whatzup2nite • Sunday, February 14

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Things To Do

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National Shows

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Music & Comedy

Yesterday's Headtrip — Variety at Latch String, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-5526

Karaoke & DJs

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Stage & Dance

Young Frankenstein — Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s production of the Mel Brooks musical based on the 1974 film, 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Feb. 19-20; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Feb. 26-27 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $29, 424-5220


One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (April 21-May 7) — Casting for 13 men and 4 women of all ages, gender blind casting possible, 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, 422-6329

Movies New and Improved!

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Art & Artifacts

7th Annual Postcard Art Show/Sale Fundraiser — Artist created postcards in various mediums on exhibit and for sale Tuesday-Sunday, thru March 2, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195

Ann Johnson & William Steffen — Paintings, paper mache and woodworking, Sunday-Friday thru Feb. 21, First Presbyterian Art Gallery, First Presbyterian Church, Fort Wayne, 426-7421

John C. Kelty — Watercolors, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 2, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195

Julie Wall Toles — Printmaking works, Tuesday-Sunday thru Feb. 26, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440

Lure of Mexico — Exhibit explores the attraction many artists felt to Mexico from the 1920s-1940s, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 17, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467

Magnificent Maps — National all-media exhibit depicting real and fictitious maps, Tuesday-Sunday thru March 2, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195

Wright Brothers Photographs by William Preston Mayfield — Collection of works from Orville and Wilbur Wright’s personal photographer, Tuesday-Sunday thru Feb. 21, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467

Featured Events

Fort Wayne Dance Collective — Workshops and classes for movement, dance, yoga and more offered by Fort Wayne Dance Collective, Fort Wayne, fees vary, 424-6574

IPFW Community Arts AcademyArt, dance, music and theater classes for grades pre-K through 12 offered by IPFW College of Visual and Performing Arts, fees vary, 481-6977, www.ipfw.edu/caa

Sweetwater Academy of Music — Private lessons for a variety of instruments available from professional instructors, ongoing weekly lessons, Sweetwater Sound, Fort Wayne, call for pricing, 432-8176, academy.sweetwater.com


