Origin Story: Southbank Theatre Company

When Marcia moved back to Indianapolis in 2011 with her husband, Aric, and two sons, she didn’t intend to start a theatre company. Marcia had just gotten a job at a local university, teaching Shakespeare and Dramatic literature. Every chance she got, she took students to the theatre — in Indianapolis, Canada, and England! But even when she left academia in 2019, the idea to form a company had not yet started to percolate in her mind.

“I just knew I wanted to be a part of something creative — something where I could collaborate with other artists and use the knowledge that I had,” Marcia said. “It took a while for me to figure out exactly what I wanted to do.”

Marcia started her journey toward Southbank while working with Andy Black and many others in forming the Indiana Playwrights Circle (IPC), a part of the Indiana Writers Center. Marcia became the Scene Nights Coordinator and started to meet local playwrights, actors, and directors.

“It was like a totally different world opening up to me,” she said. “I started writing plays just as IPC started up, and in the beginning there weren’t a lot of people coming to Scene Nights. So I started writing pages every week so that we’d have something for our actors to read. There were occasions when I’d be one of two writers, so I felt some pressure to get pages out. It was actually really good for me. I have never been so prolific.”

Over time, Scene Nights started to pick up speed, and soon, there were between four and six writers at every weekly meeting. That’s when Marcia started to see the depth of the local talent, and the breadth of the works of new playwrights.

“Since my specialization was Shakespeare, so much of what I’d immersed myself in was Renaissance literature, and adjacent fields — medieval and classical works,” Marcia said. “I’d taught a Modern Drama and a Modern Women Playwrights class, and wrote some scholarship on (British playwright) Nina Raine’s work, but I always thought you had to live in New York or London, or another big city, to be a serious playwright.”

Nevertheless, Marcia kept reading new works and kept writing. Her play, The Profession, was the first monthly table reading with IPC, and soon after, she started writing Seneca and the Soul of Nero to bring to Scene Nights. “We were right in the heart of the Trump administration when I got the idea for Seneca,” Marcia said. “I was interested in exploring what it was like to be a political insider whose job was to rein in a despot. I thought, ‘What a nightmare of your own creation that must be.'” So she started writing about the ancient Roman philosopher, dramatist, and chief advisor to Nero, Seneca. Seneca also happened to be one of the Roman playwrights who had a major influence on Renaissance dramatists, including Shakespeare.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Scene Nights continued on Zoom — where they are currently still held. As the pandemic wore on and people started to miss interaction more and more, Scene Night became a bright spot in the week. “We were just trying to drag our kids through remote schooling and trying to keep up with demand for Aric’s business (TikiKitchen). We were busy,” Marcia said. “But Scene Night online was where we could get together for a few hours a week, tell stories, and forget that the world was on fire.”

Over time, it became clear to Marcia that talented new playwrights needed more opportunities to see their work produced — especially local opportunities — so she started thinking about what she could do to make those opportunities happen. “I just wanted to figure out a way to showcase local talent, as well as new plays that I was reading on New Play Exchange (NPX), or that I’d known about when I was teaching, but that no one else had ever heard of,” Marcia said. “There’s a treasure trove of great writing out there. Women and people of color have been traditionally underserved in theatre all over the world, but especially in Indianapolis.”

She started researching how to form the company in 2020, and met with lots of local people about how to get the ball rolling. Once covid vaccinations became a reality, it was clear that the timing was right for the theatre to make a comeback. The result was forming Southbank Theatre Company in March 2021.

“What I learned over the last two years, and especially during the pandemic,” Marcia said, “is that we can use stories to create a light in the darkness — which is what Scene Night was for me during the worst parts of covid. If we can provide an intellectually engaging and emotionally fulfilling theatre experience, I’m hoping audiences will find us and support us.”

The inaugural season of Southbank Theatre Company will include four shows and will focus on the theme, “What’s past is prologue.”

Marcia said, “Shakespeare uses the phrase ‘What’s past is prologue’ to mean that history gives us context for who we are and predicts what’s coming next. Our first season is going to be full of plays that connect us to history and give context, depth, and perspective to our own world.”

The first play of that season, Seneca and the Soul of Nero, starts rehearsals this week! Stay tuned to learn more about the rest of the 2021-22 season!

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