 was our Irish summer, with Irish actor, director, choreographer and Romanian designer Elena Zlotescu working with SummerStage actors to present the world premiere of Sword Against the Sea, Arthur Feinsod’s adaptation of William Butler Yeats’ plays about the Celtic legendary hero Cuchulain, now published by Samuel French. Directed by Yeats scholar and world-renown interpreter of Yeats plays Sam McCready, the production traveled to Yeats’ boyhood home Sligo, Ireland, where it was presented at the Hawks Well Theatre and co-sponsored by Phyllis and Ned Turner of Terre Haute and the Yeats Society of Sligo.
Summer 2006 was the first summer under the company’s new name, Crossroads Repertory Theatre. The focus shifted from the international arena to social issues involving African-Americans. The two plays selected around that summer’s initiative were the Lorraine Hansberry classic Raisin in the Sun and Feinsod’s own playTable 17, directed by Tony Hall and later presented at New York’s 78th St. Theatre directed by Dale McFadden. Diane Weaver and Koqunia Forte performed their lead roles in both locations.
In order to cultivate future audiences, one show has been selected every season since 2006 to be our family or children’s show, beginning with You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown directed by CRT Associate Artistic Director Chris Berchild. Among the other memorable family shows presented in the past seven years have included Alice in Wonderland, directed by Lew Hackleman, as well as Return of Neverland, written by ISU Theater Department alum Andy Park, with music composed by Scott Lamps, and directed by Arthur Feinsod. We have routinely toured these shows to under-served theater audiences, offering free performances at Ryves Hall, local churches, parks, and museums, thanks to generous grants from the Indiana Arts Commission via Arts Illiana and Arts Grants from the City of Terre Haute.
In recent years we have continued to be known for our innovative takes on classic plays and musicals. Examples include Feinsod’s A Doll House, The Fantasticks, The Sunshine Boys and Godspell and Berchild’s brilliant applications of new technologies to Much Ado about Nothing, Macbeth, Frankenstein, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Through the years, audiences at summer productions have been treated to work of the highest caliber. Actors, designers, directors, and technicians who have worked here — were or were to become — recognized across the state, the country, and even worldwide for their work in professional theaters as well as in teaching theater in schools.
The list of ISU graduate and undergraduate students who have used SummerStage for a springboard for further professional work in theater is huge. We name some here and apologize beforehand for the many left off this list: Amy Attaway, Cindy Barrett, Anthony D. Bauer, Doug Bedwell, Gregg Benkovich, Mark Bertram, Ryan Bigler, Dennis Black, Jason Bowen, Tom Bozell, Susann Brinkley, Nolan Brokamp, Traci Burwitz, Natalie Cappucci, Craig Carlisle, Ani Cohen, Laura Collins, Ted Compton, Sam Coquerille, Eddie Curry, Jennifer Davis, Ashley Dillard, Mark Douglas Jones, Jon Felty, Rodney Ferrell, Jodie Fox, Jonathan Golembiecki, Matt Graber, Kim Hackleman, Bill Hammond, Katy Hansen, Jim and Donna Harlan, Jason Hayes, Jessica Hayes, John Hedges, Anni Hine, Josh Hoffman, Nathan Hull, Clair Hummel, Debbie Hurst, Michael Burns Jameson, Sherrie Johnson, Chris Kyle, Cliff Lambert, Jon Lindley, Chris Lintner, Tresa Makosky, Tony McDonald, Brandy Mettert, Susan Monts Bologne, Lauren Morris, Sarah Morris, Randy Noojin, Peter Papadopoulos, Andrew Park, Tony Patellis, Nate Patrus, Art Peden, Jerry Prasser, Jeff O’Brien, Pam Owen, Jeff Owen, Kurt Owens, Andy Rabensteine, Steve Reazor, Ron Riall, Laura Riddle, Paula Sindlinger, Ben Snyder, Cathy Waugh Sponsler, Sonda Rose Staley, Bill and Sharon Koval Stiteler, Ty Stover, Sam Street, Angie Timberman, Andrew Todd, Lynn Topping, Ann Venable, Jamie Virostko, Stacia Wager, Sheila Wahamaki, Jerry Walker, Ann Sheek Warren, Brandon Wentz, David West, Rachelle Martin Wilburn, Matt Wood, Andy Wright, and Steve Young.
Teachers at the elementary, secondary, and university level who are alumni of SummerStage and Crossroads Rep include Cindy Barrett, Dennis Black, John Blair, Candy Coleman, April Cooksey, Quincy Del Colletti, A. J. Davis, Janice Dukes, Phil Evans, Mark Hillenbrand, Pam Hiquet, David Holcombe, Stan Holdcraft, Tom Hontz, Nathan Hull, Michael Burns Jameson, Gretchen Bauer Jennermann, Gigi Jennewein, Lois Koch, Kristin Kundert-Gibbs, Todd Lindley, Dale McFadden, Teresa McCullough, Randy Noojin, Peter Papadopoulos, Tom Prill, Laura Riddle, Sharon Ammen, Sheila Thomas, Sheila Wahamaki, Jerry Walker, Steve Whitaker, and Dick Willis, to name a few.
And we cannot fail to mention with pride the present ISU Theater faculty and staff who continue to light up boards all over the state, nation and abroad with the theatrical expertise that they have honed in their summers with SummerStage and CRT: Chris Berchild, Julie Dixon, Arthur Feinsod, Michael Jackson, David Marcia, Tresa Makosky, Grace Muñoz, Toni Roloff, Michelle Hunt Souza, David Vogel and Brandon Wentz.
In the years ahead, Crossroads Rep pledges to do everything in our power to continue to entertain, challenge, excite, educate and energize our audiences with the thrill of live theater, presented on an open stage that brings plays and musicals almost into our audience’s laps! We welcome you to join us as our journey moves forward…
The above list of names is dynamic, so if you find your name missing and are a Crossroads Rep / SummerStage alum and work in either the theatre or theatre education (or a related field), please email our website team.
FOR A COMPLETE HISTORY OF CROSSROADS REP / SUMMERSTAGE PRODUCTIONS, PLEASE CLICK HERE!