District Theatre premiers ‘Voices of the Avenue’

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“Voices of the Avenue,” written by local playwright Brandi Metzger, premieres May 31 through June 3 at the District Theatre as part of the organization’s new grant-funded Black Light Training and Development program. (Photo provided/Tijideen Rowley)

The District Theatre’s latest musical takes audiences back in time, shining a spotlight on Indiana Avenue before its decay.

“Voices of the Avenue,” written by local playwright Brandi Metzger, premieres May 31 through June 3 at the District Theatre as part of the organization’s new grant-funded Black Light Training and Development program.

The program, which enrolls new students each spring and fall, includes funding for a series of one-act plays centering around the effect of displacement and gentrification on Indiana Avenue, said Tijideen Rowley, director of training and development for Black Light Training and Development.

“There’s already an ecosystem here in Indy for Black artists, honestly. It has grown, and it’s pretty amazing, but we want to forward and develop it more,” Rowley said. “The goal is to pour into the community and really bring up as many artists as we can, so that other projects and other smaller black theaters in the city can have a more [sic] pool of talent to pull from, whether that’s through the avenue of writing, acting or directing.”

Black Light Training and Development was introduced to the District Theatre a year ago as part of a $350,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, Rowley said. The goal of the programming is to provide cost effective training and workshops in acting, directing, playwriting, technical theater and dance to Black and brown students and adults in the Indianapolis area.

The first play in the Indiana Avenue series, entitled “Perfect Storm,” premiered in January 2024 with three sold out shows. 

Metzger said “Voices of the Avenue” takes place in 1940s Indianapolis and follows Constance, a journalist for the Indianapolis Recorder, and her sister Pearl, a jazz singer on the avenue. Constance is offered a job at a big newspaper in New York City and wants her sister to move there with her.

The story leans heavily into themes of sisterhood, ambition and the importance of community while showcasing the rapidly approaching downfall of the avenue with an added magical flair.

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“The play is first and foremost about the relationship between two sisters,” Metzger said. “They have been brought together in this moment because our main character has been offered a job in New York City and she’s going to move there … Her sister is resistant to that because … she loves living on Indiana Avenue and she loves her community there.”

Black Light Training and Development was introduced to the District Theatre a year ago as part of a $350,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation,
Black Light Training and Development, which offers training and workshops for Black and brown students and adults, was introduced to the District Theatre a year ago as part of a $350,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation. (Photo provided/Tijideen Rowley)

Metzger, 28, has always had an interest in creative writing and said she wanted to explore dramatic arts and entertainment writing post-graduation. The Black Light Training and Development program — which she discovered on Instagram — presented her with a unique and cost-effective opportunity to learn about playwriting hands-on. 

The Black Light Training and Development program is unique in how it welcomes students of all ages at “any level in their thematic arts journey” to come in and learn more, Metzger said. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that “pushes them to go beyond where they are” with the support of the community behind them.

Under the direction of Rowley, training also afforded Metzger a chance to try her hand at songwriting. Since “Voices of the Avenue” takes place inside the Sunset Terrace, one of many clubs that used to line Indiana Avenue, Metzger felt it was only necessary to include elements of music in the show as well.

“When I first started writing the play, I didn’t have a musical in mind at all,” Metzger said. “Once I chose that setting and started reading more about the Sunset Terrace, it just felt like it made sense to also highlight the music.”

Local musicians and producers such as Carl Hines, Matt Franklin and Sandy Lomax came in to create an entirely original score for the show.

“(Voices of the Avenue) pushes the envelope even more because it’s a musical,” Rowley said. “She did a fantastic job … she wrote the lyrics, but then we had to really work with a team to develop this jazz music … The cast also helped with the composition of the music. So, it really was a team effort there and bringing that together.”

Another key element to the story is the looming conflict presented by a “mysterious man” named Apollo, Metzger said. This character, who is white, seems to possess a magical power of hypnotism and is an antagonist voice in people’s heads to twist the narrative. 

“There were outside forces and actors that … had kind of a different vision for what Indiana Avenue could be, but in their vision, that included displacing communities that were already there,” Metzger said. “I wanted to create a character that would kind of embody that sentiment … we’ll get to see how the characters respond to that. We’ll get to see if they overcome this antagonist power, or let it overcome them.”

Premiering “Voices of the Avenue” is a dream come true, Metzger said, and she hopes everyone who comes to see it will get to experience the “magic” of live theater and the conversations it can start when communities come together.

Know before you go

Voices of the Avenue

District Theatre, 627 Massachusetts Ave.

May 31, 7 p.m., June 1, 7 p.m., June 2, 3 p.m.

General admission: $12

For  information about the Black Light Training and Development, visit indydistricttheatre.org

Contact Arts & Culture Reporter Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848. Follow her on X @chloe_mcgowanxx.