Carmel Community Players: Shopping for a Bright Future
Writer / Ray Compton
Photographer / Lori Koppold
Six years ago, it appeared the final curtain was ready to be dropped on the Carmel Community Players.
It was 2009, and the 16-year-old theater group faced countless financial headaches that were much more draining and damaging to the organization’s board of directors than the darkest written review. Debt was climbing toward six figures; a major grant from the City of Carmel vanished; and perhaps most disturbing was the non-profit troupe lost its lease at Studio 15 in the Carmel Arts and Design District.
But as assessed by a CCP executive in 2009, “With adversity comes opportunity.” And sometimes that opportunity can arrive with horns blowing and drums pounding. Such has been the case for the CCP Board of Directors that uncovered a new, unusual and exciting theater at the heart of the modern and upscale Clay Terrace Mall. This Hoosier stage setting sits far from the bright lights of Broadway in New York as it rests on a former store site at the mall’s U.S. 31 address on the north side of Carmel.
But the unique setting has been registering beyond well for both CCP and Clay Terrace leaders who have been equally thrilled with the partnership, now entering its sixth season. “We believe that our guests and retailers have really embraced the creative talents that [Carmel Community Players] showcase,” said Clay Terrace general manager Jennifer Jones. “The addition of the theater provides the surrounding neighborhoods with access to the cultural aspect of live theater.”
Indeed, the setting of the 120-seat theater can be classified as different, even by central Indiana standards. While Indianapolis claims Massachusetts Avenue and Carmel boasts the Carmel Arts and Design District for arts and theater centers, the Carmel Community Playhouse sits in Suite 140 on Clay Terrace Boulevard at an outdoor mall. CCP converted a scrapbook store into an intimate and astonishingly comfortable theater.
“Clay Terrace has been a wonderful partner,” said Tim Paramore, president of the CCP Board of Directors. “They like that tenants like us provide unique and diverse patron experiences to the mall. They welcomed us six years ago, and we continue to work together on joint marketing efforts.”
From the mall’s viewpoint, that partnership philosophy is perfect strategy to Jones, which believes the theater provides additional business for nearby restaurants. “We see families and friends coming together to enjoy dinner at our Clay Terrace establishments,” Jones noted, “and then take in a performance.”
Paramore has the research to support Jones’ assessment. A survey of visitors to one play last season showed that almost 400 theater patrons – or 56 percent of those in attendance – visited the mall’s restaurants and bars before or after the shows.
However, Paramore realizes that the driving force for the long-term survival of this marriage remains in the successes of the plays and the abilities of the actors, directors and production team. Even though there were four sellouts for recent robust showings of “Club Morocco” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps,” Paramore concedes there needs to be growth in attendance and sponsorships.
Eventually, Paramore hopes to improve the seating with tiered levels for the chairs and improving the site lines (perhaps by raising the stage). The CCP also hopes to add more than cookies and soft drinks on its intermission menus. Paramore and his team are pursuing beer and wine licenses.
Grants from Carmel helped turn the former scrapbook store into a theater, though site lines can be challenging, and a curtain serves as a wall between the ticket lobby and the acting center. “The grants have helped us modestly expand the budgets on our productions and make a few improvements to our Playhouse,” said Paramore. “If we had more funding, we would increase our investments in both patron experience items and increase our production budgets for stage building, props and costumes.”
Overall, the new era of the CCP has been a tentative financial winner.“We are very conservative with our finances and adapt our budgets to the funds we have available,” said Paramore. “It would be nice to create a rainy day fund. Right now, we would scramble if it rained too hard. One hundred percent of our [operating] income comes from ticket sales and sponsorships.”
“It constantly amazes me at the level of actor, director and vocal talent that our productions draw,” said Paramore. “The dedication of our volunteers from the production staff is great.”
And a big key to the success of a show comes from the directors, who also are not paid for their efforts. Two of the most skilled performances last season came from local directors Doug Peet and Lori Raffel who crafted entertaining experiences for near-sellout audiences at “August: Osage County” and “The 39 Steps.”
Meanwhile, the 2015-16 schedule offers a wide range of plays, starting with fall showings of standbys “The Lion in Winter” (interestingly, featuring American and not British accents from the monarchy) and Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” again engaging the opposite personalities of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison.
A Christmas show enlists Ken Ludwig’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” tracking the tales of a mouse, elf and spunky little girl. Also on the calendar are three musicals – “Back to the ’80s,” “Forbidden Broadway Greatest Hits” and “Next to Normal.”
Certainly, top performances have become the calling card of this mall-based community theater.