Young Frankenstein

Mel Brooks’ Monster Mash

Lock your doors! Crate your kids! Hug your pets! There’s a monster with neck bolts loose on the town! Someone get a French horn. Or a mob bearing torches. At the very least, go find the uptight fiancee of the grandson of a famous mad scientist and bring her to the Civic Theater in Fort Wayne. And do it quick! I feel a song coming on. When the towering Civic Theater production of the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein opens February 13, things are going to get spooky in a fun and re-animated sort of way. Re-animating to the stage the sparkling life of a movie as beloved and timeless as Young Frankenstein was no easy task, as Brooks found out when reviews came back mixed. Fresh (in musical theater terms) off the blazing success of The Producers, the first musical adaptation of a Brooks film, it’s understandable that critics had high anxiety about what to think. Audiences weren’t so flummoxed. They loved it. So when the production finally opened to performances at regional theaters, the Civic’s Phillip Colglazier jumped on it. “It just became available, so we wanted to to do it right away,” Colglazier said. “It’s Mel Brooks. Who doesn’t love Mel Brooks? It’s just great fun.” Colglazier, who has been executive director of the Civic Theater since 2000, said the musical version of Young Frankenstein is a perfect fit for Fort Wayne audiences. “This town is all about musical theater,” he said. That says a lot not only about the local populace, but about the talent therein. You can’t find success in musical theater unless you have the raw materials to begin with. And as recent Civic offerings such as Shrek, Cabaret and Spamalot demonstrated, there’s no shortage of talent around here. “It’s a strong cast,” said Colglazier, who is directing. “What was nice about the audition process is we had twice as many people audition, so we had to turn people away. Everyone we offered a part to accepted. It was like yes!” Many of the actors are veterans of the Civic stage, some are newcomers, but all of them are having a ball, Colglazier said, as they transform the theater’s bare boards into the sleepy fictional village of Transylvania Heights, where the townspeople are celebrating the death of local mad scientist (every village has one) and monster builder Dr. Victor von Frankenstein. But not so fast, warns Inspector Kemp (Aaron Mann), he of the wooden appendages, who reminds the giddy villagers that another Dr. Frankenstein lives on. Frederick Frankenstein (AJ Lorenzini), who pronounces his last name Fronkensteen in a vain attempt to avoid association with his infamous ancestor, learns that he has inherited his grandfather’s castle and sets off from his lab at New York’s Johns, Miriam and Anthony Hopkins School of Medicine to settle the estate. At the train station, he bids farewell to his untouchable bride to be, Elizabeth Benning (Eileen Claypool) and rolls away toward destiny. Arriving at the Transylvania Heights train station, young Dr. Frankenstein is met by Igor (Gavin Drew), a carefree imp with a movable hump who is to be the good doctor’s gofer. Igor introduces Frederick to the gifted lab assistant Inga (Jana Henly), and together they roll through the dark and stormy night toward the castle, where (cue the horses) Frau Blücher (Maggie Kole Hunter) waits and plots. Her scheme entails luring Dr. Frankenstein to her late boyfriend Victor’s lab in the rotten bowels of the castle where he will discover his grandfather’s library and carry on the grisly work of reanimating dead tissue. Which he does. His creation, The Monster (Billy Dawson) escapes, falls in love and has a brief career as a song and dance man and everyone lives happily ever after. For Gavin Drew, playing Igor is a dream come true. Drew grew up knowing he wanted to act and that musical theater was his preferred vehicle. As a young boy in Wisconsin, he played the Mayor of Munchkinland in the Wizard of Oz. He has been in a couple of Civic productions since moving with his family to Fort Wayne, A Christmas Story being the most recent. Last summer Drew went to New York where he had the chance to perform in a private production of Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Flick. He also took part in workshops teaching the Meisner technique. “It’s a method of acting where you make everything that you do a very natural easy thing,” Drew said. “The idea is to work your own personality into your character so that your character doesn’t come off as a caricature but as a real person. I bring that to a lot of roles. But the role of Igor is not really one you can do that with. “Igor doesn’t have to explain anything that he does,” Drew continued. “A lot of characters have a motivation and it’s very clear in the script. This is why your character does what he does. What are your character’s wants, what are their needs and what are their motivations? Igor does not necessarily have any. He’s kind of free form. You don’t really know his origin. He’s kind of just his own person.” Another the thing about Igor, Drew said, is that Marty Feldman, who played Igor in the film, did such singular job with the character that any attempt to forge a different approach would not only fall flat, it would do a disservice to fans of the movie. “Audience members are coming in with that in mind,” he said. “It’s such an iconic character. You want to do it justice. For Colglazier, meeting expectations poses a bit of a challenge as well. The movie is so well-known and well-loved that many people have it memorized, with favorite lines never far from consciousness. That’s saying something considering the movie came out more than 40 years ago. “There are some differences between the movie and the stage production,” Colglazier said. “The movie is very slow-paced. They allow time to let the humor sink in. The musical is more fast-paced. The scenes are out of order to help the flow of the stage production. You’ll notice a difference in that. Most of it is still there. Lines will pop up in another scene, but it’s all still there. If anything, we’re trying to stay true to the movie rather than the Broadway musical because that’s what’s in the minds of the audience.”

