Joining the ranks of adventurous small theater companies that have emerged in the last few years which have profoundly changed the landscape of the Central Indiana theater scene is Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project. Founded in 2007, the theater group is the new resident company of the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, headquarters of the IndyFringe Theatre Festival.
And adding to the rank of accomplished theater professionals running these organizations is Wisdom Tooth’s artistic director Amy Hayes. Hayes is one of three producing partners, all of them teaching artists, who oversee the theater. The others are producing artistic director Ronn Johnstone and managing artistic director Callie Burk. All of them together have 95 years of combined theater experience in all areas. Besides presenting a season of shows, Wisdom Tooth offers a series of classes (labs) focusing on developing the performance and practical skills of working actors taught by Johnstone, Hayes and Burk.
Hayes has directed and taught acting and Shakespeare courses at DePauw and other universities for twenty years. During that time she has also performed for live audiences, sung in radio jingles and recorded in the studio. She studied acting at Interlochen Center for the Arts, received her B.A. in Theatre and English from Vanderbilt University and her MFA in acting from the University of Nebraska. She continues to study at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass.
Recently yeahstub.com sat down with Hayes to talk about Wisdom Tooth, her background and the future of the company.
How does it feel to have your own space?
Great. It’s wonderful. We still have scheduling and rehearsal space issues and that kind of stuff. And budgets come with the territory but it is wonderful to have a home and soon it will have dressing rooms. We can’t even imagine that. I like the Indy Fringe building because I love that it is small and intimate but we totally reconfigured the space. Now there is no longer a stage. The floor is the stage and there is an audience around it on risers. I love that intimate feel of being in there with the audience. Now we can really make it whatever we want. It’s turned into a black box. Then with the new space (Indy Eleven Theater) we will have a space for our classes, for our labs, and rehearsals.
Is Wisdom Tooth a nonprofit?
We are not. We decided not to start out that way. We discussed it. We looked at both sides of it. My husband was an entertainment lawyer before he was a theater professor. We consulted with him and Pauline [Moffatt]. Their advice was not to go nonprofit. Right now, everything is going back into the company. Our biggest priority right now is that our actors and our designers are always paid.
What are some of your reasons for not becoming a 501 c 3?
I am an actor and so is Ronn and Callie would say she is too. There just comes a point that I don’t want to do any more work for free. This is something I have worked on for 35 years of my life and when I say worked on I mean actually developed, have skills and intensive training in.
Also, we didn’t want to have a board to start with. We want to figure out who we are— aesthetically, ethically and philosophically. Even though we have known each other for a long time we have never worked together in this capacity before and so we need some time to kind of figure out who we are and how we want to do this without having a lot of other cooks in the kitchen.
How did the three of you meet?
Ronn Johnstone, producing artistic director, started Wisdom Tooth through Anderson University where he taught. It was meant to be cross point company for emerging artists, and a chance for his students to work with established artists in Indianapolis. They produced joint productions at Anderson University and then moved them to venues in Indy. It was student run so it was a teaching tool for helping emerging theater students learn the business of theater. He left Anderson last year. I taught and directed for Ronn at AU over 15 years ago as a freelance adjunct professor and director. He and I worked over the years on various projects. I directed him and he directed me.
Two years ago I started Indy Shakes (she produced “Twelfth Night” and “The Winter’s Tale” at the IndyFringe venue) and asked Ronn if he could co-produce my shows. This year when Ronn decided to reestablish Wisdom Tooth as a professional company and place professionals in charge to run it he asked her to become an artistic director. Callie Burk, who graduated from AU, was a student of ours and spent time in L.A. and New York doing casting, acting and directing and now she’s back in Indiana. We asked her to partner with us because she understands the business side of it. My little leg of Indy Shakes is still part of the season so one slot will be reserved for one of my shows.
What are some of Wisdom Tooth’s goals?
To be a mid-tier company who pays their actors and does really good work. For it to be known that we are a creative and a pleasant place to work. We encourage collaboration. It’s not enforced but we want to be a place that embraces professional etiquette. Long term I think we would like to be an Equity company under one of the contracts.
How did you feel about establishing the theater in this market?
One of my biggest concerns when we started this was that I didn’t want to feel or be perceived as competing but that we were just offering another space. I have acted for Thomas Cardwell (EclecticPond) and he has acted for us. I have acted for Michael Burk (NoExit) and Brian Noffke (Acting Up Productions). We are all auditioning for one another and working for each other. Catherine Cardwell (EclecticPond) just contacted me to be on a panel of women directors for their show “Macbeth.” I just love the spirit of collaboration amongst my theater colleagues here in Indy. As far as Wisdom Tooth, it’s really important to us that we be a place where people want to work because they respect us as artists, because of how they are treated and because of the environment where we have a reverence for the art and for work.
What are your thoughts about Indy itself?
My worry is the other side of the coin of my amazement and delight with it. My amazement and delight with it is what has been this really small market of a small city that is now a really friendly place not only for the arts but also architecture and commerce. The New York Times featured us a couple of times. It is very exciting to watch and see it change so much, especially because I grew up (she’s from Alexandria, Ind.) coming down here as a child. The other side that worries me is that it is still sort of a small town so I worry that the market will be saturated. Part of our long term goal is that we to be known as a really good place for actor training.
Tell me about your husband and children.
My husband Andrew is chair of the theater and communications department at DePauw. My children are 20, 16 and 12. Lee is at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Western Mass. Madeline is a high school junior and already looking at colleges. Simon is 12 and talking about going to boarding school for high school so he can be a film maker and write novels. They are very interesting human beings that I admire.
Last but certainly not least… how does it feel to be the daughter of Bill (singer/songwriter of southern gospel and contemporary Christian music) and Gloria Gaither?
If it comes up it comes up but I don’t carry a banner for a couple of reasons. I have identity issues I am still coming to terms with. I was known for so many years of my life as Bill and Gloria Gaither’s daughter and while I am proud and love them that is not how I want to be known. My brother and sister deal with this same issue. Any success you have is suspect. “She only got that part because of her dad.” It has more to do with my own sense of self and because I got married so young my identity has been tied up with being someone’s daughter or someone’s wife so this part of my life is about figuring out who I am.
Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project is currently presenting “The Bad Seed.” It’s a new adaptation of the novel by William March, directed by Callie Burk. A psychological thriller, the American horror story, which was also adapted for the 1956 film, is about eight-year-old Rhoda who will do anything to get what she wants with chilling results. The show, which opened Thursday, continues through Nov. 9. at IndyFringe Basile Theatre at 719 E St Clair Street, just off Mass Ave. and College. To purchase tickets visit indyfringe.org. Tickets are $15 presale, $18 at the door, $10 students and groups over 10.
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