By Domenica Bongiovanni, Indianapolis Star
July 28, 2017
The Cabaret for years has been bringing Broadway and jazz stars such as Jane Lynch, Alan Cumming and Leslie Odom Jr. to Indianapolis. The performers sang and told stories from intimate stages as audience members sat around tables, cocktails in hand.
"Stages" is the operative word there. Since its inception, the organization has never resided in a permanent home, becoming one of Indianapolis' nomadic success stories. Now, The Cabaret will have its own space in the Metzger Building at Ninth and Pennsylvania streets. Performances will begin there in early 2018.
The new home is a big deal for the cultural landscape of Downtown. The venue will join a collection of restaurants, apartments and offices in the Library Square neighborhood behind the Indianapolis Public Library between Meridian and Pennsylvania streets. With a location a few blocks northeast of the new Phoenix Theatre, the move expands a new entertainment corridor Downtown.
That The Cabaret will share its new venue with other nomadic arts organizations that need a home every once in a while means an array of performance art will land in the area.
"This sort of seems to be one of those next places where folks are heading because there's accessibility," said Shannon Forsell, The Cabaret's artistic director and CEO.
The Cabaret's new space, which was once a roller skating rink, will accommodate 172 for cabaret-style seating and comes with free parking next door for patrons. With a marquee to announce its presence, The Cabaret will share an entrance with the Arts Council of Indianapolis, and the adjoining 924 Gallery will be open for VIP receptions during shows.
The renovation project will cost $1.3 million, Forsell said. Ratio Architects will begin work in August, and the organization will lease the space from owner Buckingham Companies, she said. The Cabaret has so far raised $900,000, which includes gifts from Glick Philanthropies, the Lilly Endowment and Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, she said.
Forsell is thrilled with the new venue, which she called hip and chic.
"It has a little bit of speakeasy, a little bit of old Hollywood, a little bit of industrial, which will make it (an) accessible, cool space," she said.
The Cabaret will move to Ninth and Pennsylvania streets and share an entrance with the Arts Council of Indianapolis. (Photo: Photo provided/(c) 2017 RATIO Architects, Inc.)
The move is the latest in a series of twists and turns for an organization that began decades ago.
Claude McNeal founded American Cabaret Theatre in 1988, which created and performed larger shows with a cabaret vibe in the Basile Theatre at the Athenaeum. After McNeal's 2006 retirement, the organization found itself in debt and the Athenaeum, just off Mass Ave., too costly to rent for shows that weren't filling up enough seats, Forsell said. The problems were soon compounded by the Great Recession, and American Cabaret Theatre decided to change course.
In late 2008, with Forsell at the helm, the newly renamed The Cabaret began its current performance style and educational outreach, and it bounced from Chef Joseph's at the Connoisseur Room to The Columbia Club on Monument Circle in 2009, Forsell said. During its stint at the latter, the organization steadily gained popularity, becoming a Midwest hub for cabaret.
"I think that people yearn a little bit for a communal experience and an intimate experience," Forsell said.
"We're so bombarded with so much coming at us every day, so much sensory overload and being so plugged in and attached to things that rather than a big show, people now want to experience a little more of an intimate feeling because it really kind of feels like, you know, there's a performer in your living room singing."
The new location for The Cabaret will seat 172 patrons around tables. (Photo: Photo provided/(c) 2017 RATIO Architects, Inc.)
A desire for more performance dates and expanded educational programming, along with changes in a proposed new contract with the club, prompted The Cabaret to begin looking for a new space last year, Forsell said. Its temporary home this year has been Indiana Landmarks' Cook Theater.
Forsell is excited about the improved acoustics and clear sight lines to the stage. Along with the adjacent parking lot, several other lots in the area will provide additional spaces and the opportunity for valet parking, she said. The offices and educational outreach will be in the same building as the performance space.
What's more, having a venue year-round means The Cabaret can book shows during high-traffic event times, like Saturday nights, Forsell said.
"There's a lot of artists that'll be coming into town or coming near, and they'll give a last-minute thing saying, 'Hey, I'm coming through; you want to have us?' And we could never say yes because we would have to book our shows a year out," she said.
"And so there were a lot of really great artists that we just had to take a pass on."
In that way, Forsell says, Indianapolis gets a big win.
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