Mark Hunter

Turtle Soup

Teller of Tall Turtle Tales

For those who didn’t grow up in Northeast Indiana – and perhaps even for those who did – it’s easy to miss some of the local legends, the stories that often come to define a community. Although he was raised in Fort Wayne (he moved here from Toledo at such a young age that he considers himself a lifelong resident)Michael Wilhelm had little knowledge or even interest in the origins of Churubusco calling itself “Turtle Town U.S.A.” Once that changed, he took the ball and ran with it, writing a play which has been staged twice, including its upcoming showings in all4One Production’s 2015-16 season. Writing isn’t a new fancy for Wilhelm, though he admits that he’s only recently begun realizing it may be his true calling. His mother’s early efforts to lure him into sports didn’t take, but he found happiness and excitement once he began taking classes at Fort Wayne Youtheatre. He took it seriously throughout his school years at Northrop High School and pursued his passion by moving to California to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Marriage and a daughter followed, which was the beginning of his desire to return to Indiana. “We realized if we wanted Josette to be spoiled, we better bring her back here to her grandparents,” he says. Moving back to Fort Wayne in 2002, his interest in theater continued, but he started to realize he was spending more time writing and that perhaps he needed to pursue it more seriously. “I had always been writing,” says Wilhelm. “I was like that guy with the hot rod in the garage, always tinkering with it. Then I saw how much I had written over the years and thought ‘This is what I do. Maybe it’s time to hone this craft and not just tinker with it.” Among his early writing projects, before he even left for California, were radio dramas for WIPU, the predecessor to WBOI when it was housed at the campus of IPFW. Under the title of Riverfront Radio Playhouse, Wilhelm provided dramas to air on the public radio station. Years earlier, his creativity spawned a superhero spoof called “Skunk Guy,” and he would call into radio stations to provide bits on air. With all of this material already collected, Wilhelm was ripe for the task when he was inspired by something he read over a cup of coffee. “I was in a coffee shop getting ready to head to church, and I saw a tabloid article about the anniversary of the turtle hunt in Churubusco. And I just started laughing. It was hilarious, and I thought ‘Why hasn’t anyone told this story yet?’ I started out thinking about it as a screenplay, but eventually I decided it would work as a stage play.” That story is now the basis of Turtle Soup, a funny (and occasionally poignant) story about the phantom turtle that became a national sensation after being reported in 1949 by Gale Harris, a local farmer. Likened by some to the legendary Loch Ness Monster, Harris became determined to prove the existence of the turtle, reportedly first seen by Oscar Fulk 50 years earlier. Reporters and sightseers began surrounding the land, and Harris did everything from draining the water to attempting to electrocute the “Beast of Busco,” all to no avail. The story has carried on, gaining fame over the years (and even being dramatized on the Travel Channel recently). In the middle of the story, Wilhelm saw two compelling characters. “The story is really about a man obsessed, and we’ve all been there. This guy was going to catch this turtle, and that’s what this story is about. It really doesn’t matter whether the turtle was real or not; that’s not the story. The story is about him and his wife, and she’s the real hero here. She lost a lot in all of this because they ended up losing their farm, but she was a rock. Even though she lost a lot, she would say, ‘This is my husband, and he may be a little nutty, but I’m sticking with him.’ It threatened their lifestyle but never threatened their lives, and they ended up moving to Florida and spending their final years there.” The play found a welcoming home thanks to Wilhelm’s connection to all for One. Having wondered during his years in California if his strong faith and sense of morality was a good fit for the Golden State, he quickly discovered upon returning to Fort Wayne that a faith-based theater company had been established, and in all for One’s Lauren Nichols he found an eager fan for Turtle Soup. She agreed to direct if Wilhelm played the role of Harris and Lisa Ellis played his wife. Staging the play and letting actors dig their teeth into his play has been a great experience for Wilhelm, too. “Everyone should put their play in the hands of actors and let them tear it to shreds before they publish it. They’re trained to really flesh out their roles, and their input really brings it to life. I’m more relaxed about it than I was the first time it was staged. I know what works and sometimes think ‘This is pretty good. Who wrote it?’” Wilhelm is also working on a modern day retelling of the old film My Man Godfrey, a vehicle for Fort Wayne’s own Carole Lombard in 1936. He sees a fresh perspective for the characters in the contemporary fascination with reality TV and sees ways to bring the story to life in a new way. He’s also bringing back Skunk Guy through a series of chapter books for young readers. More information can be found on skunkguy.com. In the meantime he’s happy to bring the story of Gale Harris to life again, to allow the man to have his moment at last. “As soon as I read the story, I thought ‘This shouldn’t be lost to history. This should be something we know and understand.’”

