“Theater is in my blood,” Audrey Cunningham, the new chair of the University of Indianapolis Department of Theatre said. Cunningham previously served as the coach of the UIndy Forensics Speech and Debate Team from 1993 to 2017 as well as a faculty member in the communication department from 1986-2019.
Cunningham took over the role previously held by Penny Sornberger, the former chair of the department. Cunningham said the position opened up, and she was offered the spot because of her experience in theater, in which she has a bachelor’s degree.
“I have a love of the theater and I wanted to see it grow and thrive and I had some ideas, and that’s why I came down [to the theatre department],” Cunningham said. “And I like everyone down here.”
The transition, which happened over the summer, was rough at first because of changes to the curriculum, but help from others in the theatre department made the transition easier, she said.
“At first, it was a big challenge,” Cunningham said. “I was integrated over the summer, and the person who had been chair before, Penny Sornberger, was a huge help and she was here a lot over the summer as well. That helps. Then Jodi Bush, our administrative assistant, is amazing, so I get a lot of help and support.”
Although she has spent a short time in the department, Cunningham said she has a lot of plans to help the department during her one year. She said one of her most important goals is to get students to work together more.
“In one year, it’s hard to get a lot accomplished, but [that’s] one of the things we’re working and, we’ve already gotten students to see the future here and know that it’s viable and it’s positive,” Cunningham said. “We’ve made a few structural changes in organization. We’ve instituted a whole department work call two days a week, where everyone comes together and works building scenery, working on the props and costumes, and that builds more teamwork and it also helps the varsity [advanced] students help the novice students.”
“So instead of just floating out my last year to retirement, I’m actually challenged. It’s probably a good thing.”
Cunningham said she is thinking long-term and has long-term projects in mind to help the theatre department. One thing she plans to continue is the department’s participation in competitions such as the American College Theater Festival, where students can compete against other students from different schools in various activities such as acting and design.
Cunningham said she also wants to help theater students get more involved in the community. She hopes this will help the UIndy students and faculty know more about what is going on in the theatre department and how they can get into shows for free. This year, to reach more of the community, theater students are marching in the Homecoming Parade.
Cunningham has kept her connections to the communication department despite the move. She said she is still teaching Classroom Communication and has tried to keep in contact with her former colleagues.
Cunningham said that she’s happy to have found something that can challenge her in her last year at the university.
“Down here [the theatre department], I’ve been welcomed with open arms and it’s been a wonderful change and a challenge,” Cunningham said. “So instead of just floating out my last year to retirement, I’m actually challenged. It’s probably a good thing.”