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Each year, the American Theatre Wing (ATW), a theatre advocacy group that provides funding, research, and other services, also recognizes notable achievements in theatre through their annual awards like the Tony and Obie awards. Less famous but just as prestigious, they also choose 10 theatre companies to receive one of their National Theatre Company Grants. It’s a highly competitive grant, with over 100 companies applying for the award. Each applicant must meet various programming and outreach criteria that show their dedication to bringing quality and innovative theatre to their community. Looking at the full list of guidelines, it sounds like the award was made for Cardinal Stage. The ATW seems to agree: They awarded Cardinal with one of the $10,000 grants this year.
“This is one of the rare national awards recognizing professional regional theatre companies,” says Gabe Gloden, Managing Director for Cardinal Stage. “We are the first company in Indiana to receive this honor.” Cardinal is also one of four recipients this year that have never won the award before. Gloden states, “This honor is particularly meaningful for Bloomington and Monroe County as a rural, Midwestern community with a growing and sophisticated audience and a rising national profile.”
Caroline Dowd-Higgins, President of the Board for Cardinal, echoes that notion. “This grant recognizes Cardinal in the national theatre arena and shows our viability and sustainability as a significant company,” she says. One of the criteria for the award is that the company must have produced shows for at least five seasons but be less than 15 years old. Eligible companies must be stable but still emerging and growing. Showing success in such a short amount of time is difficult, particularly in smaller communities. “This distinction puts us in a class with extraordinary national companies that produce diverse work, empower communities, and develop multi-generational audiences,” says Dowd-Higgins.
Another criterion for the award is producing diverse and innovative works, with further considerations for educational and outreach efforts. Since it was founded, Cardinal has produced a variety of shows, from classics like A Streetcar Named Desire to contemporary children’s shows like Elephant and Piggie. They have also placed a priority on collaborating with organizations and schools to create learning opportunities in conjunction with the shows. “Cardinal Stage has grown into Bloomington’s largest non-IU arts organization based on budget, exposing thousands of children to live theatre while also offering seasoned theatre-goers a broad range of old and new works,” says Sandi Clark, past President of the Board. She credits the new leadership of Artistic Director Kate Galvin with expanding the company’s vision while preserving its original mission. “We’re starting a new chapter of excellence that builds on the legacy of our founder, Randy White,” she says.
The National Theatre Company Grant is one of several grants and funding sources Cardinal goes after. Like most non-profit arts organizations, they rely on sponsors, donations, and grants to supplement income from ticket sales. Unfortunately, there are a limited number of grants and awards available in the region. As Gloden explains, “There are no private foundations in this state that provide general operating support for performing arts organizations in our region. The performing arts funding ecosystem in Indiana is one of the worst in the country.”
Nationally, there are very few grants or awards available for theatre companies like Cardinal, which makes the National Theatre Company Grant that much more important. “This grant gives Cardinal the opportunity to further invest in its artists and programming,” says Clark. When Cardinal can raise funds through grants and donations, it lessens the burden to generate revenue from ticket sales. “Cardinal can continue to provide affordable tickets to theatre-goers in our region and extend our reach in the Midwest,” says Dowd-Higgins.
The purpose behind the National Theatre Company Grant is to support local efforts to bring theatre into communities. “Theatre gives us the opportunity to learn and consider different ideas, perspectives, and ways of being in the world,” says Clark. “Plus, its great entertainment! And as a business, Cardinal contributes significantly to the local economy.” That economic contribution is a point of joy for Dowd-Higgins as well. “Cardinal provides career opportunities and synergistic relationships with local businesses, hotels, restaurants, and shops. We are part of what makes Bloomington a destination,” she says.
The opportunities for actors and production staff is a tremendous benefit for the community. “With Bloomington’s vibrant multi-generational talent pool, Cardinal can hire and showcase local performers and production experts,” says Dowd-Higgins. “This enhances audience development and the symbiotic relationship with businesses in our community.” Because this grant funds operational expenses, it can help support wages for staff and actors.
The grant awards were presented on November 12 and Gloden was able to travel to New York to accept it on Cardinal’s behalf. In addition to attending the presentation, recipients were able to convene for networking, sharing information, and hearing from industry professionals at the ATW and other support organizations. “This grant is a tremendous honor as well as a great learning experience for Cardinal Stage,” says Gloden.
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