In the early 1990s, a theater community was born. Only, it didn’t know it was a community quite yet. The Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theatre Foundation (NIETF) was formed in 1992 as a way to recognize and award local theaters and actors--think the Tony’s but for Northwest Indiana. Starting with about 6 community theaters, over the last 27 years, it has grown into a community of more than 20 theaters and many more individual members.
Throughout that growth, the organization quickly saw that they could offer more than just awards and recognition. They started to unite as a community and found that supporting each other was the way to keep growth going.
“Theater was very territorial at that time and we tended to see each other as competition,” said Becky Jascoviak, President of NIETF. “The NIETF started to bring people together, not just for the award recognition, but also to share resources and talent, recognizing that to become an arts community we have to work together. We’re not competing with each other, we’re competing against cable tv, Netflix, and sports.”
Twelve years ago, Jascoviak joined the organization and has been president for the past eight years. Through her hard work, the organization has seen exponential growth. With her experience in grant writing, Jascoviak was able to begin writing grants for the NIETF. After a first infusion from the Indiana Arts Commission, NIETF was able to start more programs.
“We were really able to jump-start the expansion of our organization,” Jascoviak said. “Because we have these grants, it forces us to be more structured and bring more resources to the table as most of them are matching grants.”
With programs like Park Plays and Theatrepalooza, the NIETF is working hard to expand the NWI community’s theater awareness. Jascoviak knows the way to move forward is for the theaters to work together to continue bringing new community theater experiences.
“We have grown from an award-granting body to more of a theater association. We have all types of events, like Theatrepalooza, where we bring the theaters together to perform,” said Jascoviak. “We come together to provide marketing and fundraising support for our theaters. We provide shared resources. We’ve taken the organization to a new level where it’s not just about awards but it’s about creating a vibrant, arts-filled community that anyone can plug in to.”
The NIETF has also placed an emphasis on providing for education through its college scholarship program. Students who are members of the community and are planning to pursue an education in any of the theater arts programs are eligible for this scholarship.
Along with their annual awards, the NIETF provides one of their local theater members with a $1000 grant. This money goes into projects the theater company has throughout the year. It’s a great way to support an expansion of the arts.
While the NIETF still hosts their annual awards gala, this year’s will take place on October 26, they have grown to so much more of a communal place for performers and theaters in Northwest Indiana. Their website, http://nietf.org/, is a one-stop-shop for actors looking for auditions, art lovers looking to find a show to attend, and even theaters looking for resources for productions.
With a rich history, the NIETF has played a large part in helping the NWI theater community to grow and Jascoviak is looking forward to even bigger growth for the future.
“We have big dreams,” Jascoviak said. “We want to be a community arts center where local theater groups have an opportunity to put on shows or provide training and classes. Each of our theaters has a little pocket of doing that but there’s not a central place to do it in NWI. We also want to bring a theater festival to the area, like Indy Fringe Fest or the Chicago Theater Week.”
To find out more about the NIETF, visit their website: http://nietf.org/.