About a month ago, right before I saw “Voices from the High School,” I met Jeremy Tuterow and Jim LaMonte outside the Spotlight Players’ new location at 524 Main Street in Beech Grove for a tour. Spotlight’s Board of Directors includes several talented men and women, but I think of these two directors, in particular, as “the Spotlight Guys.” Maybe it’s just because I have run into them often at other theatres’ shows.
Anyway, I was grateful to get a tour of the new place. I also loved hearing a little about their adventures in procuring it and their hopes and dreams for what it might mean for the future of the Spotlight Players.
The building was originally a Bealls Department Store. The vertical sign that says “Spotlight” in the photo above actually still said “Bealls” when I visited. It is an eye-catching sign, either way.
After Bealls closed, the place was occupied by an auction house. Then a printing company. Then for more than a couple of years it stood empty. The Spotlight guys looked into buying it, but the cost was prohibitive. It stood empty a while longer.
Finally, a Carmel businessman, David Stirsman, bought it sight unseen in an auction while he was on a business trip in California. Stirsman was one of the people responsible for the revitalization of Indy’s Massachusetts Avenue in the early 1990’s. He put a “for lease” sign in the window of the former Bealls store, but said “no” to inquiries from a gun shop and other businesses that didn’t fit his vision for the place. He hoped for something that would contribute to the cultural arts of the community.
I bet he was delighted when the Spotlight guys approached him. They were certainly delighted when he agreed to lease to them, especially since he gave them a very favorable, seven-year, “stair step” lease (i.e. – very low rent at first, increasing as the theatre begins to bring in money.) He also donated a new wood floor. The Spotlight guys will be responsible for all other construction and upkeep.
There was, and still is, a lot of work to be done. LaMonte told me they first filled a huge dumpster with nasty trash. Then they held several work days over several months at which people from Beech Grove and from community theatres all around Indianapolis came to help clean up further, paint the lobby, and otherwise get ready for Spotlight’s first big fundraiser in the new space last spring.
“If they couldn’t help physically,” LaMonte told me, “they brought bottles of water or other supplies. They helped in any way they could.” He was very appreciative.
The mayor of Beech Grove (Donald “Joe” Wright) and several local businesspeople attended that first fundraiser in May, as well as “Lord of the Rings” actor Sean Astin and Indy Car driver Sarah Fisher. (LaMonte wrote about the event in lovely detail here on Indiana Auditions.com.)
Tuterow and LaMonte have done a lot of the other renovation work themselves, with the help of other skilled volunteers. Professional electrician Eric Brown (JE Brown Electric – 317-431-8575) is donating all of the electrical work, for example.
“He is a local Beech Grove resident and he is happy that this building is getting used (in this way),” LaMonte told me. “He believes it will be good for the community.”
The new space will have several exciting features:
* A gallery just off the lobby will feature the work of Marion County area artists, perhaps selected to fit the themes of concurrently running performance pieces. A large storefront window in the gallery will allow passersby to be intrigued by the visual art even when the theatre is closed. Artists may opt to sell their work from this venue as well as exhibit it.
* In addition to the main stage, which will have sloped seating (aka raked seating), there will be a second stage devoted to cabaret-style shows. The second stage will be called the Dreyling Stage in memory of Spotlight board member Edward Dreyling. He passed away two years ago. Spotlight has already established a scholarship in his name. The box office staff will set aside a cut from all Dreyling Stage shows to maintain the scholarship fund. The scholarship will be awarded for the first time at a special dedication show in November.
* The new main green room (aka the dressing/waiting room) will be twice the size of the green room in the old space. It will have five dressing tables with makeup lights and mirrors over them, plus a curtained off changing area so that the cast doesn’t have to use the public restrooms at the rear of the theatre. There will also be a little green room behind the Dreyling Stage.
* There will be a specially wired stage manager’s booth in back of the main stage plus a raised light and sound board at the back of the main house.
* The two performance spaces can be merged into one large space if needed.
* At the very back of the building is a place for a workshop. In other words, a place in which to paint sets without worrying about drips.
* There is also a “Scary Room” in which to put actors who refuse to learn their lines. (LaMonte and Tuterow think it used to be a coal bin.) I laughed out loud when I saw and heard about this.
