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Arts excitement grows on campus and in Gary as theatre nears completion

Meet the latest talent of IU Northwest’s growing theatre program

Thursday Mar 09, 2017

When floodwaters closed the doors of Indiana University Northwest’s Tamarack Hall forever in 2008, the campus community mourned the loss of its storied auditorium -- the spacious and ornate “great theatre” that drew patrons from all over Northwest Indiana.

When the venue was lost, IU Northwest’s Performing Arts program, Theatre Northwest, and everyone who used the space began using the Bergland Auditorium in the Savannah Center and a rented building on Grant Street.

Mark Baer, assistant professor of acting and directing, said that today, faculty, staff and students are feeling the excitement of a rebirth. Tamarack Hall’s replacement building on the corner of Broadway and 35th Street is nearly complete. The campus and community will be able to step inside the new 500-seat theatre and its accompanying black box theatre for the first time in late August.

The return of a theatrical hub, Baer says, is an opportunity for the arts, and the everyday activities of the university to filter into the surrounding communities. It also provides campus artists a place to let their creativity flow.

Meet the cast of “Vanya,” coming to stage in April

Baer said that the performing arts department has the largest and most passionate group of students that he has seen since he arrived in 2011.

The four-person cast of Theatre Northwest’s spring production, “Vanya,” took a break from rehearsal recently to talk about their passion for theatre.

Sydney Hale, 20, who will portray Yelena in the upcoming show, is an alumna of Morton Senior High School. Hale first attended IU Bloomington for a semester before returning home and enrolling at IU Northwest, which she says is “a much better fit for me.”

To Hale, theatre goes deeper than that love of performance. She sees the performing arts as a powerful way to communicate. What draws her to theatre is its power for social change.

“When you go to see a show, if it was a good show, you are thinking about it for days, sometimes weeks or even months afterwards,” Hale explains. “It sticks with you. You keep thinking about it and it affects you and your thought process. If you are seeing a show about something political, for example, or something that touches on something sensitive that we don’t talk about in our daily lives, theatre talks about it, without apologizing. It sometimes forces you to think about things, about yourselves and about humans, in general. It can be very powerful.”

Nathan Pratl, 18, comes to IU Northwest from Lake Central High School. Though he never so much as dabbled in theatre in high school, “Vanya” will be his third production and he is now “100 percent sure” that performing arts is the major for him.

"No matter how hard the assignments can be sometimes,” he says, “I appreciate the entire experience because it is really helping me build character and has helped me change as a person even though I’ve only been here for a semester.”

Samuel Lee, 19, became interested in theatre while a student at Chesterton High School. He is portraying Astrov in the upcoming show.

“What draws me to theatre is the outlet,” he said. “My mind is always racing and I’m a shy person … but when I get on stage, that is where I feel like myself and I can be who I am.”

Liz Ramos, 24, a Lake Central High School alumna, originally pursued television acting but switched to theatre because she decided that acting was what she truly loved, more than becoming a celebrity.

“Acting is what I loved and it didn’t matter if it was theatre or television,” she says. “I just wanted to act and I discovered that I like theatre and I the adrenaline rush of theatre. I like being here because it has brought me out of my shell.”

Ramos will portray Sonya in the upcoming production, her third for IU Northwest.

Ramos’ schedule illustrates how demanding a degree in theatre can be. Courses in acting, directing and design, and a role in “Vanya,” have her putting in an estimated 130 hours of rehearsal this semester. And that is on top of her other, non-theatre courses and a 20-hour a week job.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s what I want to do. I love it, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says.

Josh Kime, 20, has been passionate about theatre ever since the high school theatre students in his town toured and performed in local elementary schools.

He remained active in theatre throughout high school. When he graduated from Griffith High School, he enrolled at IU Bloomington, but like Hale, returned home to attend IU Northwest.

Kime, who is working on stage production for “Vanya,” says watching movies has become a different experience lately, because what he is learning about scriptwriting is so intriguing.

“I find myself wanting to do my homework,” he says. “You learn so much through the homework you are given. In directing, we are currently learning how to break down and analyze a script. There is just so much to learn.”

Preparation for whatever comes next

A degree in theatre prepares students for so much more than life on the stage or screen.

Baer expressed it this way: “If you are a manager and needed to hire someone, I’d say, ‘I have the candidate for you.’ My students are great communicators and listeners. They are experienced with project management and have seen many projects through from the idea stage to completion. They work well under pressure and know how to be an effective team member.

“Would you want to hire that person?” Baer continues, “because that is what I teach. If I thought that the only application of theatre classes was to be a professional actor, I would be much less passionate about teaching this.”

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