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Embassy hosts classic musical that shines light on diversity

First time at Embassy for Indy arts theater


Michele DeVinney

Whatzup Features Writer

Published April 14, 2021

The Color Purple has touched audiences for years. Readers were drawn to the 1982 Alice Walker novel and its deeply moving heroine Celie. Three years later, Steven Spielberg brought the story to the silver screen.

In 2005 the story opened on Broadway as a musical, one which was adapted and revived in 2016. Although many have had the opportunity to experience the novel and film, fewer have had the chance to see the musical live.

The Embassy Theatre hosts that opportunity next week with a staging of The Color Purple thanks to the Indiana Performing Arts Theatre.

Providing Opportunities

Founded almost 20 years ago by Trina Dingle, Indiana Performing Arts Theatre was created to provide performance opportunities for some of Indiana’s talented actors, singers, and dancers who may not otherwise find outlets.

“My goal was to spread diversity in the arts,” Dingle said. “I wanted there to be more black representation in theatrical productions in Indiana because there are often very limited options. I began the process about 20 years ago, and I was finally able to get it going 16 or 17 years ago. It took about 22 months because it isn’t easy to get the 501(c)3 status. But even during that period, I was still doing small productions.”

Dingle is both engaging and tenacious, qualities which likely serve her well as founder and executive director of IPAC. She has assembled a small but equally dedicated team around her, including artistic director Dee DuVall and production manager Kila J. Adams.

“Dee and I talk about it, and she has been a great partner fighting this battle for the last 16 years,” Dingle said. “There’s not enough black representation, and we’ve been fighting this forever. Not just in Indiana or in the theater, but even Hollywood, there are fewer options for people of color.”

Although each woman has her own title and focus, DuVall pointed out that it goes deeper than that.

“We’re a small business,” DuVall said. “We all wear all of the hats at all times for all things.”

“She’s our producer,” Dingle said. “But she’s great at acting so she could go out on stage any time, and she’d be great. If I went out there, it would be a disaster. So I look after the business side of things. And Kila is a great talent, so it’s a good team.”

Insight and Intuition

DuVall’s background as a singer, actor, and dancer serve her well as she approaches new productions, providing her with insight into how a show should be staged.

“I can just see it on the stage in my mind,” DuVall said. “I call it a gift.”

DuVall has turned that talented eye toward The Color Purple which, even in its latest incarnation as a musical, has a history of adaptation and reconfiguration.

“The novel really exploits Celie’s character,” DuVall said. “We see the absence of what her life is because of her ignorance, her uneducated mind. She has to take on so much of an adult nature so early. Spielberg, Whoopi, Oprah, Danny Glover — that whole cast — did an excellent job of relating that story in a way that makes it timeless. It still feels true in 2021. Now we have something in the vault that we can bring out for new generations to see.

“The original Broadway show included a lengthy trip where Celie visits her sister in Africa where we learn more about Celie growing up and the different characters she meets. When it was revived in 2016, they revised it and cut it down a lot. I think the Broadway musical now does a great job of taking both the novel and the movie and making it into a musical.”

Back into the Groove

Based in Indianapolis, IPAC has been affected by COVID as many others have been. With seating capacity limits, they attempted a couple of smaller productions in the fall, but The Color Purple is their chance to get back into the groove.

“Even with the vaccinations, we’re still in a battle with COVID-19,” Dingle said. “We’re doing two productions in Fort Wayne, and then we’re taking the show to South Bend because our leading lady, our Celie, is from South Bend. Then we’ll go to Evansville. We like to visit diverse theaters in underserved communities so we can spread diversity to some of these wonderful local companies and communities. This will be our first time at the Embassy Theatre.”

With a production of Dreamgirls planned for fall and a Motown Christmas show in the works for December, IPAC and its sister company KaidyDid Productions continue to find ways to offer actors of color the chance to perform and for audiences of all colors a chance to see shows which reflect a more diverse human experience. More information about upcoming performances can be found on their Facebook page and at ipacindy.org.

The power trio at the helm of these productions feel a societal movement that makes their efforts particularly timely.

“I think in the age of Black Lives Matter and COVID and things shutting down, our society — our world — has a different view on all of this,” DuVall said. “As we begin to open up, I’m seeing changes that I haven’t seen in the past. As an artistic director, I’m all about the feel of the theater, the mood, the atmosphere. And when you present a more diverse view, you start to feel that warmth, that joy because if that doesn’t happen and you don’t bring change, then you’ve missed the mark.”

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