In their best medieval finery, the young actors and actresses of Agape Theater Company acted out a timeless tale of murder and ambition.
Cast members decked out in rich tartan or delicate gowns projected across the stage. They wielded swords and spears as they marched forward in telling their tale of woe.
The subject matter of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” might be more adult-oriented than most Agape performances. But its lessons are ones that can resonate with anyone.
“Very, very few people are going to go to the extent that Macbeth does, thankfully. But I think that each of us, in our own lives, can see lives where we’ve cut corners to benefit ourselves at the expense of others,” said Kathy Phipps, executive director of Agape Theater Company. “The play tells us that if we take small or huge steps away from our moral compass, the results can be truly tragic.”
The Greenwood-based theater troupe is stepping into its Shakespearean comfort zone once again. Agape Theater Company will present “Macbeth” as part of this year’s Indy Bard Fest, the largest celebration of Shakespeare in Indiana. This will be the third time the group has been invited to perform at the festival, which runs over the next four weekends at venues throughout Indianapolis.
Having Agape again anchor the festival brings a jolt of lightning to the event, said Glenn Dobbs, founder, executive producer and artistic director of Bard Fest.
“They bring a beauty and a lushness and an energy to the event,” he said.
Indy Bard Fest has been bringing both faithfully recreated and modernly twisted versions of Shakespeare’s plays to the area since 2015. The festival was formed to fill a gap in the central Indiana arts scene for professional theater roles, as well as the lack of an event devoted solely to Shakespeare, Dobbs said.
“We’re the largest Shakespeare festival in all of Indiana, in terms of number of shows we produce. We wanted to create an intense theatrical experience where people could come in and experience everything that is wonderful about the whole Shakespeare canon,” he said.
A few years after it was founded, Dobbs was interested in adding a youth theater component to the festival. Agape Theater Company fit his vision perfectly.
“(Phipps) enthusiastically embraced what we were trying to do,” Dobbs said. “Often people think of a youth theater group as charming but simplistic. Kathy is the opposite of that. Her productions are lavish, they’re big, it’s professional quality productions you could ever hope for.”
Agape Theater Company, which was founded as a theater ministry of Our Lady of Greenwood Catholic Church to provide more opportunities for young actors on the southside, has been involved with Bard Fest since 2018. That year, staged “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” for the festival, then followed that up the next year with “The Tempest.”
The theater company has became an important part of Bard Fest’s growing popularity, Dobbs said.
“They’ve brought a whole new dimension to our festival, and because of that, we’ve grown considerably. About 1/3 of our audience we now have we get from the Agape group. They have that kind of following that comes with them,” he said.
The troupe had been invited to participate again in the festival again in 2020, but the pandemic forced that appearance to be postponed. Still, Phipps never wavered on the play she wanted to put together this year: “Macbeth.”
“It’s a play that I’ve always loved,” she said. “It’s a play with a very significant theme.”
The story revolves around the titular character, a Scottish general renowned for his bravery. When Macbeth is given a prophecy that he will one day become king of Scotland, he is overwhelmed by ambition, and pushed by his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder the rightful King Duncan. More murder and betrayal follow.
The cast started working on the play in July, meeting weekly to slowly flesh the complicated story out. Cast members range in age from 3 years old to 25, and though the themes and language of Shakespeare can be confounding even for experienced actors, the Agape group has absorbed it all.
When Phipps was earning her doctorate in theater, she studied Shakespeare in London as part of her coursework. She also studied with a national authority on helping students decode Shakespeare. She learned how to take practical steps to learn the language, which has made for an exciting learning experience as the performance has come together.
“It’s so satisfying to see the lights go on. They understand the text, they understand the message, and they’re able to connect with each other as characters, and share the text with such passion,” Phipps said.
“Macbeth” is scheduled to be staged Oct. 22 to 24 and 28 to 30. They’ll be performing at the newly built Theater at the Fort, a lavish 200-seat auditorium on Indianapolis’ northeast side.
To again have the chance to take the stage in Bard Fest has been an extremely satisfying experience.
“It’s been so exciting to see the growth and confidence of the performers. They understand what they’re doing, and it becomes a very exciting circle of energy,” Phipps said.
In addition to “Macbeth,” this year’s Bard Fest features a modern retelling of “Measure By Measure,” as well as Shakespearean classics “Antony & Cleopatra” and “Love’s Labor’s Lost.”
Organizers have created what they call “The Prestige Project,” when actors will stage “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” They’ll also include the Shakespeare-adjacent show “Elizabeth Rex,” which brings to life the actual meeting of Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare the night before an execution.
“Quite literally, these are the best stories in the world, and our goal is to tell great stories,” Dobbs said.
IF YOU GO
Who: Agape Theater Company, a Greenwood-based theater troupe
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 22, 23, 28 and 29; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 24 and 30
Where: Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave, Indianapolis
Tickets: $25 general admission, $20 seniors, students and military
Other Indy Bard Fest performances:
- “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, The Cat, 254 Veterans Way, Carmel; $15-$20
- “Measure By Measure,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 22, 23, 29 and 30, 2 p.m. Oct. 24 and 31, IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair St., Indianapolis; $15-$20
- “Antony & Cleopatra,” 8 p.m. Oct. 22, 28 and 30, 2 p.m. Oct. 23, 24 and 31, The Cat; $15-$20
- “Love’s Labor’s Lost,” 8 p.m. Oct. 21, 23 and 29, 1 p.m. Oct. 24, 2 p.m. Oct. 30, 5 p.m. Oct. 31, The Cat; $15-$20
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