Students need not go far for vibrant theater scene in Hammond


Bonnie Johnson

Hammond Community Theater puts on a variety of shows throughout the year.

Just a few minutes from Purdue Northwest’s Hammond campus, students can find a vibrant performing arts and theater scene.

Northwest Indiana has several theater companies, comedy clubs and other performance spaces ready to fulfill the needs of theater and art enthusiasts on both campuses. 

Four miles from the Hammond campus, at 418 Conkey St. in Hammond, Beatniks on Conkey and the Hammond Community Theater share a building for high quality performances. 

Beatniks feels like a coffee house meets black-box theater. The 12-year-old establishment is a family-owned performing arts venue that offers weekly dance classes, improv skits and monthly performances.  

Hammond Community Theatre follows a more traditional approach, sticking to drama and musical entertainment.  

“I have only been to a few comedy shows in Chicago,” said Matt Plesac, PNW senior. “Now, knowing of all the theater companies that we have nearby makes me want to see what our community has to offer.”

The two groups would love the attention.

“Reaching the students of PNW has been a challenge,” said Rip Johnson, a Beatniks co-founder. “Over the past 12 years we have had students who were active in our theater, but they have graduated and moved on.”

“Students with an interest in theater, who are not in a theater program, and wish to participate in theater would be able to perform at Beatniks, without incurring any cost,” he said. “We offer opportunities for performance, technical experience, production positions, and house management. They could exercise their artistic ambitions in a low stress environment at little to no cost to them.”

The Hammond Community Theater also offers opportunities.

“All our theater productions are open to everyone on a volunteer basis, and we certainly encourage students to attend and participate,” said John Wotkun from Hammond Community Theatre. 

Beatniks and Hammond Community Theatre rely heavily on volunteers for their entertainment. Opportunities for PNW students can be found in acting roles or even behind the scenes. 

 “We are having open auditions for our April 2020 production of ‘Denial,’” said Wotkun. “We not only need actors, but we can use crew help with no experience necessary.  This is not a professional group, we are all volunteers, and no one should feel intimidated about being a novice.”

“The performing arts not only enrich our lives, they help develop our social and communication skills, and one can exercise the brain through memorization and performance,” said Beatnik’s Johnson.  “We develop life long friendships through the shared effort and passion for a project. Beatniks is like a family in that we all count on each other for support and encouragement, direction and affirmation.”

Wotkun agrees. “No one will laugh at you,” he said. “Unless you are in the improv group or one of the staged comedies, then you will need to be laughed at.”