By Marianne Coil
Learning a simple shuffle step as a 3-year-old started dancer Christopher Tompkins on a journey to 56 countries. Now back home in Johnson County, he’s starting a professional cabaret theater at Stage to Screen Studios.
His first show, Indiana’s Got Talent, opens Friday, Oct. 12 and runs on weekends through Oct. 21. He emphasizes it’s not a contest but a show featuring professional entertainers. To compensate for road closures around the Greenwood business district, he’s running a buy-one-get-one sale on tickets for the first production.
During Indiana’s Got Talent, patrons will see a variety program, including a concert pianist, a magician, a comedian, a ventriloquist and three vocal acts. This is the first in a series of six productions scheduled through April.
The intimate, 76-seat theater is in a building formerly used by a Greenwood department store and a church. The first three rows of seats have cocktail tables and Grafton Peek Catering will manage beverages and snacks. Caterer Jason West said typical charges for beer, wine and liquor would be $3, $5 and $6, respectively. West said it’s exciting to be a part of the theater’s effort.
Also in development – an open-mic night for stand-up comedians called Laugh Sabbath every Sunday at 7 p.m. The first show is set for Oct. 21, Tompkins said. The Facebook pages of Powerhouse Laughs and Gutty’s Comedy Club confirm their collaboration in providing the talent.
Tompkins was checking out real estate for the future theater, when he drove by the Walker Plaza at 350 S. Madison Ave. after a leasing sign went up. He arranged a visit and when he walked in, he sensed “beautiful energy” for a performance space.
After a career as a dancer, cruise director and hotel sales and marketing manager, the Franklin native returned to the area to be near his elderly parents and a sister with Down Syndrome.
He’d been looking for an executive job at a performing arts center but nothing opened for him close to home.
Tompkins decided to start Stage to Screen Studios, a dual-purpose training academy and theater for professional artists. Classes are open to students ages 8 and up and courses are designed to prepare singers, dancers, actors and designers for careers.
A typical semester for a teen or an adult studying musical theater would run 14 weeks for a fee of $700. Tompkins said the academy has 34 enrollees and includes a special-needs component in which his sister, Stephanie, is enrolled. The teachers are well-known area professionals with extensive experience.
Work in the professional cabaret is audition-based and pays wages. Tompkins said the house is non-union to enable more people to accept jobs.
His first teacher in Franklin, Saralee Mann, recognized his talent and told his parents he needed to study with someone in Indianapolis. Tompkins went to Helene Charisse, sister-in-law of dancer Cyd Charisse, and to several instructors associated with Butler University.
After high school, he had $35 in his pocket when he left for New York City on a Greyhound bus in the late 1970s. Staying with a friend, Tompkins waited tables in Greenwich Village while he trained and auditioned. Early breaks included a role in an off-off-Broadway show that eventually moved to off-Broadway and he went to the Poconos with a musical production company.
Back in Indianapolis for a few years, Tompkins got another break as choreographer for the dance team of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. He said he pestered the front office about a job until he was granted an interview. “They hired me dancing unseen,” he said, adding that before a meeting with the dancers, a team executive said, “You really can dance, can’t you?”
Following a friend’s advice, Tompkins found a job as a dancer-singer on cruise ships run by the Sitmar and Princess lines and eventually became a cruise director. In Greenwood, he’ll revive Holidazzle, a seasonal show from the cruise repertoire.
His career in hotel sales began in a job with Carlson Companies at an Indianapolis Radisson, where he booked a national convention with a hospitality event involving a road rally for 33 limousines. After this stint, he went back to New York City for more training and auditions until he decided to pursue opportunities in Las Vegas.
In the 1990s, the Miss Universe pageant had to make a last-minute move to Las Vegas because of political unrest in the original hosting country and Tompkins landed a job helping to stage the pageant. He said this opened doors for him to stage other high-profile events on the Las Vegas Strip, including the opening number of an ESPY Awards show.
As he turned 40, Tompkins said he thought he should re-enter the hotel marketing industry and was engaged in multiple development projects in the Southeast. “I got a degree in life.”
At home again, he said focusing on just making money is not enough. His goal in bringing long-term cultural plans to fruition in Johnson County is to be successful for “the betterment of all.”
For show times and ticket information, visit stagetoscreenstudios.com/cabaret-series and for questions, call (317) 360-2733.