Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

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HT: Cardinal Stage to gain insight from new advisers

Herald-Times | July 4, 2021 | Connie Shakalis


Just because a Black playwright creates a play doesn’t mean a Black audience will like it.

This, and other insights, are coming to the fore as Kate Galvin, artistic director at Cardinal Stage, organizes her new artistic advisory committee.

Galvin has experience in listening to opinions and, sometimes, hearing critiques of her theatrical ideas. For nearly seven years she participated in festival committees with the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, in New York. Founded in 1985, the alliance is a not-for-profit organization in 33 states and abroad.

“Different theaters all over the country battle it out to decide which shows go into the festival,” she said in a Zoom interview.

Cardinal’s committee will help Galvin rethink programming. Inclusivity and diversity, themes that have become popular worldwide, are precious to her.

A structured advisory committee can add to a board of directors’ potency, since it works toward a particular focus, in this case play selection.

“I’m perfectly capable of picking a play written by a Black playwright,” Galvin said. But she wants more than that. She wants to produce plays that resonate with the entire Bloomington community, not just the few.

I notice so few people of color in Bloomington audiences and casts. Galvin says that’s because we are not producing enough works that interest them.

In preparation for her current advisory committee, she formed a task force in 2020 that consisted of Black people reading and discussing plays — and advising Cardinal’s management.

One of the plays white readers had selected had a nearly all Black cast; it included one white woman. What was wrong? The Black readers noticed unanimously that as soon as the white woman entered the scene, she became central to the play’s action. A nuance easy to miss if you’re not Black.

“I learned so much. It gave Gabe (Gloden, managing director) and I much better perspective.”

Cardinal now tries to be more aware of their blind spots and a play’s power dynamics.

That’s precisely why they are forming the new artistic advisory committee. And Galvin encourages everyone to consider applying. The application deadline for the committee is July 16. The group of roughly 15 people will represent many aspects of southern Indiana demographics. Galvin wants variety: young, old, Black, white, LGBTQ+, people of color. Members receive stipends, free tickets and other compensation. They will read plays and musicals and discuss ways to provide significant, relevant productions.

“That’s dumb. That’s problematic.” These are things Galvin has heard other theater people tell each other, and it has helped.

Sometimes we don’t recognize what we’ve been doing, as when I recently read a memoir by a Bloomington woman from Vietnam. I gasped as I recognized the ways I have ignorantly misstepped while engaging with immigrants.

For those who worry that Cardinal might become a proselytizing social justice platform, fear not. Although some theaters may take that course, Galvin knows that “audiences want to be entertained, not lectured.”

Cardinal will be giving the community more play-choosing power, although Galvin makes the final decisions. Her overall goal is “just good theater.”

Beginning this fall, committee members are to attend three virtual meetings per year and read up to five plays or musicals per year.