Greenwood’s Dr. Kathy Phipps passes down her love of theater to area youth through Agape Performing Arts Company
By Cleveland Dietz II
After 30 years of directing theater, Greenwood resident Dr. Kathy Phipps embarked on the most challenging production of her career last year. Next week, it takes the stage.
“Les Miserables” will be Agape Performing Arts Company’s third production.
Phipps, who has a doctorate in theater, founded the nonprofit theater company after her experience at Center Grove Fine Arts Academy at Center Grove Church. She staged several musicals theater productions there. Each time, Phipps said, more young people auditioned.
Thirty youth were in the academy’s first production—“Godspell.” The numbers ballooned and between 140 and 150 people auditioned for the fourth show. Phipps said it was clear to her that there was enough demand for another theater company, so she thought about starting one.
After Father Mike Keucher, of Our Lady of the Greenwood Church, saw Phipps’ production of “Mulan,” the two decided to partner. Agape found a home.
Phipps said Keucher suggested the company do “Les Miserables.” Work on the production began in mid-November.
More than 90 people from 10 counties auditioned in January.
Phipps wanted to keep the show’s cast between 45 and 50 people. That did not happen.
“There was so much talent, it was very hard turning that many gifted people away, so we took a cast of 70,” she said. There are also 15 crew members and 20 volunteers.
Performers range in age from 7 to 19 years old.
Phipps started performing on stage when she took a small part in her high school’s production of “Night of January 16th.”
She grew up around theater in the Chicago area. Her mom was a singer and, after retiring as an elementary school music teacher, became an actress.
Phipps, now a mother of four, shifted her focus in theater to young people about 8 to 10 years ago when her children became old enough to participate.
“I’d enjoyed theater so much as a young person, I wanted to make sure that my children had the opportunity, should they show interest in theater,” she said.
Olivia Ortnann, 16, will play Eonine in “Les Miserables.” This will be her third production with Phipps.
“She cares so much about every person in the show that she really has that one-on-one connection and helps everybody grow,” Ortnann said.
Ortnann said she cannot draw from personal experience for the role, so learning how to perform it has been a challenge. The vocal parts are also difficult, she said, so working with musical director David Turner has helped her develop as a singer.
“(Eponine’s) life has been anything short of easy,” Ortnann said. “It’s crazy to have to jump into a character’s shoes like that. It’s really fun, though.”
Alex Bast, 18, plays Enjrolas. Though he has only been involved in theater for a short time, performing has helped Bast grow in confidence.
“It does teach me how to be more forward and outgoing,” he said.
Phipps said that is at the heart of why she works with young people.
“So often, when young people find their niche in the theater, I’ve just seen so many relationships bloom,” she said. “Young people who didn’t have confidence before becoming more confident. It’s more work to direct young people than to direct college students, but it is definitely worth it.”
“Les Miserables” runs April 6 – 9 at the Knights of Columbus’ McGowan Hall, 1305 N. Delaware St., Indianapolis.