By Stephanie Holman
The summer of 2016 brought news of a commission from the Storytelling Arts of Indiana and Indiana Landmarks to write and tell a story about the Fowler Theatre, a 1940’s movie theater in Fowler, IN and winner of the 2016 Cook Cup Award for Outstanding Restoration. I love a creative project – the research, the writing, and the performance.
But I hesitated about the project. This would be my second commission for the series, “If These Walls Could Tell”. I had learned a lot from a 2014 commission to write about Marquette Park in Gary, IN, specifically, that it is really hard to write about a building. In fact, it is impossible. But I also learned that a story can be found, in the people, the people involved with the creation and with the award-winning renovation. Their stories about their motivations and their work can become a compelling tale.
I knew I had to start talking to some people to find those stories. I had a list of names from Mark Szobody at Indiana Landmarks, and one name was Jill Byrd, the manager of Fowler Theatre. I spoke to Jill on the phone, and started the interview with a few preliminary questions, then told her that research on the Internet indicated the theater is haunted and had recently been featured on a paranormal ghost hunter show. I asked her if that was something I should pursue. Her reply gave me shivers through and through when she said, “I deal with the ghost every day!”
A ghost! Stories of people are interesting, but a story about a ghost? Ghosts make great protagonists! I was off and running with my angle for the story. I talked to many members of a group that had come together with the intent to renovate the theater, and they called themselves the Prairie Preservation Guild. Guild members and other community members told of having encountered the ghost often, stories that have made it the 8th most haunted building in Indiana. All of them agree that the ghost is the original 1940 builder and owner, Richard Vlastos.
A fabulous tour of the theatre was a highlight of my research. No, I did not see the ghost, darn it, but I did meet Jill Byrd and Karen Klemme who took me on the tour of what is truly a breathtaking building. Later that day I interviewed Karen Moyars who kindly sent me an archive she compiled of the building’s history.
The story I have created involves a haunted building, a ghost with a past, and a mighty band of modern day heroes who love the theater. One reason the renovation of this building won the 2016 Cook Cup for Outstanding Restoration was the community wide effort to save and then to run this theatre. This same community came to the aid of this storyteller as well. They welcomed me and told me their stories, and I cannot wait to share them on the stage at the Indiana Landmarks Center on February 24 beginning at 8 p.m. To learn more about the ghost and Fowler Theatre order tickets today.