by Justin Brady
The theater's current production, Distracted by Lisa Loomer and directed by Milicent Wright, runs through Sept. 21. I dug into the details of Wisdom Tooth's new venture with Ronn Johnstone, producing artistic director.
Johnstone's impressive credentials include acting for more than 30 years; working and studying in California and New York City; and serving as chair of Theatre Arts for 20 years at Anderson University. In 2007, he founded Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project to connect emerging and established artists, creating a bridge company into the professional theater community.
SBW: How did Wisdom Theatre Company get started?
Ronn Johnstone: Wisdom Tooth started eight years ago when a former student of mine, Suzi Bradic, came to teach at the theater department I chaired. She was a freshly minted MFA in theater management. It's common for MFA programs to have model professional companies attached to them. Suzi spoke about how rare it was for undergraduate programs to have such companies, even though it is very common for them to have radio stations and other professional programs. We founded Wisdom Tooth to fill that gap. My father supplied the initial operating funds, so the company could be financially independent of the school. We hit the ground running, opening two shows in two different cities on the same weekend. Over the years we've produced shows in Indy, including Living Out, It's a Wonderful Life, Waiting with M. Godot, Boy in the Basement, and Nickeled and Dimed, to name a few.
SBW: This is your first time doing a full season and with IndyFringe Theatre hosting your productions -- how did that come about?
RJ: Last year the theater program at our alma mater was closed due to financial constraints. We had a company, and Fringe wanted a resident season, so Wisdom Tooth moved to the IndyFringe Theatre as artists-in-residence for the season.
Fringe has always been one of the best incubators for upstart companies in the city -- offering them a fully equipped space at reasonable rent, thus enabling young and developing companies a place to do their work.
Through our partnership, we've helped Fringe by reconfiguring the space in a manner that increases both its appeal and flexibility. In addition, we've increased its lighting capacity by more than 30 percent.
SBW: When putting your season together, what went into your show selection?
RJ: One of my primary goals with the company is to create a place where all theater artists will love to work. We also want to share our own distinctive voice as a company. Mostly we look for pieces that say the things we feel need to be said. A theater of courage can show us how we all can live through tragedies and triumphs thought not possible for us; and in doing so show the audience something of the nature of hope.
SBW: What can you tell us about your current show?
RJ: Our opening show, Distracted emerged from my ongoing research into ADD. I was diagnosed myself in 1967. As an academic, I can tell you its most intolerant critics are found there. The attitudes and opinions are often uninformed and cruel. One mother's statement was as heartbreaking as it was honest; "He looks normal and he is brilliant, so people judge him. If he had Downs, he'd be accepted." Lisa Loomer's play Distracted repeated the research I had been doing. I have worked with many students clearly on the spectrum. It's time someone spoke out for people dealing with ADD.
SBW: And finally, if you could recast the leads of any movie with Indianapolis actors, what movie would you choose and who would you cast in what roles?
RJ: Thelma and Louise is the flick. I would cast Constance Macy as Thelma, Cindy Phillips as Louise, Chuck Goad as Hal, Bill Simons as Jimmy, Adam Tran as J.D. and Rich Rand as Darrel.