KOKOMO, Ind. — It’s been 25 years since Joann Kaiser directed the first community play in Tipton, Indiana, which now boasts a thriving theater presence unexpected in a small town.
“It’s an added nuance to our community. We have a good thing going here, and I hope it lasts,” said Kaiser, senior lecturer in communication arts at Indiana University Kokomo.
The first show, Our Town, which was a great success, led to a production of Fiddler on the Roof, also directed by Kaiser. Buoyed by their success, planners formed the Tipton Community Theatre, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the performing arts.
“We didn’t know how long it might last, and how a community that small could support it, but they have,” said Kaiser, who now serves on the board of directors. “It gives people the ability to see art and performance at work, close to home. For a low price, they can see high-quality shows.”
Twenty-five years after the first production, the organization flourishes, performing four shows each year, including one children’s production. In addition, they coordinate a Performing Arts Camp during the summer for youth.
Kaiser played the Wicked Witch of the West in an early production of The Wizard of Oz, and laughs remembering cast reaction to her first appearance in full make up and costume.
“I walked out on the stage and did the cackle, and all the little kids ran,” she said. “It was a challenge to get them to stay on stage.”
After a few seasons of directing and performing with the group, Kaiser moved from the area, and didn’t return for 10 years.
“While I was gone, the organization took off,” she said. “There were a lot more people involved. When I saw the shows they had done, and the number of people who had gone through, the volunteers who had participated, I was so proud of the outcome for this program.”
During the 25th anniversary year, Kaiser and the board are dreaming big, raising money to buy a building they currently borrow for storage.
“Our big dream is to expand from just a warehouse, into a place we can offer classes, teaching singing, dancing, music, and acting,” she said. “We would also like to eventually create a small auditorium, for a more intimate space than the high school auditorium.”
Kaiser began teaching at IU Kokomo in 1988 as an adjunct. Her theater involvement started with an acting course, and “it took off from there,” sharing her passion both on campus and in Tipton.
“Theatre allows a person to find identity, community, and expression of the human soul,” Kaiser said. “The Tipton theatre group is my family. I have watched students find acceptance with their peers and learn skills for team-building, problem solving, and explore issues of diversity.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.