Michele DeVinney

2016 All-Star Comedy Jam

Laughter All the Way

What do you get when you take one night, add the Embassy Theatre, stir in six comics, then jam? Answer: the Daily Double. Just kidding. What you really get is the 2016 All-Star Comedy Jam, hosted by veteran comic Gary Menke and headlined by Damon Williams, Nikki Carr, Mike Redbone Alcott, Brandon Glover and Jesnaira Baez. The All-Star Comedy Jam has taken many forms over the years, beginning in 2009 when inaugural host Shaquille O’Neill introduced the world to the likes of Kevin Hart and Aries Spears. Since then, countless funnymen and women have brought the house down all over the U.S. with routines about everything from tough-loving mothers to the exorbitant price of gas to the proper technique for throwing one’s shoe at another person in order to demonstrate displeasure. No subject is off-limits and no laugh is left behind. The lineups might change quite often, but one thing all All-Star Comedy Jams have in common is the fact that the talent on stage is, indeed, of the all-star variety, and the comics coming to the Embassy Theatre Saturday January 23 at 7:30 p.m. are no exception. Menke has been in the stand-up world for two decades. You might have spotted him in the Don Johnson-helmed cop comedy Nash Bridges and on the Travel Channel and Comedy Central. As the host/emcee for the evening, Menke will introduce the headliners and perform a short set himself. Think Neil Patrick Harris at the Tonys, with fewer costume changes. Like Menke, Williams has an impressive pedigree. A Chicago native and former Subway sandwich shop owner, Williams is perhaps best known for his work on The Tom Joyner Morning Show where he delivers “The Seriously Ignorant News.” He’s shared the stage with the best of the best, including Aretha Franklin, Pattie LaBelle, Ray Charles, Chris Rock and Jamie Foxx. From that list, it’s probably obvious that Williams is something of a triple threat. He’s toured with the musical comedy production of Laughin’ on the Outside Cryin’ on the Inside, and his personal motto is “Don’t stop and don’t quit.” Not a bad mantra for a comedian in this fickle world. Carr is one of the standout performers from the hit reality TV show Last Comic Standing. For the last 17 years she’s been making audiences all over the world laugh at her anecdotes about her life as a mother, grandmother and lesbian. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t finding the humor in ridiculous situations, and her mother, noticing her daughter’s essential silliness from a young age, encouraged her to pursue her stand up dreams. In addition to Last Comic Standing, Carr’s other TV credits include BET’s Comic View, Charlie Murphy’s Crash Comedy, Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Stand Up and Stand Up for Family. Like Williams, Carr has a set of pipes, and her song “Fat Girl’s National Anthem” has garnered her some serious radio play, not to mention a legion of loyal fans. Alcott, known to followers as “Redbone,” is a master of high-energy physical comedy. Also a veteran of Comic View, he describes his act as “colorblind,” guaranteeing that people from all walks of life enjoy his routine. Speaking of colors, Glover, whose stage name is “Hot Sauce,” was christened so on account of the fact that his face goes straight to fire engine red when he’s performing his unique storytelling brand of comedy. He began his career at the St. Louis Funnybone and since then has taken his stand-up act to clubs all over the country. Last but definitely not least, Baez, a native of Chicago’s west side, will round out the evening. Baez’s stand-up story began in 2010 when she participated in an open mic night on a dare from a friend. Six years later, she’s jamming with the all stars. Fans of comedy, take note. It’s not often one gets the chance to hear so many different voices and be exposed to such a wide variety of funny in one night. And, if you’re one of the many people suffering from post-holiday blues, the 2016 All-Star Comic Jam is probably the cure (though not the droids) you’ve been looking for.

