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Bloomington isn’t immune to — and won’t be avoiding — the issues regarding sexual harassment that have arisen nationwide. Kate Galvin, the new Artistic Director of Cardinal Stage Company, wanted to make that point when she made the tough decision to replace 9 to 5 The Musical, which was set to run this summer, with Fun Home.
“A lot has changed in our country since last spring when the season was selected,” says Galvin. “We felt it was best to shift gears rather than stay the course. It’s a risk, of course, but I think one that is well worth taking.”
To Galvin, 9 to 5 has its heart in the right place, but the tone struck her as inappropriate and insensitive at this time. She describes the play as a musical adaptation of the 1980 comedy starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda, whose characters all work at the same office under a boss who is not only sexist, but also sexually aggressive with his female employees.
Joining the Cardinal Stage team shortly after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, Galvin immediately began looking for a replacement show. “The national conversation about sexual harassment in the workplace had snowballed, and I began to feel very uncomfortable with the idea of producing a musical that makes light of this issue.”
In September, American Theatre published an article, “Safe Programming Is a Big Risk” by Chad Bauman, about the responsibility and privilege regional theatres have to represent their communities and the important role the theatre has to keep pace or even lead in the changes their communities face. While Bauman speaks to the economic environment, the same can be said for the cultural landscape shift we are experiencing nationally. What is the theatre industry doing to keep pace?
“We have the privilege to produce art that reflects the diverse communities we serve,” writes Bauman. “To employ artists who push us beyond our comfort zone; to engage, develop, and nurture a heterogeneous talent pool that challenges us to examine the issues our communities grapple with from multiple perspectives. Consider what it would be like if your theatre becomes entirely irrelevant.”
Gabe Gloden, Cardinal Stage’s Managing Director, says theatre companies make changes to their seasons based on the resources they have available at the time, the changing tastes of their artistic staff and audiences, and (occasionally) issues related to the performance rights. Gloden went through similar changes when he was with the Bloomington Playwrights Project and says other artistic directors chart new paths forward with their season changes, such as how Philadelphia Theater Company underwent a more massive programming adjustment to its current season. He says this change, for Cardinal, was definitely the right move.
9 to 5’s replacement, Fun Home, felt like the right fit for Galvin. “This show is very much in line with the high-quality, thought-provoking work we’ve produced in the past, and I’m excited to bring it to life in a new way for our audience,” she says. It is the musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 best-selling graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, in which she tries to understand her secretive father and come to terms with her own sexuality. Bechdel puts together the pieces of her family’s history as she looks back on two formative periods — her childhood at the Bechdel Funeral Home (aka Fun Home) and her freshman year of college — and comes to see her parents with new appreciation and compassion.
“To me, Fun Home is a better show, with stronger characters, powerful music, and a relevant and moving narrative,” says Gloden. “I hope those who were looking forward to 9 to 5 will take a chance on it, because I feel they will leave satisfied.”
Fun Home, the winner of five 2015 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is fresh off a highly acclaimed Broadway run and has never toured through southern Indiana.
Video clips from Fun Home on Broadway.
The show is set to run from June 15th through July 1st at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Auditorium, where Galvin says the intimacy of the venue will allow for a unique experience of the show. “I’ve talked to a few folks in Bloomington who saw it in New York and are really looking forward to seeing it again. It’s a different experience when those characters are living and breathing right in front of you, and I’m thrilled to share that with our audience.”
Although a show change midseason might be new to Bloomington, Galvin says it’s not particularly unusual for a theatre company to change a show that’s already been announced. “As a leader, I’ve been through this kind of programming change before, and the most important thing is to have open communication with your audience about why. Not everyone will be happy — but my hope is that everyone will understand why we felt it was necessary.”
As with any major change, Cardinal expects that Fun Home might not be to everyone’s taste. They are offering patrons who have already purchased tickets to 9 to 5 the chance to exchange for any of their other shows this spring, including Sex with Strangers, The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged), and their Cardinal for Kids production of Robin Hood.
“Our first priority as a theatre company is always to produce shows that are entertaining,” says Gloden. “We always look to produce theatre that helps build an audience and, in the words of our mission, ‘promotes a lifelong passion for the stage.’”
Beyond those two goals, however, Gloden feels theatre has a responsibility to openly discuss and address societal issues. “This doesn’t mean we need to produce overtly political works, but what you see on stage should have some sort of contemporary social resonance that invites the audience to ask more questions or think differently about the issues addressed.”
Regardless of varying positions on what a show might (or might not) address, Gloden says the audience will have a great time because Cardinal’s first priority is always to entertain.
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