By Scott L. Miley
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — When local performers put their minds to it, they can create new entertainment options.
Gospel singers Woody and Vonnie Wright, who are husband and wife, did that in creating a nightclub atmosphere at the Gaither Family Resources in Alexandria.
"A nightclub with no drinking and no smoking, " reminded Woody Wright.
From May through October, the married couple offered a different musical program each month for about 60 audience members. Wright, who lived in Nashville, Tenn., for many years compared the idea to the "listening rooms" like the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. The performances sold out.
"We did it mostly to have something going on in Alexandria," he recalled. "With the Gaithers here and with the great food, I thought it was a no-brainer. It turned out better than I hoped."
The May show featured songs written by Woody Wright. June's show was a CD release party for Vonnie Wright's solo disc, "Vonnie." August showcased the songs of Kris Kristofferson. With each monthly program being different, the fans kept coming back.
"To have this kind of success at home was a blessing to me. Most folks around here have seen us and we play around the area quite a lot so it was a pleasant surprise that they loved it the way they did," Wright said.
The concept of creating a new entertainment option earns the Wrights the top spot in Madison County arts events of 2013.
Next year, Wright plans to expand the shows to two performances for each theme.
Here is a list of the top arts news and events for Madison County in 2013.
1. Woody & Vonnie Wright
Their love for their community, mixed with some savvy appeal, brought a series of great one-night performances by the duo.
2. Theater program cuts
Budget cuts at Anderson University, announced in November, will mean the theater major will be phased out by next June (along with philosophy and French). Theater students have entertained Andersonians for years with drama and comedy in heartfelt performances. The announcement stirred debate among former and current theater students (who will be allowed to finish their degrees). During a forum, AU officials said there would be more talks but the stage seems set for ending the program. Musical theater is to stay around but courses are to be "resourced" to "appropriately trained faculty."
3. Food Truckin' Thursdays
Usually it's the name of sandwiches that garner attention for creativity. But the names of vendors grabbed notice at the popular Food Truckin' Thursdays. The Big Easy Cajun Cuisine. Your Way Cafe. Slop-on-Top. They were names that locals may never have heard of, if not for the Thursday lunch event held at Citizens Plaza downtown. Organized by the city of Anderson, the lunch also featured performances by local musicians. Downtown workers are hoping it comes back next year.
4. Rick Vale's dinner theaters
Local actor and stage director Rick Vale singing voice is smooth; his heart is in the theater. Put 'em together — with food — and you've got a tasty treat. Vale and The Edge restaurant partnered to create a new entertainment option for locals. He brought in the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra for "Swingin' Songs of Love" and made Nora Ephron's "Love, Loss and What I Wore" into a dessert theater, among other sweet sounds.
5. Anderson Christmas Parade
On Nov. 22, the city hosted a Christmas parade, the first one in decades. The evening began with the annual tree lighting ceremony and then grew to take in all of downtown as floats went down streets past cookie and milk stands. The night was electric. The parade, however, can only survive if there's a buy-in from businesses and individual sponsors. Let's get ready for next year.
6. "Young Frankenstein"
Remember how offbeat and funny the movie "Young Frankenstein" was on the big screen. A lot of the oddball comedy came through in strong doses at Anderson's Mainstage Theatre in Mel Brooks' madcap musical in September. Gabe Porch kept hold of his role as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein from the moment when he first turned to face the audience and announced his absurdly pronounced name.
7. Hoosier Park expands stage
No one longs any more for those old days when they felt cramped into one end of Hoosier Park to watch a musical performance. The racino doubled the size of its audience capacity by building a new stage as part of a $4 million project that included a renovation of the first level of the grandstand and clubhouse, e-terminals for race wagering and a family-friendly first-level “fun zone.” Already it hosted concerts by Bret Michaels and The Pointer Sisters. Next up: Josh Turner on Jan. 17 and Cheap Trick on Feb. 22.
8. Arts Cream Sunday
About 300 people visited downtown Pendleton on a Sunday afternoon in June. Kids could draw with chalk on sidewalks and two murals were custom-created to hang in the windows of a vacant shop. One of the murals was created by a Pendleton Heights High School class; the other by juvenile offenders at Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility. It was an excellent way to encourage artistic creativity by youth.
9. "Cook and Belle's Playhouse Christmas"
In October, local residents could be part of a live taping for the duo's seasonal show that aired on WIPB-TV. They brought in special guests Seth Cook, Danny Frazier and Sarah Scharbrough. And it only cost audience members $5 apiece. The event coincided with the release of their CD, "Wonderful Christmastime."
10. "Legend, Rituals, and Folklore"
We like it when the Anderson Symphony Orchestra gets down to showing off its quality musicians. They did so with Wagner’s moving "Prelude and Liebsstod." The percussion section followed with "Rituals" by Ellen Zwilich. And the concert wound up with Stravinsky’s ballet, "The Firebird." For all three works, action titles were shown on a screen. A nice February night.