In 2008, Pauline Moffat and Gary Reiter went looking for real estate that would fit into a plan to develop an affordable theater for rehearsal and performances in the Mass Avenue area. They walked the Mass Ave neighborhood, where they both live. For what was considered a quick fix at the time, IndyFringe settled on leasing the dilapidated, whitewashed church at 719 E. St. Clair St. Its renovation was paid for with $45,000 from the Allen Whitehill Clowes Foundation and $5,000 from the Local Initiatives Support Corp. R.L. Young, a longtime Mass Ave landowner, charged nominal rent. He also offered an option to purchase (which was later exercised).
One of the early meetings with R.L. Young in 2008 was at his office where he invited us for lunch. What we came to find out was that R.L.’s definition of lunch was leftover Thanksgiving Turkey and fixings heated on paper plates in a microwave with glasses of warm tap water. R.L. was a no nonsense, frugal and wise man who was self-made, very successful and had a futuristic vision. During the meeting, we discovered that R. L. Young was an early investor in the Mass Avenue District and had a passion for the area. We explained that our vision was to transform the Church into a black box theater and before we could talk about the impact we thought the building could have on expanding the “Cultural” aspect of the Mass Avenue Cultural District, R.L. Young told us that he believed the idea would have a positive impact on the area and he was “all In”. R.L. told us that he thought the building could be the start of IndyFringe having a bigger and broader brand in the community and he wanted to help. His form of help was to charge a token rent and allow us to invest in renovations of our choice in the building in lieu of rent. The arrangement offered by R.L. Young allowed us to creatively pull together the resources we needed to renovate and acquire the building.
Being “all in” resulted in everything that has happened since 2008. The original church building (now known as the Frank and Katrina Basile Theatre) is responsible for creating a major brand for IndyFringe. The affordable performing and rehearsal space has increased the number of performances by local artists and local playwrights with bookings 52 weeks a year. The success of the space led to the addition of the new Indy Eleven Theatre in 2015 and IndyFringe is now a Theatre Complex with two theaters and outdoor performance space. And it all started over leftover turkey on paper plates and R.L. Young telling us that the vision track we were on was the right path to a successful future for the Mass Avenue Theater District.
R.L. Young will be missed and we offer our deepest sympathy to his family.