By Todd Travis
Developing a passion
Coming from a musical family, Center Grove’s Katie Swaney has always had the influence of the performing arts in her life. At the age of 2, she was already participating in ballet, tap and jazz classes, and she began singing and playing saxophone in middle school. Her mom was a singer, and her dad was an instrumentalist, so she had the benefit of their skills to help guide her along.
“I think it was always in the stars for me a bit, which I’m grateful for. Music was always such a big part of our lives,” Swaney recalled.
At the high school level, Swaney began doing musical theatre and joined the show choir. That’s about the time she realized that she wanted to continue performing for the long term. She credits the Center Grove team for helping her not only with performing, but also learning self-discipline and motivation – two very important skills when it comes to being a professional performer.
“My theater director Kathleen Kersey was the first to ask me if I thought about musical theater. After thinking, I realized that this was something I could do long-term because I didn’t love to do anything else as much as I loved to do this. I also felt that I had good training and support so I felt confident that I could do it,” Swaney remembered.
Continuing her journey, Swaney would attend Indiana University to get her BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in musical theater with a minor in arts administration. She continued to hone her skills as a performer as she practiced auditions nearly every day and learned more and more about singing, dancing and acting.
“I ended up at the perfect place for me, I think. They really prepared me for what life in this business is really like. I feel like I grew leaps and bounds as a performer in those four years there,” Swaney mentioned.
When things don’t go as planned
Just as Swaney was about to graduate and make the big move to New York City, the pandemic hit. The remaining classes she was finishing were all done online, and her graduation ceremony was cancelled. In place of the graduation ceremony, she was sent her diploma in the mail a few weeks after she completed her senior year. On top of that, New York City was shut down and so was the entire theater industry.
Swaney’s departure from Indiana was delayed from fall of 2020 to March of 2022. That wasn’t the end of the challenges that she would face on her journey. Some of the realities of living in such a big city began to hit as well. On top of that, the performance industry is one where you have to deal with rejection as a natural part of the audition process.
“New York City is a very different environment from Indianapolis. It took me a while to find my footing, but also to realize that it’s OK to struggle for a bit. Over time, I built a strong support system through friends there and friends and family back home, and that really helped. New York City is a beast, and every day is different – some days you might love it and some days you don’t,” Swaney said with a laugh.
To help deal with some of the more difficult parts of the business, Swaney strives to focus on the positives. Surrounding herself with projects that she loves and remembering that every audition is a chance to improve helps her enjoy the ride. If she does start to feel down at any point, she leans into her faith to help her keep perspective and see the bigger picture.
“If I’m feeling really discouraged, taking some time to pray and read the Bible always helps remind me why I’m doing what I’m doing and why I’m here. On a less intense day, going out to dinner with a friend is always something that cheers me up too,” Swaney said.
Enjoying the success
The flip side of the coin for Swaney has been the joy of her journey. The challenges are there, but she has managed to not only land some big roles, but she has also found a way to become involved with her family business while traveling and doing what she loves. After working as a host for three months and preparing to transition into becoming a server, she realized that really wasn’t the path she wanted to continue.
Fortunately, her minor in arts administration equipped her perfectly to take on a role as an administrative assistant in the family business: RSC Fundraising. In this role, she is able to assist in the growth of the business, create a second income and continue pursuing theater all at once.
“Just this past month I was doing ‘West Side Story’ in a theater in Long Island. I was able to do that full time while working remotely full time as well. It was awesome,” Swaney explained.
Some of her favorite roles have been Bonnie from “Bonnie and Clyde,” doing ensemble work in “Chicago,” performing as Dainty June in “Gypsy” and her more recent role as Graziella in “West Side Story.”
Performing in Indy
On May 12-13 Swaney will perform at the Hilbert Circle Theater along with some other big names in the theater industry. The show is called “A Sondheim Celebration” featuring a collection of music from Broadway’s master composer, Stephen Sondheim.
“There are four other incredible artists coming that I’m kind of starstruck by: Liz Callaway, Beth Level, Ben Crawford and Jim Hogan, who are absolutely top-tier artists. And of course you’ll get to hear the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, who never disappoint. It’s going to be a magical show,” Swaney promised.
For tickets visit: indianapolissymphony.org/event/a-sondheim-tribute/