“I was seven years old when I wanted to be a director, and I've never changed that course.”
For years, 2015 Ball State alumnus Joel Kirk said he would make short films with his camcorder in the comfort of his backyard. He would act, direct, edit and write his own scripts to transform pre-existing ideas into his own.
“The first short movie I made was called ‘Planet Wars,’” Kirk said. “You can probably guess what that was an imitation of.”
Since then, Kirk said he has pursued his love for storytelling, theater and Broadway.
“Broadway exists because of people who do not live in New York,” Kirk said. “Broadway begins when 5-year-old Joel Kirk falls in love with a show called ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ and watched the VHS version again and again.”
From Indiana to New York
Because theater consumed a large portion of Kirk’s childhood, he knew theater production was the field he wanted to continue exploring in college.
Considering Ball State University, Kirk said he started by meeting with Karen Kessler, his advisor at the time, about what Ball State had to offer. Kirk said he and Kessler began sharing their favorite storylines and what kind of stories they respond to.
“I think we talked for 30 minutes about why the ‘Lord of the Rings’ is the greatest trilogy of all time and why everything about it was so cohesive, [including] the score [and] dialogue,” Kirk said. “To piece apart analytically why a piece of storytelling works or not is what I realized I was going to get at Ball State, [and] I loved it.”
Kirk’s theater experience at Ball State led him to his first internship in the heart of midtown Manhattan at New Dramatists, a non-profit organization. The non-profit helps playwrights with their new plays by assisting in finding a cast, a director and building a schedule to rehearse and produce their pieces.
During his time as an intern, Kirk said he saw “legendary directors and the regular TV actors coming in and out of there every single day.” One month into his internship at New Dramatists, Kirk received his first job offer but said the offer was administrative rather than creative.
“I turned it down to be at New Dramatists for seven more months where I knew I could not make a living, but I knew I would be next to the thing that gave me life,” Kirk said. “I knew being around those creative people and being around all of those artists was going to teach me something that four walls, a desk and computer chair couldn’t, and I’m so glad I did it.”
Because he chose to stay at New Dramatists, Kirk said he was able to leave with a wealth of professional relationships and caffeine. Sometimes, he said, he finds himself asking professionals in his field to get coffee frequently in order to create meaningful relationships and network with his community.
“I did my research beforehand and [would sit] down with them to try to make one thing that they remembered from that meeting, meaningful,” Kirk said. “Then, I just kept them in my community and in my life.”
Working as a director and producer in fast-paced New York City, Kirk said he saw actors, directors and cast members begin to panic as theater life died down in the summertime. Producers, playwrights and investors were slowly leaving the city for their own endeavors and vacations.
“So, I’m asking myself, ‘Why am I sitting around?’” Kirk said.
Kirk decided to travel back to Indianapolis to pursue under-the-radar workshops of two new plays at a local theater, but he noticed the same drought in Central Indiana that he left behind in New York City.
“During my visit [to Indianapolis], I was taking a walk, and I noticed all of these beautiful venues, and I noticed that they were empty,” Kirk said.
In order to combat this drought and bring Broadway to Central Indiana, Kirk decided to start Discovering Broadway.
The program gives Indiana natives a chance to look at Broadway-bound plays and musicals in development. Discovering Broadway also gives producers and directors a chance to expand their ideas on a particular show in Central Indiana.
“I wrote to the mayor of Carmel, the mayor of Fishers and the mayor of Indianapolis,” Kirk said. “I got meetings. I presented [the idea of Discovering Broadway] to the president of the chambers of commerce, Michael Huber, [and] they loved it.”
Joanna Taft, member of Discovering Broadway’s advisory board, said she knew of Kirk and his family, but she didn’t first meet Kirk until a year ago when she invited him to one of her porch parties.
“[Joel] comes over, and there’s usually 10 to 12 people there [at the porch party,]” Taft said. “He's been fleshing out his idea [for Discovering Broadway], working on it and asking for advice, and we push him back on things, and he comes back and fine tunes [his idea.]”
Taft said Kirk used his networking connections and presented his ideas to big funders, which pushed open many doors for him.
“[Joel] has taken many no’s as the first step for getting a yes,” Taft said. “My favorite thing about Joel is that he does not give up. Those [types of] people have crazy [and] great ideas, and they don’t give up. It is hard, really hard, actually, to be successful, and Joel is successful.”
In less than 100 days, Kirk built a board of 15 members, an advisory board of six members and an executive board of three members. Shortly after, Discovering Broadway was put in motion.
How Discovering Broadway works
Discovering Broadway’s program consists of a two-week long workshop that brings together the actors, directors, composers and lyricists for a play or musical.
To start, Kirk contacts producers who are developing high-profile shows, and he puts them in contact with directors, composers, lyricists and playwrights.
Actor auditions are then held, usually in New York City, and from there, the team of producers and directors will determine what two consecutive weeks they have available. Over the course of the two weeks and through the creative process, those involved in the play or musical will explore the artistic potential of the show and bring the story to life.
When the first Discovering Broadway show debuts February 2020, Kirk said Indiana natives will have the chance to see what it feels like to watch something creatively engaging so close to home.
“The reason [Discovering Broadway] matters [is because Hoosiers are] the last people to see a show five years after it opens with an entirely different cast, and there's no reason for them to," Kirk said. "The reality is you don't need to create a show in an outdated rehearsal room in midtown Manhattan. You can do it in one of the best places to live [where] a beer is three bucks.”
Taft said having Broadway in Indiana will create a great cultural fabric in the Midwest and give the population excellent and quality performances to enjoy and experience.
“Joel’s heart is here [in Indiana,]” Taft said. “He was born and raised here, [and] he loves Broadway. So, this was a pairing of the two things he loves. What this means for us is that more and more people will hear our story.”
Contact Kamryn Tomlinson with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.