Regarded as one of the Midwest’s top professional summer stock theaters, the Avondale Playhouse (or “Avondale-in the-Meadows”) contracted nationally recognized stage and screen personalities to headline casts composed largely of local talent. A candy-striped tent erected at the Meadows Shopping Center on East 38th Street housed the 1,200-seat theater for most of its operating years, 1954-1966.

A large circus tent is surrounded by a black chain link fence.
Avondale Theatre, 1960s Credit: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library View Source

Avondale regularly drew capacity audiences to popular light comedy productions in addition to award-winning modern classics. One of the nation’s few theaters-in-the-round, Avondale’s stage afforded such stars as Myrna Loy, Cesar Romero, and Dorothy Lamour in an unusual live-performance experience, while its multiple viewing perspectives proved a challenge to directors and set designers.

Allen Whitehill Clowes, who along with W. Taylor Wilson helped found Avondale, promoted the tent theater and its friendly rival, Starlight Musicals, as the city’s two best alternatives to summer boredom. In 1964, ticket prices ranged from $2.90 to $3.20. The Crown Room, located in the Meadows, advertised a dinner, cocktail, and Avondale show package for $6.95.

Several people, furniture and props are shown on a stage.
“Born Yesterday” rehearsal at the Avondale Playhouse, 1960s Credit: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library View Source

Encouraged by the theater’s success, Avondale’s board of directors sought expansion to other midwest locations, but the failure of a Louisville venture in 1965 forced the company to sell its assets. A proposed Avondale “Playhouse-on-the-Lake,” scheduled to open June 20, 1967, at 116th and Keystone, never reached the construction stage.

Revised February 2021

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