Jack Velazquez only got a small taste of the performing arts as a kid. His parents worked too much to take him to shows, but what he did see inspired him. On Sunday, he took his kids to Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theatre Foundation’s 5th Annual Theatrepalooza, where theatres and performers from across the Region showcased their talents.
“I want my kids to know more about the performing arts than I ever did,” Velazquez said. “I think creativity is really important. You get lost in your life and everything goes so quickly. You need the arts to show you those moments in life that you missed out on; it helps you feel alive.”
The Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theatre Foundation, NIETF, is a coalition of 15 theatre organizations across the area. Theatrepalooza gets the organizations together for a free sample show, where performers demonstrated highlights from their seasonal productions.
“On a day like today, you really see the breadth of theatre we do. You’ll see Shakespeare, contemporary musicals, children’s productions, all on one stage,” said Becky Jascoviak, President of the NIETF. “Normally you’d have to go all across the Region to find performances like these, but today they’re all here for free.”
NIETF member theatres represent communities everywhere in the Region, from out in Chesterton and Valparaiso to Hammond and Gary. Theatrepalooza is their chance to show that quality performances are never too far away. Many of the members are small, such as the Hammond Community Theatre that performs at Beatniks on Conkey, a tiny, three-row theatre about the size of an average bar. Theatrepalooza gives them a chance to shine.
“A couple of people said they’ve never heard of us, even though they live right around the corner,” said John Wotkun, member of the Board of Directors for the Hammond Community Theatre. “It’s good to get our name out there and it shows that there’s something for everybody here in the Region. NIETF brings us all together; without them, we are a bunch of islands that don’t get to interact much.”
Other organizations, such as Portage’s Regional Performing Arts Company, set up shop to teach visitors how they can get involved with the arts in their area. In their case, they cast Region students in productions such as their upcoming “The Little Mermaid.”
“We believe that the kids can do anything the adults can, so we support young performers age 18 and younger. All of our shows are cast from students in that age range,” said Benjamin Leonard-White, one of the Company’s producers. “Looking at how close we are to Chicago, it’s easy to say ‘we’ll just drive into the city and enjoy the show.’ Having these performances here in our community means being able to support our friends and family on that stage.”
Visit nietf.org to learn more about the organization and its member theatres. You can also view a full calendar of shows happening at Region theatres throughout the year.