Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Betty Lou Kyle's Passion For Theater

Betty Lou Kyle is a living legend among Noblesville’s theater community, having directed or acted in 44 local productions in the past 5 decades. She returns after a 6 -year absence from the stage as the director of the Belfry Theater’s next production, The Perfume Shop.

I ate lunch with Betty Lou recently at The Hamilton restaurant and asked her why she returned to the theater after such a long break. In her typical self-deprecating style, she said, “I wanted to stay involved in something - not just play cards,” she chuckled.

She recalled her first local play, The Emperor’s New Clothes, presented in the 1968 in the O. V. Winks building at the 4-H Fairgrounds, before the Belfry’s current location on State Road 38 was even created. It also marked her creation of the Apprentice Players, an annual play staring local children. In addition to directing, she has acted in productions such as Driving Miss Daisy and Little Foxes.

Betty Lou told me about studying drama at Indiana University, where she met her late husband, well-known attorney, John Kyle. Theater was a family affair from that moment on. Both Betty Lou and John were founding members of the Hamilton County Theater Guild and acted in plays there throughout their marriage. Betty Lou laughs, recalling, “John even tied me to the railroad tracks once in the play 10 Nights In A Bar Room.”

All of her children, son John Kyle Jr., and daughters Amy Bradburn and Kathy Abrell appeared in Apprentice Player shows. And coincidentally, her granddaughter, McKenzie Kyle, now a professional actress in Los Angeles performed in a production of The Perfume Shop in Sarasota, Florida recently.

At age 82, being back in the theater with actors, set designers, props people and costumers looking to her for direction is admittedly intimidating, but Betty Lou says the excitement for building a show returned quickly. “Once the actors took the stage for preliminary readings I was drawing energy from them.”

The Perfume Shop is set in early 20th century Hungary during the Christmas holidays and is a light-hearted love story about two bickering co-workers who unknowingly exchange love letters as anonymous pen pals. It was the foundation of the Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan film, You’ve Got Mail.

In a series of coincidences, Betty Lou’s family history at the Belfry is echoed by the experiences of several other families involved in The Perfume Shop, giving the entire production a cozy feeling of close emotional bonds.

Mary Jo Bick, wife of assistant director, Jeff Bick, is the stage manager, and their son Michael is acting in the show. Long-time Belfry actor, Ginny Burt is joined on stage by nieces Anne Auwaerter and Fran Knapp. Gina Beckner and her small children, Emma and Jackson are all sharing their first stage experiences. And Jannette Wiles, a costumer on this production and a Belfry veteran of 37 years, will see her granddaughter, Grace perform in the show.

I stopped by the Belfry on a damp weeknight earlier this week. A scene was being rehearsed on stage. Other actors studied lines in various corners of the theater. Betty Lou and Jeff Bick sat side by side in the theater seats, note pads and play books in their laps, fielding questions from a costumer, then an actor, then they whisper ideas and questions back and forth together while three actors continue their scene on stage. Betty Lou shouts out to one, “Louder, Tom.”

Betty Lou attends to fewer details now than she might have 10 years ago, instead focusing on the actors and the final presentation of the story. Though she is a slight and soft-spoke women, when she begins offering direction to actors, many young enough to be her grandchildren, they fall hushed and focused, respectful of her professional stature and authoritative knowledge of what works on stage and what doesn’t.

Watching Betty Lou orchestrate this close-knit handful of families and Belfry veterans in what is likely her theatrical swan song is stirring. It reminds me of the many giants of this community I’ve been fortunate enough to know over the years, people who have, with passion and inspiration, made it a great place to live.

The Belfry Theater is located on 10690 Greenfield Avenue, just east of State Road 37. The Perfume Shop will run from November 25 to December 11th. Tickets can be reserved at

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