* The main stage will, of course, be the setting for Spotlight’s regular season of plays, but the Spotlight guys also see both it and the Dreyling Stage as places for other performance arts, such as storytelling. (Yay!) In an earlier conversation, Spotlight board member Julie Dutcher told me that they also hope to offer classes in acting and other performance arts. Last May, LaMonte also put a call out on IndianaAuditions.com for writers for a new sketch comedy troupe, “Show Us the Funny,” that will begin performing at Spotlight in early 2009.
But in the meantime, as I say, there is still a lot of renovation work to be done. Tuterow told me that he and LaMonte designed and planned the whole renovation by plotting it out on graph paper and telling each other stories about what they want the new space to be and do. They created a budget, but then had to re-figure it when the fire department told them they would have to have a breakaway door at the back.
Both men work full time at day jobs and volunteer their time to Spotlight, as does everyone else involved with the Spotlight Players. The theatre group has been around in some shape or form for ten years. LaMonte has been part of it since the beginning. “I’ve just seen it grow,” he said, with satisfaction in his voice.
“Do you see yourselves becoming a professional company some day?” I asked, trying to get a handle on their vision for the future.
“No,” LaMonte said. “That is not our goal.” They are content, and proud, to be an all-volunteer community theatre. Here is their five-part mission statement:
* To serve as an educational, artistic, and vocational resource for the community.
* To provide opportunities to strengthen basic organizational, communication, and analytical skills.
* To enhance appreciation of the human condition through the cultural diversity of theatrical literature.
* To encourage the community to make cognitive connections with the work of the theatre and the social, historical, and philosophical issues it illuminates.
* To introduce people of all ages to live theatre and its potential as a learning tool with which to better understand contemporary life.
“But,” LaMonte continued, “If we can just make it through our first year in this space, I think we will have made it.”
“What do you mean by ‘made it’?” I asked.
“Well, you know, it’s hard to start a community theatre…I look at (and admire) Buck Creek and they’ve been around for (almost) 40 years. When I’m in my 80’s I’d like to see that Spotlight is still around, still thriving.”
They are off to a good start with this next stage of their growth. Already, their calendar in the new space is almost completely full, with very few dark weekends. Their first regular season in the new space will include several popular draws from previous seasons, to celebrate their first decade.
“How do you usually pick your seasons?” I asked.
“We try to have a balance of comedies and dramas,” LaMonte said, “but our season is director-driven.” They like to do shows that are appropriate for their audiences but also “a little quirky, a little different from what everyone else around Indy is doing.”
He gave as an example the show that he is now directing for Spotlight: “The Dastardly Ficus,” written by Emily Schwartz. It will be the last show in the old space at 75 N.10th Ave., in the basement of the First Christian Church in Beech Grove. “The Dastardly Ficus” opens August 15, 2008. (Please call 317-767-2774 to make reservations.)
Another Spotlight board member, Brent Wooldridge, told me later that people come to Spotlight asking if they can direct. Spotlight usually invites one guest director per season. This past season it was John Carver. He directed “Early One Evening at the Rainbow Bar and Grille.”
“But we (the Spotlight board) all knew him already,” Wooldridge said. They knew Carver would do a good job.
The first show in the new space will be “Twelve Angry Men,” written by Reginald Rose and directed by Spotlight regular Molly Bellner. It is scheduled to open October 10, 2008.
Tuterow was the one who had invited me on the tour, but for most of the time we spent together, LaMonte was the spokesperson. Towards the end of our conversation, however, when I asked if either man had anything more to tell me, Tuterow said, “I like our motto.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“‘The cultural hot spot of Beech Grove.'” He turned to LaMonte. “Isn’t that our motto?”
“No,” LaMonte said, with a straight face but a twinkle in his eye. “It’s the truth.”
I love spending time with the Spotlight guys. If I get a chance to take another tour when I go to see “The Dastardly Ficus,” I will give you (my blog readers) an update on the new space.
In the meantime, if you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to the Spotlight Players (a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization), please call 317-767-2774 or email spotlightplayers2 at yahoo dot com. The Spotlight Players will greatly appreciate it.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com