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LOU'S VIEWS: Myth-busting the Indy arts scene

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Lou Harry

In a meeting recently, the subject of Beef & Boards Dinner Theater came up and a co-worker commented that the food there was “terrible.”

“Myth,” I responded, and as I launched into a defense, I realized this was just one of many myths circling around the Indy arts and entertainment world. Time, I thought, to do some myth-busting:

Myth: The food is lousy at Beef & Boards.

No, it’s not gourmet. But I’ve never gone hungry or unsatisfied before a show at Beef & Boards, one of the few remaining professional dinner theaters in the country. Chef Odell Ward’s buffet could certainly use some more veggies on the salad bar (some cucumber, perhaps?), but the breads have gotten an upgrade, the meat is still freshly carved, and the multiple entrée options have always added up to a meal as good as that served at your average family dining restaurant.

My co-worker also thought B&B was expensive. That’s a relative thing, of course, but consider that last season the cheapest adult ticket to a Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre show was $26 and at Actors Theatre of Indiana, it was $40. For a B&B evening—with dinner—the cheapest was $37. Plus tip, of course.

Myth: There is nothing worthwhile culturally on the south side.

I heard this one almost as soon as I set foot in Indianapolis for the first time. But those who say this ignore the fact that there’s a steady stream of musicians (jazz, classical and more), and visual artists showcased—many for free—at the University of Indianapolis. UIndy has the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra as its ensemble-in-residence, has an impressive faculty artist series, and is home to the Kellogg Writers Series.

And that’s all before we get to the activities at Garfield Park Arts Center or venues southwest, such as Tibbs Drive-in.

Myth: All movies based on Kurt Vonnegut books are awful.

Granted, it’s difficult to sit through the film versions of “Slapstick” or “Breakfast of Champions.” But that doesn’t mean our brightest literary son’s appearance as himself in Rodney Dangerfield’s “Back to School” is the only worthwhile bit of Vonnegut on celluloid. Two of the best are 1972’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” and the 1982 Christopher Walken/Susan Sarandon short based on Vonnegut’s “Who Am I This Time?”

Myth: In the summer, all movie theaters here show the same thing.

Yes, come summer, even the Keystone Art Cinema leans toward the latest Hollywood blockbusters—or Hollywood would-be blockbusters. But you can find more creative programming at the wonderfully retro Artcraft Theatre in Franklin (including, in July, “On the Town” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and at relative newcomer IU Cinema in Bloomington. Which brings us to ...

Myth: Bloomington, West Lafayette and Muncie are far, far away.

You have yourself to blame if you don’t have IU, Purdue and Ball State on your cultural radar. And you won’t be in the car for much more than an hour, depending on your departure point. All three offer programming in dance, theater, music and more that are great supplements to your arts diet here. Not only is there student and faculty work and a steady flow of touring activity at the universities’ respective auditoriums, but home-grown productions abound, including professional local theater from Cardinal Stage in Bloomington. That’s why I regularly include these nearby choices on my weekly A&E priority list and annual season preview.

Myth: Jenny De Voe plays at every festival in Indianapolis.

No, not all of them. But any festival is upgraded by her musical presence.

Myth: The Carmel Symphony Orchestra consists of amateur musicians.

Say that to the face of Larry Shapiro, the CSO’s concertmaster and a professor of music at Butler University, who toured as a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre and with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Or bass trombonist Jason Sulliman, who teaches workshops and clinics around the country. Or any of many other accomplished musicians who play for the Palladium’s resident orchestra.

Myth: All the best theater in the area happens in the professional theaters.

As a rule, I don’t go to many community theater productions. There’s just too much else to see and, honestly, the odds of quality are usually better with the pros. But that doesn’t mean civic or professionally managed theaters in the area don’t sometimes produce a show that holds its own with the big boys. Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s “Drowsy Chaperone” and Theatre on the Square’s “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant” are two that come happily to mind.

Myth: Everything in the Broadway series comes from Broadway

Not always. The Broadway in Indianapolis series is usually anchored by the national tours of Broadway productions, but sometimes we get non-union follow-up tours (see last season’s “Beauty and the Beast” and “Fiddler on the Roof”). These productions aren’t automatically of lesser quality—and sometimes these lower-budget productions are the only version of a Broadway show on the road—but the talent usually doesn’t have the credentials of those in the Equity companies and often the design cutbacks show. For the record, the upcoming Broadway in Indianapolis season offers a more-than-usual lineup of first-run Broadway fare, including “Billy Elliot” and “Sister Act.” But by the time we get “West Side Story” in June 2013, it will be a non-Equity tour.

Myth: ComedySportz does only “family friendly” shows.

Yes, the bread and butter at the Mass Ave comedy haven are shows for all ages where audience members get a brown-bag foul if they so much as utter a suggestive word. But on select weekends, after-hours shows, including the current “Oz—Unscripted,” are available for those who don’t mind more colorful language and topics.

On the other hand, there’s the myth that …

Myth: Everything at the Phoenix Theatre and Theatre on the Square is “edgy.”

Let’s hope the Phoenix and TOTS never shy away from boundary expansion or from presenting work that other theaters might shy away from. That’s a core part of their strengths. But last season’s “Forever Sung” at the Phoenix and “Working” at TOTS show clearly that envelopes aren’t always pushed at these two Mass-Ave-area mainstays.

Myth: It’s all cheese and crackers at the First Friday gallery openings.

If you think that, you’ve never sampled the spread at a Harrison Center opening.•

__________

Have another myth you’d like busted? Add a comment after the online version of this story at www.ibj.com/arts.

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  • Yay for Comedy Sportz
    Great article...and nice nod to Comedy Sportz!
  • Thank you!
    Thank you, Lou, for "busting" some of these old myths! Someone definitely needed to! Loved your piece...and your opinions!

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.

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