By Megan Knowlesfirstname.lastname@example.org
The 2017-18 season for the First Presbyterian Theater continues the organization’s longstanding mission to provide theater as a way of challenging people and connecting them more closely with each other and with their Creator.
The theater had its first show in 1968, but the church had theater on its mind when it expanded in the mid-1960s, Managing Artistic Director Thom Hofrichter said.
“It’s kind of part of this church’s identity,” he said, adding that when the dining hall was constructed the church chose to put an arts center beneath it rather than a gymnasium.
“It’s never been common. I know of no other church in the country that has a [theater] program like this,” he said.
It was that program that helped draw Hofrichter back to his native Fort Wayne 21 years ago. After 15 years traveling the country and making his living from the theater, Hofrichter said he wanted to be closer to his aging mother.
“I saw this job post and I knew what this place was,” he said. “It’s been a terrific theater for me because it does ask you to do shows that involve thought and ideas and morality and who are human beings and how we behave on this earth and how do we connect to something greater than ourselves? All true art has a religious, spiritual nature to it.”
First Presbyterian Theater’s shows focus on three main themes, Hofrichter said: how humans relate to one another, how humans relate to something larger than themselves and a celebration of life. He also tries to balance the season with a couple of dramas, comedies and musicals when he can.
In October the theater will present “Faith Healer,” which Hofrichter describes as a “really interesting play about a man who has the gift of healing. … Sometimes he’s a vehicle for the miraculous, but most of the time it doesn’t work.” The play also explores relationships, memory and the truth.
In December First Presbyterian will present a re-imagining of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” adapted by Jack Cantey and told through music, narration, puppets and movements.
“I feel like what ‘A Christmas Carol’ has become, the holiday productions that we see, are so far removed from the original. … That novel is a dark novel,” Hofrichter said of this version, which he still described as fun and entertaining. “Hopefully people will hear that story we all love and hear it in a new way.”
“Red,” a story about the student-mentor relationship between abstract expressionist Mark Rothko and his assistant, will be performed in January and “Hamlet,” presented with an all-female cast, will play in March. Hofrichter said he previously directed “Othello” with an all-female cast about 20 years ago.
“If there are women who are out there who love Shakespeare and think it’s not fair because men always get to speak these beautiful speeches, come on down because it’s the women’s turn,” he said, adding auditions are Oct. 14 and 15.
The season wraps up with the “funny but thoughtful” “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and the Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord.” The play begins with the three aforementioned men trapped in a room together. After talking, they make a discovery.
“All three of these men, at one point in their lives, read the Gospels…and saw the contradictions,” Hofrichter explained. “Each of them, at some point in their lives, had taken the four books and written their own gospel. … They decide their job is to come to some consensus and then that door will open.”
The First Presbyterian Theater is at 300 W. Wayne St. in Fort Wayne. For more information visit firstpresbyteriantheater.com.