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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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