Changing the Way People Experience History and the Theatre

When you visit Candlelight Theatre at a stunning Italianate mansion in historic downtown Indianapolis, you experience a piece of history that will likely stick with you forever. As a guest, you get to sit in the same room former U.S. president Benjamin Harrison sat in when he lived in the home.

It is a unique partnership between the theatre company and the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site. Candlelight Theatre is the only program in the country performing staged theatre in a former U.S. President’s home.

More than 15 years ago, Creative Director Donna Wing performed at the Harrison’s national historic landmark residence for a Halloween event. She had dreamt of starting her own theatre company, and she had been looking for a distinctive venue. Wing, a former dancer, actor and model in New York and Tulsa, had an epiphany walking through the home. “This would be an awesome place to perform theatre,” she realized.

Instantly Wing began to visualize an audience immersed in the rooms and what it would look like to perform there. It all came together in her mind. Her dreams were further validated when she later realized that President Harrison’s wife, Caroline, actually hosted theatre performances in the home.

“Caroline had a wagon placed in the library and they were performing by candlelight,” says Wing in regards to the inspiration for the theatre’s name.

After a 90-minute meeting with the former Presidential Site CEO Phyllis Geeslin, Candlelight Theatre opened its curtains a year later in 2004. Since that time, the partnership has continued to flourish and grow. In 2014, Wing and new CEO Charles Hyde discussed how to further increase Candlelight Theatre’s impact. That conversation resulted in doubling annual productions.

Wing, joined by Playwright in Residence James Trofatter, along with seasoned actors, now produce four plays a year at the Candlelight Theatre. They offer a combination of distinctive mysteries, comedies and historically-inspired plays brought together with ambient candlelight. It all comes together to create a one of a kind experience that keeps patrons coming back.

These high-quality productions are unique in style and theme, and almost always sell out. Fall performances have a ghostly, Halloween theme where audiences experience the entire mansion. Winter features favorite holiday traditions and folklore. The spring production includes a full evening of theatre with three short-act mysteries performed intimately, each using a room in salon style. Summer is hosted either at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site or a specially selected satellite location where guests are seated in a traditional theatre setting for a full-length play.

With a nationally-significant collection of over 10,000 artifacts, and 75-80% of the furnishings in the home original to the Harrison family, this accredited museum exudes special authenticity as a theatre venue. The original furniture in the home has been maintained and is kept in the rooms for guests to see during the performances. The furnishings serve as a stage unlike any other, and add a deep layer of history to the overall experience.

The combination of venue and unique theatre offerings have built a strong local following. Season ticket holder Marian Haerle is one of many who keep coming back.

“I enjoy theater as well as history,” Haerle says. “Candlelight Theatre allows me to combine great acting in a historical setting. I am always excited to share the experience with family and friends. I have gone so far as to become a member of the Benjamin Harrison [Presidential Site] and a season ticket holder for the theatre. The theatre is not only entertaining but gives me a chance to learn as well.”

Wing is proud of the partnership and the success that the Candlelight Theatre has experienced in the last 15 years. “As a national landmark, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site attracts people from all over the globe,” she says. “This venue is unlike any other in the world.”

For more information about the Candlelight Theatre and where you can purchase tickets, visit CandlelightTheatre.org or call 317-631-1888 and make plans to attend a performance during the 2018-2019 season. All proceeds go right back to the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.

2018-2019 Season

THE (WHITE) HOUSE OF HORRORS

OCTOBER 12, 13, 19, 20, 27, 28, 2018

‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE…

DECEMBER 13, 14, 15, 16, 2018

MURDER AND THE MACABRE

APRIL 13, 14, 26, 27, 28 | MAY 3, 4, 2019

NIGHT WATCH

JULY 12, 13, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, 2019