by RODNEY MARGISON
Live, in-person theater will return to the Bloomington area in October when a pair of new plays debut at The Hundredth Hill, a nonprofit, 40-acre artist retreat owned by local singer-songwriter Krista Detor and her husband, David Weber.
The plays are part of The Hundredth Hill’s Emerging Theatre Artist Residency, a 2 1/2-month program featuring nine graduates of New York University’s Tisch School of Drama. The project began this month and was spearheaded by Kyndall Sillanpaa when her senior show at NYU was cancelled due to COVID-19. In October, Sillanpaa will direct Ghost Tape Number 10, a devised play about psychological warfare and American society during the Vietnam War.
“I left [NYU] feeling so violently unsatisfied,” Sillanpaa says. “And I had to watch as my friends were forced to make these half-hearted attempts at creating theater on Zoom.”
But Sillanpaa traveled to Bloomington to visit Detor—her mother’s college roommate—and the idea for the residency was born. Partnering with Detor, fellow NYU alum Sam McHale, and several local arts and nonprofit organizations, Sillanpaa worked throughout the summer to make the residency a reality, and on August 1, she, McHale, and seven friends and colleagues converged on Bloomington. Each participant receives free room and board, free food, and space to develop their plays, as well as a small stipend.
“It’s just a perfect fit,” Sillanpaa says of Bloomington. “We can really help each other. We need to keep moving forward with our art, and Bloomington has a real need for good theater right now.”
In early October, Sillanpaa’s Ghost Tape Number 10 will debut at The Hundredth Hill, located at 9275 N. Fish Road, in “a safe and socially distanced setting,” Sillanpaa explains. So will Children’s Crusade, a play written and directed by residency participant Scott Huffman. Seating will be according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, masks will be mandatory, and direct interaction between actors and audience members will be strictly limited.
“Bloomington is perfect for something like this,” Detor says. “It’s rural and it’s safe, but it has an energetic, sophisticated arts community that’s always been willing to take risks and support new works.”
The program even got the attention of Broadway World magazine, which published a story in mid-August calling it “one of the only, if not the only theatre company nationwide actively creating and rehearsing new, traditional live theatre.”
Detor says the residency program could signal a coming shift away from urban centers for theater companies and artists. “I’m excited to see what this grows into,” she says. “This is a project that, before COVID, never could have happened in a million years.”
Learn more at thehundredthhill.org or by following The Hundredth Hill on Instagram, @thehundredthhill.