Deborah Kennedy

Albert Brownlee

Making Connections

Many performing artists draw from past experiences of pain and angst to shape their performances. Albert Brownlee, by contrast, had a happy childhood that was highlighted by family support, social interaction and an appreciation for the arts. His maternal grandparents were singers, as was his mother, who had a natural talent for drawing as well. Brownlee’s artistic family ties have carried on into his adulthood. “My family is immersed in the arts,” he says. “My wife Tamarah was a theater minor in college and is an accomplished singer and thespian in her own right.” He and Tamarah met while college students. Brownlee led a vocal performance and recording group, of which Tamarah, a theater minor at another institution, was a member. Like her husband, she came from a long line of artists and continues to perform today. Their children are also heavily involved in various aspects of the arts – dance, theatre, music and drawing. Brownlee describes his own performance background as “a natural evolution.” Music was his first love; he began singing as a toddler and played piano and saxophone as a boy. He credits teachers Linda Greaf, Laura McCoy, Ed Harris and Mike Whitlock for honing his musical skills through the Summit Program with Fort Wayne Community Schools. “I haven’t stopped performing since,” he says. Other aspects of performing also appealed to Brownlee. During summer vacations he would write and direct plays with the other kids in his neighborhood. “I had been bitten by the acting bug,” he says. He soon began participating in church and school theater and eventually community theatre. While on tour with the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, a fellow singer encouraged him to audition for the upcoming Youtheatre production, Ride a Blue Horse. The show was directed by Harvey Cocks who would become one of the primary influences on Brownlee as a performer. “I was totally unfamiliar with the script or even the premise of the show,” he says. “I just knew two things: one, I liked performing, and two, I wanted to be cast.” Despite his lack of preparation, the 11-year-old Brownlee was cast in a supporting role. “I remember being nervously excited,” he says of his theatrical debut, “as well as enamored with the experience of performing live on such a big stage.” Thirty years later, he hasn’t stopped performing. His audition preparation skills have evolved since the 1980s. He reads the script ahead of time to determine which roles he would like to audition for, and he sometimes will turn to the internet to find videos of shows he is unfamiliar with. Once cast, he utilizes his own instincts for the characterization while also heeding the director’s advice for how his character fits into the overall story.  “I also like to research and develop a context for the character by understanding the setting, time in which they lived and any social implications,” he says. “This helps make my characterization more ‘real’ versus ‘acting.’” Brownlee’s method of acting is quite simple: “In the words of Nike,” he says, “just do it. The more natural your performance is, the less it will feel like acting to the audience. My goal as a performer is to take the audience on a journey into a world that is outside of their own. The audience should become a part of the show and emotionally feel what we are expressing on stage.” He enjoys the challenge of working with different types of actors (an interesting irony, he says, is that people he might not get along with offstage sometimes turn out to be his strongest scene partners). “It stretches you as an actor to find ways to connect with others on stage that you may have difficulty connecting with in real life,” he says. “This, at times, can produce great chemistry.” Some of his favorite roles are also ones that buck the obvious. “I love being cast in roles that are typically cast for other ethnicities, races or body types than me,” he says. “I like things that are out of the box and challenge us to change our paradigms.” Brownlee enjoys playing the gamut of roles, from comedic to deeply serious. He says he is typically cast as “the family man or religious type.” However, one of his favorite roles was the antagonistic Wazir in the musical Kismet, in which he appeared while an undergraduate student at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta. “What I liked most about the role was the ability to portray someone who had so many varying dimensions,” he says. “The Wazir was the one you wanted to hate but loved to watch. He was the comic center of attention, but at the same time the nemesis.” His current role is quite different. He plays Peter in The Zoo Story, a one-act play by Edward Albee that is part of a double feature of one-act plays at First Presbyterian Theater. Billed as Two Plays on a Bench, both one-acts feature two men sitting on a bench and talking (the other play is The Duck Variations by David Mamet). In The Zoo Story, Brownlee’s character Peter is both similar to himself and very different. “In some ways, I am Peter – a professional family man who loves his family,” he says. “He’s a family man who is accomplished, somewhat reserved and the quintessential picture of normalcy in a society that is anything but normal. The biggest challenge has been to go outside of myself and find reasons to react as Peter does that is very different than the choices I would tend to make in my own life.” Brownlee’s scene partner is Reuben Albaugh who plays Jerry. “He is engaging as Jerry, as well as in real life,” he says. “We have great chemistry together on stage, and that has made it fun to be a part of this show.” He says he has not only gotten a lot out of working with Albaugh, but from working with director Thom Hofrichter as well. “I immensely enjoy working with him as a director and artist because he ‘gets it,’” says Brownlee. “His approach is very introspective in that he always encourages you to look within and find your character from there. It’s more about understanding who you are and why, versus ‘the author wrote it this way, so this is who and why I am.’ This makes working at First Pres vastly different from other theaters.” When he’s not performing, Brownlee is the CEO of Genesis Outreach Inc., a social services agency that helps the homeless with housing, workforce development, and support services. His theatrical background has proven to be a boon to this organization. “I often have to speak in public settings and engage donors in supporting us charitably,” he says. “The theater has helped me learn how to be comfortable in diverse settings and has provided me techniques in reaching others and gaining their attention.” However, he also points out, “I think on some level, we all ‘act’ while doing our day jobs.” His job gives him a unique perspective on his current role in The Zoo Story, which is not only funny but thought-provoking. “It will make audiences look at life and how we live in a society where we see, but yet don’t see one another every day,” he says. “We often look past the forgotten ones: the homeless, the disenfranchised, persons of certain ethnicities. Yet these are all people who simply want to make a connection. This play will help us to think about that and hopefully make changes in our own lives and daily choices as human beings.”

