December 28, 2020

The Indiana Repertory Theater Livestream For The Holidays: 'This Wonderful Life'

Rob Johansen stars in the IRT production of "This Wonderful Life." - Courtesy Indiana Repertory Theatre

Rob Johansen stars in the IRT production of "This Wonderful Life."

Courtesy Indiana Repertory Theatre

For the first time in 25 years the Indiana Repertory Theater is not staging "A Christmas Carol." Instead, the IRT is offering a livestream of the play “This Wonderful Life” -- a one man show that reimagines the classic film, "It’s a Wonderful Life."

WFYI’s Arts and Culture reporter Jill Ditmire spoke with local actor Rob Johansen, who stars in the production.

"This Wonderful Life" is streaming through Jan. 3 on the IRT website. It’s the first in a series of six theater productions the local acting organization will present virtually in 2021.


ROB JOHANSEN: But it is really odd to not be celebrating with the city of Indianapolis like I'm used to. I can't even count how many people come into IRT to see "Christmas Carol." And it starts, you know, mid October for us rehearsing. And it goes all the way up to Christmas Eve or sometimes the day after Christmas.

JILL DITMIRE: But you're part of this wonderful, actually you are "This Wonderful Life," you are the entire show. How did you prepare all these multiple characters to present to present on a stage with no audience but with a bunch of cameras so it can be presented virtually

JOHANSEN: One thing I did not do, oddly enough, was watch the movie again. I wanted to trust the memory of what I had from that movie. I've seen it a bazillion times. So I trusted it was deep inside me, and I let the characters just naturally come out. And then, as far as the camera, you know, it's weird -- I never, ever had a laugh during this process. I mean, in the room, I had a bit -- Ben Hanna, the director; Nathan Garrison, the stage manager; Becky Roeber, the production assistant; and me. And that was it.

Because of COVID, we used some of the same protocols that some major sports have used, so they can play and keep each other safe. We all were tested, at least twice a week. We had to stay in one small section of the Indiana Repertory Theater, on the third floor in the rehearsal room. We had one bathroom we could use. And then when we went down to the stage, we had to stick to the dressing rooms and the stage.

Also, regarding the camera work, Ben Hanna did a phenomenal job directing me more for cameras in a theater and less for an audience of 600 people. He used some of my strengths, some of my movement background, but he augmented them to keep in mind that we're playing for a camera, not an audience.

DITMIRE: Do you think this production will come back again? Or will you hopefully go back to "A Christmas Carol," possibly next year?

JOHANSEN: "Wonderful Life" is a show that's in my bones. It felt really, really good to play that show. And I feel like I could play it again. Funny thing, it was a luxury to have the big build up through the technical rehearsal and then just have to do it once for the camera. And now people can watch it as many times as they want. And I get to rest because this show -- in normal, you know 40 show run old boy, it would have really rocked my world. I think I could get through it. It'd be great, but I was pretty gassed after just leading up to taping it, you know.

DITMIRE: Well, thank you Rob. We look forward to seeing it, and continue to break a leg.

JOHANSEN: Thank you so much. It's always great to talk to you.

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