Experience Fort Wayne's 'unconventional' musical theatre

When Andy Planck returned to Fort Wayne in 2009 after four years of professional work with an actor’s union in New York, his vision for a new local theatre company was piqued.

“None of the local theatres are union stages, so I moved back but couldn’t act,” Planck says. “I felt a great need to create my own art, to be creative and to do something.”

Now 36, he worked with his friend and fellow theatre artist Billy Dawson, 27, in Chicago for three years initially. Then the two decided it was time to bring their dream to life in Fort Wayne, which Planck calls the community that birthed his passions.

Together, they opened Three Rivers Music Theatre and Triple Threat Performing Arts Academy—the first professional music theatre and comprehensive arts academy of its kind in Fort Wayne.

“I felt like with all of the development that was happening downtown, the city was finally ready to support what I wanted to do, what I wanted to present, and where I felt was a void in what was being presented artistically in Fort Wayne,” Planck says.

He and Dawson saw that a population of immense young, unconventional, up-and-coming talent was being missed in northeast Indiana, with little opportunity for a creative outlet or growth. So they created Triple Threat Performing Arts Academy to offer classes to anyone ages 3-103.

Like a family, anyone and everyone is welcome, they say, and the feel-good community spirit is coupled with a serious goal: To put Fort Wayne on the map as a national arts destination.

“We have artists in the region that are capable of achieving incredible artistry,” Planck says. “We push our boundaries; we push the envelopes. I think all of that combined put us on the map, so to speak, as a regional and national arts destination.”

Jessica Butler performs as Sally Bowles for Three Rivers Music Theatre's "Cabaret" performance at The Philmore on Broadway in February.

“Triple Threat,” an industry term, refers to three skills needed for music theatre—singing, acting, and dancing.

For Planck, it’s important to mesh directing with teaching and offer a broad range of performance education under one umbrella. This allows young artists to explore multiple facets of their skills and grow into their talents.

“It’s a safe place for them to develop who they are, to find themselves,” Planck says.

Along with the teaching method, the location is equally as special. Three Rivers Music Theatre is tucked away downtown on Pearl Street in a small, quaint studio.

“There’s something about the intimacy and the visceral connection of a live theatre that actually makes people think,” Planck says.

And their studio isn’t the only place they perform. To Planck and Dawson, revitalizing Fort Wayne’s performing arts culture has meant taking risks and doing musical theatre in innovative ways and locations.

In February, the cast performed their second show “Cabaret” series at the Philmore on Broadway—the first production in the space in almost 50 years.

“Nobody is taking risks like that in new spaces and creating theatre in unconventional spaces,” Planck says. “It’s a challenge that I think other companies may say, ‘There’s no standard for that; there’s no rulebook, so we’ll just stick to what’s safe.”

The duo is also forging new trails of theatre in the types of shows they put on. They strive to bring new “material that presents a different narrative and makes people think about equality and inclusivity and love,” Planck says.

Many of these musical productions have never been done in Fort Wayne before.

“We feel it important to bring stuff that is otherwise unproduced—the shows that everybody says, ‘Oh I love that show, but you could never do it here,’” Planck says. “Well, sure we can. Why not? Fear is not a good enough reason.”

Attend a show this week

A NEW BRAIN, PG-13 - Strong Language

Three Rivers Music Theatre is proud to present the Fort Wayne premiere of the hit, Off-Broadway, musical A NEW BRAIN! Inspired by William Finn's personal experiences, is a medical tragedy seen through the iris of a Looney Tunes short. After struggling composer Gordon Michael Schwinn collapses face first into a plate of spaghetti, he is diagnosed with a brain tumor and is forced to come to terms with his creative ambitions and the lovable screw-ups in his life: an overbearing mother a ruthless kiddie-show host and a boyfriend who'd "rather be sailing.” The musical opened at Lincoln Center Theater on June 18, 1998, and ran for 78 performances, winning the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical.

Address: 212 Pearl Street

Thursday, May 3 - 8 p.m.
Friday, May 4 - 8 p.m.
Saturday, May 5 - 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 6 - 6 p.m.

Doors open 30 minutes before the performance. Snacks and beverages available for purchase at Three Rivers Music Theatre.
Tickets: http://www.threeriversmusictheatre.com/shows/

Support local theatre

Party on Pearl fundraiser
Friday, May 18 at 6 p.m.

Join Three Rivers Music Theatre in toasting its Second Season and kicking-off Season Three at its annual fundraiser. Party on Pearl is an evening of fun and entertainment, featuring pop-up performances, hors d'oeuvres, and a cash bar.

Read more articles by Kami Neff.

Kami Neff graduated from Indiana University with a BA in News, Reporting & Writing and Global Journalism. Her hope is to one day travel and write the stories of peoples and cultures around the globe.
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