Bob Harbin: An Intrepid Impresario with an Eye for Talent

bob-harbin

It is well known within Indianapolis theater circles that when independent producer/director Bob Harbin puts on a show, it is truly something special. The owner/operator of BOBDIREX LLC formed his company in 2010, with a mission to provide “excellent production values with tight budgets, diversity in casting and dedication to the growth of the youth of Indianapolis.” Adding to a string of critical and box offices successes that have included Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, BOBDIREX will present the hit Broadway musical, Billy Elliot, June 24 through July 12 at Marian University.

Recently this writer sat down with Harbin, a former Senior Vice President of Casting and Development at the Fox Broadcasting Company in L.A., to chat about Billy Elliot, the LGBT community, and gay pride.

Why did you choose Billy Elliot?

I was able to see the production in New York and was mesmerized.  I vowed then when it became available I would find a way to do it here in Indy.  It’s not only wonderfully entertaining but its themes are important, especially here in our city.

What are its themes?

Realizing that no matter how small your world seems to be, no matter how small the people around you would like to make you feel, you can still pursue your very big dreams and break the chains that seem to hold you down. Accept and trust the help and support offered from others. Don’t be afraid to ask for and accept the support from those around you.

How might it relate to the celebration of gay pride?

I think those ideas are the essence of gay pride.  We have a week every year that hopefully helps everyone in the LGBT community to be who they are without fear.  That’s very important.  It is equally important to help each other to have the pride to be who we are every day.  That’s what pride is about; being proud of who we are without fear. Hopefully in our own personal strength we will inspire others to find their strength.

What has been your own journey as a gay man?

I feel so blessed to have been born in 1951.  It’s been a long and mostly rewarding journey.  I struggled with abuse, climbed out of my own cocoon and learned to accept and love the man I am today. Those of us older folk fought the hard fights.  I spent a great deal of my life living in fear. But through the incredible help of some wonderful folk, gay and straight, I lived to find my own inner strength. I lived to find an incredible man who made my life complete and who continues to shape my life in his passing. I’ve fought for gay rights and feel overwhelmed with the changes that have been accomplished. I hope to live a bit longer and continue to help others on their journey.

As an artist?

Well, I consider myself a gay artist so it’s hard to separate the two. I want to present theatre in such a way that all communities are addressed and paid attention to. So even if a show’s main theme does not have a gay slant, or black slant, or Jewish slant, or you name the slant, I want to find a way for all those slants to still be  represented in some way. We need to go the way we want the world to go.

What do you say to younger LGBTs about their legacy?

Recognize that you have one. Recognize that the work hasn’t already all been done.  Recognize that the life you celebrate came with a cost. Read and study. Know that the precautions you get to debate over have been given to you by thousands of men and women who died without the same choices. You have a responsibility to carry the flag. And carry it for all people not just the LGBT community.  This life we lead is a team sport. Learn to lead and play on the team.

Why should the LGBT community support theater?

First off, everyone should support theatre.  LGBTers must recognize the freedom theater offers and how often it expresses the themes we search for in our lives. And through the years I believe the theater was one of the first places to offer that freedom of expression without fear.  Oy! I bet Shakespeare had to settle a lot of bitch fights over who got to play Juliet.

What can audiences expect when they come to see Billy Elliot?

A wonderful story told by some incredible Indianapolis talent.  An amazing performance by Thomas Whitcomb from Plainfield.  Choreography as only Kenny Shepard can accomplish Beautiful voices led by Trevor Fanning.  A solid team show that will have you on your feet with excitement.  A BOBDIREX show that audiences can anticipate with great expectations.

For tickets and information about Billy Elliot visit www.bobdirex.com.  Photo courtesy of Bob Harbin.