Looking back at the year of 2013, five performance groups really stood out for taking risks and presenting high quality productions, and I would like to recognize them.
Most Innovative: NoExit Performance
The collaborative group of young professionals has staked its claim in Indianapolis with fresh, imaginative works. This year, that included an original adaptation of the chilling short story Yellow Wallpaper, a charming black and white movie come to life in The Beast, The Lady and The Sanguine Man, and a Christmas classic with a psychedelic twist in The Nutcracker. NoExit also added flavor to events around town with captivating performance art including the Capital Ball at the Spirit and Place Festival.
Best Theater Season: The Phoenix Theatre
Capping off its 30th year, the Phoenix has proven to be essential to seeing contemporary, professional theater in Indianapolis. The Phoenix mounted Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike mere days after closing the Tony-award winning Broadway run. This gave the unstoppable Diane Kondrat her second chewy role centered around a dysfunctional family on the Phoenix Stage, following The Lyons earlier this year. Speaking of dysfunctional families, the Phoenix started the year with the Indianapolis premiere of the rock musical Next to Normal about a bipolar mom. My one regret for 2013 may be all the shows I missed at the Phoenix, including 4,000 Miles and the sellout hit Love, Loss, and What I Wore.
Biggest Comeback: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Following a troublesome musicians' strike in 2012, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra proved its lasting power with impeccable quality, diverse selections and a few big risks. The ISO's partnership with Time For Three continued to bring a fresh vision of what classical music can look like. The success of that collaboration led to a new partnership with indie record label New Amsterdam. This spring, NewAm brought original compositions by Son Lux and the vocal work of Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, the kind of groups you are more likely to see at a hipster music house and not with a major symphony orchestra. Meanwhile, a dynamic concert version of Hairspray continued ISO's new tradition of bringing Broadway talent to Indianapolis, and Krzysztof Urbanski consistently raised the bar for classical music. The result of this dynamic year was the organization's first budget surplus in six years.
Best Reason to Head North: Center for the Performing Arts
2013 will be the year in which my barrier from visiting Carmel began to break down and I opened up to the variety of high quality performances at the Center for the Performing Arts. It's hard to quip about a theater that brought Broadway's biggest stars Patti Lupone and Sutton Foster within reach. Though while the Palladium gets the most buzz, the Tarkington Theatre offers a much-needed mid-size venue to the Indianapolis area. I was mesmerized when The Tarkington offered the Momix Dance Company from New York City in March. But perhaps the biggest benefactor of this venue has been Civic Theatre. Despite approaching the theater's 100th season, when I first visited the Civic Theatre just a decade ago (while it was staged at the IMA) the quasi-community theater lacked the professional polish it now emminates. Most notable was Civic's spring production of Into The Woods, which gives hope that it can operate at a high enough level to pull of the staging of Les Miserables in 2014.
Best Newcomer: Defiance Comedy
Technically Defiance Comedy got its start in 2012 with a novel live sitcom format, mixing '80s and '90s sitcom tropes with a modern, uncensored edge. The original shows included Jesus is My Homie and Mom and Pop Porno Shop, but in 2013 the upstart comedy group found its groove with Boyband. The premise of a boy band past its prime reuniting opened the door for a world of comedy, but it's the witty original music that raises the bar. Much like a sitcom, each week is a new episode, with each series usually lasting around five weeks. This gives time for you to get to know the characters just like you would while watching your favorite TV show. While Defiance Comedy's push to produce a new episode each week results in a lack of polish, the innovation behind the concept and its continued improvement show huge potential for greatness. I for one will be front and center for Boyband's second season this winter.