Brad Byrd InDepth: Saving the Theatre


EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT)- Eyewitness News’ Brad Byrd spoke with Evansville Civic Theatre board member Joe Atkinson and theatre Artistic Director Kevin Roach about an effort to save the theatre amid financial woes.


Brad Byrd: Kevin, and, Joe, thank you so much for being here tonight. Joe, first of all, a fundraiser has been underway. Is it going to help save the Civic?

Joe Atkinson: Well, we certainly hope so. The pandemic, as you know, has hit arts communities across the country. We’re not unique in that. But you know, we’ve reached out to ask people across the community to help us safe civic theater because, you know, having to not do shows, having to significantly reduce capacity at the shows that we weren’t able to do, it has obviously created challenges. And so far people have been wonderful, our response has been great. And we’ve got a good start moving towards saving civic theater offices. Unfortunately, we still have a ways to go. But certainly we’re hopeful.

Brad Byrd: And Kevin, back in the good old days, pre-pandemic, it was great to talk to you in person here on InDepth. And you have worn so many hats. You’re working now on the critically acclaimed the Laramie project to play outlining reaction to the brutal torture-murder of Matthew Shepard, tell me about that. And the challenges of trying to put that into a virtual production?

Kevin Roach: Sure, well, I think one of the most disheartening things is when the pandemic kind of hit and the shutdown hit, we were literally days from opening. And we realized that it just wasn’t safe to put up and, and from there, you know, this has been a process ever since March, when we finally got together to record it, that was kind of the height of when a lot of cases were coming out. And we had one weekend that we could record it, we had special permission from the publishing company to do so. And we had planned to do it just from beginning to end filming it. And we had a lot of people in our cast that had some concerns or scares. And so we ended up filming it one person at a time or in some cases to people very socially distanced. And then sitting down and very painstakingly kind of splicing that all together into a cohesive story. And it’s such a powerful and moving story. You want to do it justice, and you want to do it right. So we had to be very, very careful with how we treated it.

Brad Byrd: And Joe, like many civic theaters in the country, virtual productions, it takes so much hard work to put those on and they are the norm right now. How are they being received? You were talking about capacity, etc. But are they actually being received online?

Joe Atkinson: You know, I think a lot of it depends on how people go about filming it and how it’s presented online. I’ve certainly seen and heard some virtual productions where people have raved and said that they just people have done fantastic work with it. And others, I think less so one of the things that has really been impressive, but this because we did air this once, yesterday or Tuesday, sorry, it was Tuesday. And the response that I’ve heard so far from people is that this is one of the better virtual productions that they’ve seen. I think it’s been very well received by the people that watched it that day. And I hope that that continues to be the case, that people continue to because it is a tremendous amount of work for the cast, for the crew, for the people that are editing it together. It’s a lot of work. But I think it’s important that we try and keep an arts presence in the arts community, especially in this difficult time when people have the need to stay at home. And we need to find ways to be creative and be inventive in the way that we bring theater and we bring entertainment to people. And you know, Kevin and the crew have done such a fantastic job with this and have been so and pushed so hard to tell this story and to tell it well and to tell it the right way, in very difficult circumstances. And so I hope people watch it and enjoy it.

Brad Byrd And Kevin, I rarely get to watch primetime dramas and comedies. But Hollywood right now, is you can tell production is gearing back up. But I was just watching last night, I had the night office watching the Conners and you could kind of tell this something was different because this program that I was watching was obviously taped post-pandemic, I should say. And those people who work behind the scenes in your case, you kind of alluded to that, how have they adjusted not only on stage, but behind stage to put these stories on in these conditions.

Kevin Atkinson: With our in our case, you know, one of the I think most challenging things for our people behind the scenes was, you know, we went from very staged production with lots of tableaus and lighting and very special artistic moments to we have one person, so we have to do it very much interview style, kind of like it originally was I mean, all these words are based on actual interviews. But towards the end there, we ended up having to fill several places that were left vacant. And we had several actors in the community step up. And so our tech crew that would have been a running crew, you know, behind the set, or, you know, doing lights kind of ended up becoming a makeshift film crew. And, you know, for myself, I even had to be a part of it, and we even had teleprompters available for those that you maybe didn’t memorize right away. And the response I’ve gotten is that, you know, you wouldn’t even know that that had happened. And so you know, we have people that helped build the set, are now rigging up this whole system. To help these actors perform in front of a camera to the best of their ability, they’re holding up computers. They’re setting up extra lighting and things like that. So, hey, you know, it was very different in how it all came together and how we still had a crew, but they were doing something vastly different than what they were used to.

Brad Byrd: Okay, Joe, we have about 30 seconds what’s at stake here, if we would lose the Civic Theatre, there’s something about the ambiance of walking into that theater and actually seeing a performance face to face. What’s at stake here, if we lose that, what are people going to be missing?

Joe Atkinson: Well, I mean, city theater is it’s a 95 year old tradition in the Evansville community, it’s where kids come to see things like the Crucible and the Lord of the Flies after they read the books in school, it’s where, you know, people have find an opportunity to perform and to find a community and to just belong to get away from, you know, the sort of mundanities of life. And I think that that’s important, that having that space and that escape, and that just sort of cultural touchstone is is a critical part of what we have in our community. And that’s what’s at stake with the Save Civic Theatre campaign is keeping the doors open and keeping that landmark of our community here.

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