University of Southern Indiana

New Harmony's Hidden Jewel

Stage set with props that make it look like the inside of a house

Behind the Scene

Built in 1914, Murphy Auditorium—home to USI’s New Harmony Theatre in New Harmony, Indiana—was likely constructed to host lectures and chamber concerts, and not as a stage for professional actors from New York City and elsewhere.

Armed with USI’s mission to enrich the cultural life in southwest Indiana in 1988, the late Jim Blevins, emeritus dean of USI’s College of Liberal Arts (CoLA), was charged with creating a “truly professional theatre.” Initially, the number of Broadway-esque actors on stage was one or two with the remaining roles played by area actors but, since 2001, the theatre has been committed to attracting the highest quality performers for its summer productions, including many Broadway veterans, and is now the only Actors Equity (the union of professional actors and stage managers) stage within 100 miles.

Today, USI’s New Harmony Theatre has emerged as a Mecca for seasoned theatre professionals from LA to NYC seeking a highly-reputable platform to display their talents in both building the sets of and performing in Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning plays.

  1. The realistic appearance of each play’s set is in the magic of their creation. The moulding in the set of Born Yesterday appears as solid wood but instead is carved from foam. The set is constructed at CoLA’s scene shop on campus and then transported and assembled in New Harmony. The 1,000 feet of moulding required in this play must align perfectly with adjoining panels, otherwise the audience’s experience suffers.
  2. Eight hundred-plus hours go into constructing sets such as Born Yesterday. The crews, consisting of construction, paint, electrical and prop experts, converge on the tiny town from across the nation, working in rotating shifts throughout the day and night to ensure the sets are perfect.
  3. In the early years, mostly classic plays—with a focus on works by Tennessee Williams—were produced, but audiences prefer a sampling of diverse shows, so each season offers a drama, a comedy and a musical, or possibly a thriller.
  4. Prior to Elliot Wasserman, professor of theatre, traveling to New York City annually for four days to cast all the parts in the season’s plays, he sorts through hundreds of submissions from actors and agents. For instance, more than 600 actors vied for each of the three lead roles in Born Yesterday.
  5. The acoustics in Murphy Auditorium are so pitch-perfect, theatre goers in the back rows can hear actors whisper on stage.   

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