November 16, 2018
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Curtain Up

The actors tread the boards – Christina Hager keeps them in repair
Christina Hager accepted the position of executive director for the Evansville Civic Theatre in 2015 and hit the stage running.

Almost lost behind the stacks of projects covering her desk, Christina Hager shoulders an enormous responsibility. As the executive director of the Evansville Civic Theatre, she must act as a sort of curator for its treasured legacy while propelling it full-force into contemporary performance and on into the future.

She doesn’t look worried.  She looks confident and excited.

Now located at the corner of Fulton and Columbia, ECT has been at the cultural heart of the city since it was founded as the People’s Players back in 1925. Its popularity swelled and shrank a few times over the years, then enjoyed resurgence in the decades leading to the millennium while it was in the capable hands of acclaimed director Dick Engbers. Although it continued to offer high-quality entertainment, the theater faltered a bit after his retirement; ticket sales began to slow, the facility showed its age, patrons drifted away, and the vibrancy began to dim.

Enter Hager, stage left.

In the year since she came on board, attendance has increased, there have been improvements to the physical structure, and the offerings have expanded in scope. In June, after several years relying on guest directors, the organization announced it had hired a new artistic director, Kevin Roach.

In addition to its Main Stage productions, ECT partners with the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana to offer experimental “Black Box” theater in its Underground series. Its NEXTWAVE program provides theater classes for children, teens, and adults, and the hands-on experience of participating in a live production.

This season’s offerings include “Peter and the Star Catcher,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and“Crimes of the Heart,” on the Main Stage. The Underground includes “The Conversation About the Keys,” and “The Nether.”

Why did you decide to join ECT, and what was your prior experience?

I started as a grant writer with the Girl Scouts and became development director. Then I worked several years with Tales and Scales, a non-profit group promoting “music telling” and conducting programs for kids. We received Kennedy Center honors, but funding was an ongoing issue and it was difficult for the organization to operate on its own. I helped to transition it into a program at the Evansville Philharmonic.

The experience at Tales and Scales was a little bit similar to the situation ECT was facing, and when I first learned they were seeking an executive director, I did not apply. I said I’d have to be crazy to do that again. But the board members were passionate and determined, and that convinced me. If you’ve got a good board of directors, you’ve got something to work with.

What are some of the physical challenges, and what improvements are in the works?

We have a four-phase renovation project underway. We’re currently making structural repairs to the south side of the building and repainting. We’ll tackle the east side next; work there will include replacing doors and repainting that wall.

We were fortunate that we got our box office remodeled thanks to a Boy Scout who handled it for his Eagle Scout project. Another item high on the to-do list is the ladies restroom. It’s upstairs and there is no elevator, making it inaccessible for some people. So come hell or high water, we’re going to address that.

We’ve had the opportunity to make an offer on the property next door, so in the near future we should be able to expand and offer more parking. There is long-range talk of a whole new facility and we’ll continue that discussion, but in my mind it makes no sense to allow this place to fall down around our ears while we’re talking.

What’s the advantage of having both an artistic director and an executive director?

Dick Engbers was able to handle both areas. He was probably the most influential person in the history of ECT next to its founder Frances Golden. But it is the rare individual who can do that.

If you have to be concerned with things like fundraising, ticket sales, and the cost of repairs, it starts to affect your ability to be creative. If an executive director handles the administrative aspects, the artistic director is free to concentrate on production. He doesn’t have to worry about how to pay the light bill; he just thinks of how to make the magic on stage.

We’re really excited to have Kevin Roach come in as artistic director; he’s been a guest director in the past. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. He seems to be the perfect complement to the other staff.

How would you describe the Main Stage and the Underground?

The Main Stage productions are more traditional theater and are the most popular. Plays on the Main Stage run for six performances, and musicals run for eight performances. The Underground features are lesser-known, more edgy plays that generally run for just four performances. Sometimes the audience is sparse. 

We did a lot of promotion of the Underground last season and the series really started building some momentum. “Bug” got a phenomenal response; that show was standing room only all four performances. We plan to build on that.

For tickets and more information about the Evansville Civic Theatre, call 812-425-2800 or visit evansvillecivictheatre.org.

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