In 1914, a group of Indianapolis citizens discussed the idea of starting a community theatre in the city. Impressed with the quality and success of the Chicago Little Theatre Society, the group sought to bring the same kind of volunteer-based theatre to Indianapolis. Thus, the Little Theatre Society of Indiana was established and opened the following year with a presentation of four plays, including THE KILLING TRIANGLE: A DOMESTIC MELODRAMA in the sculpture court at the John Herron Art Institute. S. A. Eliot was named Artistic Director, and world-renowned author Booth Tarkington wrote several original plays for its stage.
In 1924, the Little Theatre decided to build its own structure, a new 240-seat playhouse at the corner of Alabama and 19th Streets, now the site of Footlite Musicals. On July 18, 1924, Booth Tarkington wrote to the publicity manager of the Little Theatre Society: “I hope your movement for a Playhouse for The Little Theatre will be successful. The Little Theatre in Indianapolis deserves to be taken seriously and gratefully by the Indianapolis public. I did not realize this until I saw a Little Theatre company play a comedy of my own better than a New York company did on Broadway.”
In February 1926, TREASURE ISLAND was the first performance at the new playhouse. In 1929, the Little Theatre adopted a new name: Civic Theatre of Indianapolis. The name was changed to Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre of Indianapolis, Inc. in 1949-50 as a tribute to the famous Hoosier’s artistic contributions to the theatre as a playwright and advocate, although the name Indianapolis Civic Theatre was later adopted. In 1973, with a generous gift from Mrs. Grace Showalter, the Theatre relocated to the 645-seat Showalter Pavilion on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA).
During a period of ambitious reconstruction, the IMA bought out Civic’s lease in order to update the facility at the corner of 38th Street and Michigan Road. As a result, Civic relocated to the campus of Marian College (now Marian University) and invested nearly $2 million in renovations to the Marian Hall auditorium space. The 2004-2005 season opened in this interim location, and Civic began exploring options for a permanent, autonomous home for the Theatre.
The Center for the Performing Arts, built in 2009 and 2010 after years of meticulous planning, presented Civic Theatre with the opportunity to relocate to a permanent home just north of greater Indianapolis. Thus, the Center’s 500-seat proscenium stage was named for Civic’s namesake, Booth Tarkington. Civic begins the 2011-2012 season as the principal resident theater at the Center, where it bases all its performances, education programs, and administrative functions.
Mainstage productions take place in the Tarkington and range from acclaimed musicals to comedies and dramas, entertaining over 30,000 patrons each season. Civic’s education and outreach programs reach over 20,000 each year through classes, workshops, and educational performances for toddlers through senior citizens.
Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre has been a vital part of central Indiana for a complete century, providing outstanding live entertainment and unmatched opportunities for professional, avocational and educational growth.