When I heard the new Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis was opening in the Broad Ripple neighborhood on Indy’s far northeast side, my interest was immediately piqued because in the early 80s, I acted in plays directed by Fonseca Theatre Company founder and artistic director Bryan Fonseca at the former Broad Ripple Playhouse. Located on Westfield Boulevard, BRP was owned and operated by producer June McCarty. To my knowledge, there has not been a comparable arts organization in the area since.
Storefront opens its second season in its permanent space with “Pilgrims” this Friday. Written by Claire Kiechel, the drama is directed by Chelsea Anderson and features Kelsey Leigh Miller, Ryan Ruckman and Carrie Schlatter. The production runs through September 22.
The theatre actually launched in 2017 with its production of “Infinity” and then “Prowess” in 2018, both staged at IndyFringe Indy Eleven Theatre. With a mission focused on programming newer works, Storefront plans to produce ones by female and minority playwrights.
Recently, I sat down with Storefront founder Ronan Marra in the 50-seat black-box theatre, which serves as the mainstage in the 7,500-square-foot space beneath the former Crackers Comedy Club near the corner of Broad Ripple and College Avenues. Marra, who moved to the area with his wife and son in 2015, co-founded Signal Ensemble Theatre in Chicago, where he served as the co-artistic director for 14 years.
Marra, who has a BFA in acting from Kent State University and grew up in Cleveland, moved to Fishers for the affordable housing market. Since his father’s family all grew up here, he has many relatives living nearby.
He says he chose the location because he thought Broad Ripple could use an arts presence. “Not that I have anything against bars, but there are a lot here. I felt the neighborhood could use a spot for professional theatre performances.” Marra said many of his board members live near Broad Ripple as well, including board president Julia Myer, owner of Fitness Fortitude, along with three attorneys, a financial advisor, and an insurance professional. “We are in lockstep with each other. Julia has a theatre background, but the others don’t. Some of them said, ‘I don’t know anything about theatre or the arts,’ but I said, ‘I can handle that part. I need you for your expertise,’” said Marra.
With an eye toward inclusivity, Marra said, “I think you will never see a play here that has previously been presented locally. That is really important to me. There is so much vital new work out there by playwrights whom you may not have heard of before. People who are writing your favorite show on HBO, Showtime and Netflix are the people who are writing plays that I am doing. If you are into those kinds of dramas, I think you’ll like what we do here because the playwrights are doing some other kind of work.”
Marra feels that the theatre’s intimacy is also what sets it apart. “I love nothing more than the intimate experience here. I love the kind of work that you can do and the subtle or the human work you can do when you are this close to the actors. That’s my favorite thing,” he explained.
Also contributing to Storefront’s uniqueness is its flexibility, said Marra, who calls it “an eco-system of an arts experience.” The black-box seating will allow for different configurations. The space will also offer pre-show events, which will include art exhibits, play readings and acoustic performances. There will also be a bar where wine and beer will be served. The multipurpose space can also be a classroom, studio area or rehearsal. Ultimately, Storefront, which will rent its facilities to other arts organizations, will serve as a de facto performing arts center in Broad Ripple.
Storefront Theatre of Indianapolis is located at 717 Broad Ripple Avenue. For tickets and information about “Pilgrims,” call (317) 292-9755 or go to storefrontindy.com.