BY SUSAN M. BRACKNEY
The Good Catholic—a 2017 release by Bloomington-based Pigasus Pictures—set the stage for the Bloomington Academy of Film & Theatre, a new venture from Pigasus’ nonprofit arm, the Pigasus Institute.
“It started because my wife told me I needed to watch this movie,” says Pete Yonkman, president of Cook Group Incorporated, a backer of the project. “It’s set in Bloomington, Danny Glover’s in it, and it’s the real deal.”
Yonkman and Cook Group CEO Carl Cook eventually met the filmmakers, Pigasus Pictures co-founders John Armstrong and Zachary Spicer—both native Hoosiers and Indiana University alumni—and became intrigued by their burgeoning academy. The new venture—Bloomington Academy of Film & Theatre (BAFT)—is a collaboration with Bloomington Playwrights Project and Cardinal Stage Company. The academy will offer classes in acting, musical theater, public speaking, and more. But before any of that could happen, some practical aspects needed to be addressed.
Cook recalls Armstrong and Spicer saying they were looking for a soundstage location. “I said, ‘Well, let’s go find a building!’ That’s how we landed on the old Red Cross building, which CFC owns,” Cook says. “We had never found a good use for it that was cost-effective. So, we said we’ll turn it into a soundstage and see what happens.”
Newly transformed, the cavernous space on East 7th Street is painted flat black and accommodates assorted sets, cameras, and lighting configurations. “We’ve taken most of the second floor out and created a narrow mezzanine where technicians can position lights and cameras,” Cook says.
The soundstage will serve Pigasus Pictures and BAFT. “There really isn’t a film and theater academy like this in the region,” Armstrong, BAFT’s executive director, says. “Zack and I both have been instructors at the New York Film Academy. We’re kind of adapting that model. Hopefully, we can train and inspire the next generation of filmmakers and put more people to work.”
Spicer and Armstrong see BAFT as a next step for the city’s arts community, noting Bloomington already has local filmmakers, voice and dance instructors, and, of course, Bloomington Playwrights Project and Cardinal Stage Company. “A lot of the pieces are already here. They were just working independently,” Armstrong says. “A lot of it is just connecting dots and creating new opportunities for people to work together.”
BAFT youth, teen, adult, and professional development courses begin in February. Visit thebaft.org for details.