The anticipation came in waves, but the excitement was constant. For six nights at the end of July, the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream could look out past the stage and see an audience gathered on the lawn of the Taggart Memorial Amphitheatre, which opened for the first time this summer. Originally dedicated in 1931, the Thomas Taggart Memorial was in ruins before a $9.24 million grant from the Lilly Endowment restored the structure.

Now it is the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company’s home.

“It’s amazing that we had the golden opportunity to christen Taggart with its first performance,” says Diane Timmerman, Executive Artistic Director at the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company (Indy Shakes) and Chair of the Butler Theatre department. “We have such a talented group of artists on this production that I knew we were invincible. I actually knew we would be great. And we were!”

Since 2008, Indy Shakes has offered free Shakespeare in the Park productions with the goal of providing accessible theatre. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the company’s first live performance since the pandemic, transformed into a festival atmosphere, with pre-show bands, food trucks, and vendors.

“Some people feel you have to be a certain status or education level to enjoy or understand Shakespeare, but we’re trying to let people know this isn’t the case,” says Emma Littau, a Butler junior and an Indy Shakes stage management intern. “Anyone is welcome to enjoy it.”

Every year, Butler has several students who intern with Indy Shakes, whether it is in theatre, marketing, or public relations. Littau, who ensures everything backstage runs smoothly during a performance, says the connections she’s made through her internship will help throughout her career.

Butler is one of the few undergraduate programs in the country that has a partnership with a professional equity theatre. Equity theatres participate in the Actors’ Equity Association, the union for stage professionals.

“Our students get to work with professionals who help them not only on the job, but help them network, help them grow their careers,” Timmerman says. “Whether it’s allowing us to use space for rehearsals or auditions, or just helping us promote our work, Butler has been right there saying, ‘Great, this sounds like a wonderful idea. Please go for it.’ That is key to the success of this partnership.”

Like Timmerman, several staff members at Butler are also connected to Indy Shakes—LaKisha Cooper, Rob Koharchik, and Wendy Meaden among them. The network works both ways. Indy Shakes company member Constance Macy directed Butler’s production of The Living, and Guy Clark designed costumes both for The Living and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Two of the actors in A Midsummer Night’s Dream were Butler graduates; one understudy was a current student.

Recently, through the Marion County surplus sale to nonprofits, Indy Shakes purchased property five minutes away from Taggart Memorial Amphitheatre with plans to build Shakes House, which will provide job and housing opportunities in addition to being a creative space where the community can gather and share a love for theatre. After performing at the White River State Park for years, Indy Shakes has planted its roots in the Near Northwest neighborhood and immersed itself within the community.

“Theatre is the most human of the art forms,” Timmerman says. “It’s about people and their lives and their experiences and their interactions. You’re right there with the performers. You feel it in a way that you don’t with other mediums. It’s life-changing.”

Photo Credit: Wildstyle Paschall