As Ian Hauer was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals,” he imagined a particular scene on the stage.
“I wrote it down, then another, then another, until there was a first draft in front of me,” said Hauer, 30, of Old Town Noblesville.
Tonight, The Attic Theatre play director and new playwright brings to the stage his original drama, “American Brutus.” The play runs today through Sunday at The Auditorium at The Annex.
The play is about the last two years in the life of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth and takes the form of a fast-moving historical drama, Hauer said. “I’ve always been a student of history and a fan of theater and the intersection of the two fascinates me.”
He said the storyline focuses on John Wilkes Booth, “an immensely dramatic historical figure. The play of his life almost writes itself: a national celebrity secretly engaged to the daughter of an abolitionist senator, smuggled medicine into New Orleans, started an oil business, crossed paths with the Lincolns several times, publicly feuded with his older brother, also a famous actor. There is so much material to mine.”
Hauer said, “It’s been fun trying to tell a story where no one knows the main character but everyone knows the ending.”
Writing the play and fine tuning it was a lot of work. “It’s been a lengthy process, with several starts and stops along the way.” He relied on a number of editors to finesse the script, plus actors, directors, playwrights, academics, writers and people off the street. He had two table reads that helped a lot.
“I think the biggest hurdle was hearing my words in people’s mouths,” Hauer said. “That changed the dynamic in so many scenes.”
It’s the first time for The Attic Theatre to stage an original production. The Attic is based in Elwood but has come to stage several of its productions in The Auditorium at The Annex at Ivy Tech Community College in Noblesville.
Hauer said several members of The Attic had read the script and talked to the theater’s executive director, Rebecca Roy about staging it. Late in 2019, Roy approached Hauer to ask if he had an interest in staging his play as The Attic’s first original play, to which he quickly agreed.
“The board is very interested in cultivating talent within the group beyond just acting, whether that’s directing set building, costume design or now playwriting.
The play was already on The Attic’s schedule before the COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic. “But obviously, it has forced us to read very carefully with all elements of production,” Hauer said. “We’ve had many candid discussions with the cast and crew and have not had the entire cast together since the read-through in August.”
The cast spent all of September, October and most of November rehearsing small sections of the play, limiting the number of actors gathered in one place.
While they used the Auditorium and an actor’s church for rehearsals, they also had a few living room/backyard rehearsals.
Set build was on Saturday and then the cast arrived for tech week on Sunday with dress rehearsals through Tuesday. On Monday, they were putting the finishing touches on the set and doing minor tasks, such as hanging the curtain and going over performance-night etiquette. Hauer picked up the printed programs on Tuesday.
There are 33 characters and 10 crew members. How does that work with so many people during the pandemic?
Masks are required at all rehearsals; some actors even opt for face shields, Hauer said. While cast members do not wear masks on stage, cast and crew wear masks when they’re not on stage and there is someone who thoroughly sanitizes every seat and touch point after rehearsals and performances.
“We’ve kept a very close eye on the health of our actors and crew and have had to quarantine and test several performers along the way,” Hauer said. “Thankfully, no member of the cast has tested positive to this point.”
He said, “We have an elaborate list of understudies ready in the event that an actor has to drop out during production. We’ve managed to keep our bubbles pretty small. I think the pandemic made it a little harder to recruit for auditions, and I definitely think it will have an impact on the size of our audience.”
All audience members must wear a mask and have a temperature check at the door. “We’ve been very careful to follow state and facility guidelines throughout production,” Hauer said.
The cast of 33 hails from in and around Hamilton County, with 10 from Noblesville and two from Westfield, with others from Cicero, Sheridan, Indianapolis, Lebanon, Elwood, Pendleton and Kokomo.
One of those Noblesville cast members is wife, Emily Hauer. They married on Oct. 10. “Emily and I have acted and directed together in The Attic for a little over four years,” Ian Hauer said. She was his assistant director during The Attic’s 2019 “And Then There Were None.” And this time, she’s acting in her husband’s show. “I’m biased, but I think she’s a wonderfully expressive actress and I think audiences are in for a treat with her role.” (By day, Hauer is communications director for the Indiana Treasurer of State. Emily is the daughter of Bill Smith, who serves on The Attic Theatre board and former chief-of-staff for Mike Pence in the Governor’s Office.)
Hauer has directed several shows with The Attic, “and I’ve been acting since I was in kindergarten,” he said. “I love the camaraderie of community theater and am always looking for new opportunities to engage with audiences.”
Hauer, who moved to Old Town Noblesville over the summer, loves that the Square is in walking distance and so many amenities are nearby. He was born in Minnesota, raised in Newburgh, Ind., and has moved around quite a bit. But he is hoping to stay settled here for a while.
As to whether Hauer would direct another show during the pandemic, he said he would probably choose a play with a very small cast. “The logistics of keeping 33 actors healthy and moving a production forward working only on small chunks at a time is immensely draining,” he said.
He said the benefits of live theater are desperately needed in a time like this.
“I think that theater is very important right now,” Hauer said. “In a time of fear, uncertainty and exhaustion, we have the opportunity to tell a story, once that’s never been told like this before. So, (as) long as we keep our actors, crew and audience safe, and we’re taking every precaution to do so, this play can be an escape and a balm for those in attendance,” he said.
“”In particular, watching 33 actors create roles that have never been on stage before has been a tremendously rewarding experience. Everything is fresh, and so many of them are bringing perspective to the story that I hadn’t imagined as the playwright.”
The play is being produced in partnership with The Attic, “with a kind of workshop approach,” he said. “Some Attic board members have advocated for royalties for this show, but because of how we’ve treated director compensation in the past, we opted not to pursue that this time.” He also sits on The Attic’s board of directors.
Over Hauer is pleased with the show. He said, “I’d certainly stage one of my own plays again. (I’ve got several drafts in the works), but I’ll need a breather after this one.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.