Community continues to support Pichon, Pine Island Playhouse
Multi-generational performers abound at Pine Island’s only local community theatre. Islanders who may have suspected there’s a thespian hiding inside of them, have likely been on the stage of the Pine Island Playhouse, or will end up there.
Nichole Pichon was certainly no stranger to the island when she moved here at 25 years of age after obtaining degrees in both theatre education and also design and technology as well as teaching theatre for three years at Herron High School, an award winning, intentionally diverse, classical charter school in Indianapolis. While most students, she said, will work toward a degree in the hopes of landing a teaching job in the English department and then start a theatre department, her love has been and remains knowing and being able to run every aspect of a production.
“I made myself more marketable by earning a technical theatre degree so that I could run auditoriums and be the technical director,” said Pichon.
After seeing the need for live productions, she founded the Pine Island Playhouse. On this island of fishermen and musicians are artists of all kinds, and performers, said Pichon, who are often found in the same families. The Playhouse is currently in its 7th season with over 150 people who have participated in its productions to date, which, according to Pichon, is no small feat since, she said, many people have no desire to perform.
“I think the greatest thing about community theatre, is that anyone can be involved without ever being on stage,” said Pichon.
In keeping with the spirit of generosity for which this island is known, Pine Island Playhouse operates entirely on donations, allowing productions to remain cost-free to the community. Pichon said it’s worked this way with much success and that she has no intentions of ever charging a fee for any production. She emphasizes her view that theatre should be for all people and never limited to wealth or reduced to an art enjoyed only by the affluent. Currently the theatre brings in an average of $7 per head, which means, the contribution of one person may cover the cost for an entire family. The Playhouse’s production of “Miracle on 34th Street” alone brought in well over 700 people.
Although Pichon admits she initially had no intention of starting a community theatre, her background almost dictated her doing exactly that. Play adaptation is something she has done since she was a student herself, which has now been prolific enough to spawn off former students who are applying to Julliard and writing their own productions. It was her cousin, fellow islander and local artist Mel Meo who encouraged Pichon to use her background and aspiration for production to launch the theatre.
“She said just move to the island and start a community theatre out here,” said Pichon, speaking of Meo. “So we went back to Indiana, thought about it – talked about it for a long time and that’s exactly what happened.”
The impact a local playhouse has on a community can certainly be measured by the amount of local involvement, as Pichon notes the different scenarios resulting from participants, both as performers and production crew-members.
“We’ve had people come through who struggle with memory problems, due to their medical history, such as having been on anesthetics too long, for something like an emergency surgery, who’ve walked out of Playhouse with improved short-term memory, because of the work they did there,” said Pichon.
Utilizing everyone in the community remains a solid goal for any public theatre company, and Pine Island Playhouse is no different. Pichon notes piano players, run crew, tech crew, as well as various others who lend themselves to the piecing together of every local production, to ultimately serve the community they love. The youth are encouraged each summer to take part in the “Student Series,” a program started, fittingly, by a former student, who received a grant from Disney for her own production, “Eat – it’s not About Food.”
“Usually the kids pick some kind of societal issue for the topic and they direct the play based on that,” said Pichon, naming among the student productions, “Don’t you Love me?” a play about teen dating violence, and “The Bully Plays,” which was its own collection. Directing is the easiest thing to do, she admits, because she does most of the set design herself, and if she’s on stage performing, it’s difficult to do both. In addition to offering the community arts through free theatre, every year there is a two-week-long summer camp program for kids 7-17. In the morning, the kids get a chance to learn theatre production, leaving afternoons open for rehearsal, with a production finale at the end of camp.
What began as a love of theatre for one high school student, evolved into the Pine Island Playhouse, as Pichon said, by the community, for the community.