In February, I wrote with anticipation of seeing Doubt in South Bend Civic Theatre’s studio theater space with both an invitation and an acknowledgement of its preview and review in the South Bend Tribune, and I wrote about my theatrical viewing experience in a piece that reflected on both the performance and the challenge any theater experiences in putting on a play. At the end of the latter piece, I indicated a future opportunity existed to see Doubt in competition at the Indiana Community Theatre League’s (ICTL) Festival hosted by South Bend Civic Theatre (SBCT).
The weekend of March 14, six theaters competed in the 2008 ICTL State Festival. As a participant in ICTL’s 2004 Festival in Terre Haute, I can say the competition presented challenges unlike a traditional performance. For a show like Doubt, particularly, one of the greatest challenges was that the length of the show may not exceed 60 minutes. That means that the cast of Doubt had just under a month to re-learn the play in its 60 minute cut form after a rehearsal period and production involving the full show. Additionally, while Doubt may have appeared to have home field advantage, the staging of all productions was not in the studio space where Doubt was blocked and produced in the round – where the audience surrounds the actors on all sides. Festival performances were instead housed in the larger, traditional main-stage auditorium, so Doubt had to undergo blocking changes in addition to its script changes.
Visiting companies, of course, faced greater challenges. There was limited technical time to learn the light and sound boards in the technical booth, and set up of the production could not exceed ten minutes and tear down could not exceed five. All set pieces and cast and crew members must fit in the confines of a box taped on the floor measuring 10 feet by 10 feet, which gets pretty small considering you’ve got to fit set, furniture, people, and musical instruments if you’re doing a musical in this box on the floor. The time limit for set construction and strike and the necessity of crew members starting from the box on stage means technical crew members working in the technical booth have ten minutes to get to the booth and five minutes to return to the box after the performance, and if you’re in a new space, finding your way can prove challenging when your mind is on the performance.
ICTL festival, while challenging, also proves rewarding as professional adjudicators gave immediate feedback after each performance, commenting on everything from subtleties in performance, to director choices and technical details. On the final day of ICTL Festival weekend was the traditional awards brunch – where the adjudicators present awards after having evaluated all of the productions. This year, the Community Theatre Guild, Inc. of Valparaiso took home best production, recognition for its directors, and a performance certificate for its ensemble in Letters Home. Valpo also received technical and design special recognition certificates. Colburn Lambert received an Outstanding Performer award and Beth Metcalf received a Supporting Performer award for their work in Kokomo Civic Theatre’s second place See Rock City. Elkhart Civic Theatre’s Smoke on the Mountain received an Outstanding Performer award for Karen Hoover in addition to Vocal Director and Costume Design awards, and Doubt’s Dana Vagg received a Supporting Performer award.
At the brunch, it was also announced that in 2009, the Region III competition for the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) Festival (which occurs in odd numbered years and feeds into the AACT national competition, will be hosted by South Bend Civic Theatre.
This announcement means that any production between Schoolhouse Rock, opening April 3 at SBCT, through the remainder of the season or any production staged in the first couple months of SBCT’s 2009 season has the potential to compete at the national level. Provided they take home top honors at the state and regional levels first. But even if SBCT does not make it to national competition, the chance to host the regional competition marks SBCT’s explosive growth from where it was a decade ago. Its growth could not have happened without the support of the community through funding and volunteerism. South Bend Civic Theatre is truly a community theater, and the opportunities to participate exist for anyone who wants to be part of the show.