May 9, 2022

IRT celebrates the past 50 years and looks to the future

Suzanne Sweeney and Janet Allen with IRT

Suzanne Sweeney and Janet Allen with IRT

The Indiana Repertory Theatre is the largest, fully professional regional theater in the state. WFYI’s Taylor Bennett spoke with its managing and artistic directors Suzanne Sweeney and Janet Allen about IRT's 50th anniversary, this year, how it was founded, its mission and its future.

WFYI's Taylor Bennett: Fifty years, that is hard to believe. Take us, take us back. I know we can't really know have time to go back 50 years but give us a little bit of the background on how IRT all began?

Suzanne Sweeney: Well, we started with three founders who went to Indiana University and looked for a city where they could start a theater. And I believe the story is that Indianapolis Mayor [Richard] Lugar was the only one to respond to them. So they ended up here. And there's also some folklore that instead of calling it Indiana Rep, they called it IRT because that reminded them of a metro line in New York City.

Janet Allen: They're all they were all New Yorkers, I think, or at least two of them were.

Bennett: Oh, interesting.

Sweeney: Yeah. So they started at the Athenaeum in 1972. And we're there for about eight years. And then when the Indiana Theater building was at risk of being demolished, some city leaders came together and decided to move the theater in to where we are now in the Indiana Theater building on Washington Street.

Bennett: It's a beautiful building.

Sweeney: We love it -- most of the time.

Bennett: Well, too, and you know, I mean, it offers so many things for I think its audiences. Was that the initial idea of this, this theater to offer a lot of things that appeal to so many different types of audiences?

Allen: I think so Taylor, the regional theatre movement, that they were an early part of -- those three founders -- really looking to decentralize theater out of New York City. And to say theater is for everyone. So yes, that was the idea. And there were nonprofit theaters founded all over the country. And it was to have something for everyone and that everyone changes community to community. We also serve children, which many of our peers don't. There are separate theaters that serve children. But we serve all generations of people and all tastes and all genres. So we're very broad-based, we hope, we intend in our appeal.

Bennett: Like so many of us, things had to change over the last couple of years. Tell us how you guys cope with that the last two years?

Sweeney: Well, I think we're still coping with it. This year, we did a hybrid season. So we have all of our shows in person. But then options to have virtual viewings for people who are either out of town or not comfortable coming back to the theater yet. Next season, we're slowly phasing that out, and we'll probably be largely in person, depending on how the pandemic goes.

Allen: We also reduced our programming, pre-pandemic, we were doing nine productions a year last year, and this year, we're doing six. Next year, we'll do seven. So part of our real mandate and a high value in the institution is sustainability.

Bennett: Anything that you would like to let the listeners know about IRT, and what do you hope to provide in the upcoming years?

Sweeney: Well, I think we're very proud of our 50th season, we have been having a great time looking back at everything that's happened. But that's just the beginning. I think, you know, we're really focused on what we do in the future and how we move forward. And we're excited for what that's going to look like.

Allen: It's both a celebration of what has gone before in 50 years, and what will come next. So it's looking back and looking forward. And that's a great place to be 50 years for an arts institution is a wonderful accomplishment. And it's looking at 50 more.

Bennett: Fifty years is quite the milestone. In fact, I said that about myself when I turned 50 five years ago. That's quite a milestone. Congratulations to both of you.

Sweeney, Allen:  Thank you

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