Jen Poiry-Prough

Christopher Ganz

The Man As Artist As Art

Down a flight of wooden stairs, in the basement, hangs a curtain of Visqueen that hides the artist’s workspace. A sheet of drywall mounted to the wall serves as the perfect drawing surface for Christopher Ganz, a master of charcoal, pencil and printing. A large sheet of paper tacked to the drywall waits, ready to accept his newest charcoal drawing. His subject is the Tower of Babel, a tower partially built by the survivors of the Great Flood, a tower that would stretch into the heavens. Ganz’s tower nods to the Seven Wonders of the World as he draws one civilization on top of another, each giving way and crumbling under the weight of the next. His concept reflects his own interpretation of societies crumbling under their own weight. He is drawing a piece of architecture that represents the life cycle of civilization; when one society dies, another takes over, building its foundation on the previous but moving forward toward modernization. Ganz is fascinated by architecture. His idea for the Tower of Babel drawing buds from annual trips to Italy where Ganz marvels at the ancient buildings and ruins, perfect examples of old civilization serving as the foundation for our modern life. The artist is also intrigued by the internal framework of objects, a fascination that was deep-rooted during his studies of anatomy and drawing the human figure. He plans to show both the inside and outside of his Babel structure by adding caverns and gaps which will allow him to draw both the outer and inner structures of the architecture. His current drawing, which is that of a large object drawn almost as an island, is a step away from his normal method of composition. Ganz normally creates unique worlds within his drawings, worlds that extend beyond the page and keep the viewer’s mind thinking and wondering what lies beyond. In his piece, “Reclamation,” Ganz produces a world that is dark yet uplifting. The drawing represents the inside of a cathedral with light streaming in through multiple paned, Gothic windows to spotlight trees that somehow grow from the church’s floor. Light pulls the eye to the altar, and then up toward the peaks of the flying buttresses where the shadow of three moon phases hangs overhead. The piece leads one to imagine walking through a forest planted between the pages of an ancient tale but with something more. A virtual overlay appearing similar to a theater scrim offers soft lines and streaks that suggest a barrier between the viewer and the world within the drawing. The piece both haunts and absorbs. “Reclamation” is successful in both charcoal and print and is a piece that tends to linger within the viewer’s mind for the long term. The absurdity of our society and culture is the running theme in Ganz’s work. He walks through life with an idiosyncratic eye, keenly aware and responsive to the absurdity that surrounds us all. “There’s definitely sarcasm in my work,” he says. “I don’t want my work to be dripping with it, just a little bit is enough.” At first sight the piece “Checking Out” is jarring, as it depicts comatose bodies sliding down the conveyor belts of a big box store. One wonders if these figures are alive or dead; then a quick realization connects with the eye as it discovers that all the figures, all eight of them, are of the same man, Ganz himself. Eight self-portraits within one drawing lets the viewer know that this piece has intentions beyond showing the deft skill of the artist’s hand. Small details such as an apple paired with a snake lead one on a search for symbolism and hidden meaning. “Absurdity isn’t always bad,” says Ganz as he refers to his drawing and its subject. “Just going into one of those stores is a visual experience. When I first started drawing I didn’t realize how much was in those places. There’s just so much information, and it’s all contained at eye level. The ceilings are so high, but there’s nothing to look at above and there’s nothing to look at below. Most of the space is just empty in those stores. They’re almost incomplete.” Ganz fulfills his role as an artist by showing us how these stores are dehumanizing products of our consumer society. “Everything in the store is designed to get your attention and to buy it. Things aren’t made to be beautiful; they are there just to get your attention. Big stores are a direct reflection of America. “The artist should be an agent of change in society, or at the very least try to get people to look at things a little harder,” he continues. “I guess there is quite a bit of social criticism in my work but I try to use humor to get the point across.” Ganz has been using his own image to get the point across since he was an undergraduate. He started adding multiple images of himself within one drawing as a graduate student and continues to use the device to tell stories and as a means to move the viewer through each piece. Caravaggio and Rembrandt are two artists with bodies of work that guide Ganz through each of his pieces. Besides creating beautiful images, both Rembrandt and Caravaggio are masters at moving the eye through a painting. “To me they are more like directors of a stage,” says Ganz. “There is drama they are creating as a person moves through a piece, kind of like directing a film. There’s a hierarchy in a piece, some things are more important than other things. If everything has the same value, then the piece becomes flat and no one will want to look at it long.” Spending time looking at Ganz’s work is compulsory for most viewers. The precision of line and accurately developed shapes and forms in his work are not easily surpassed. “I love trying to draw complicated things,” he says. “I love the feeling of trying to capture light. That’s when I really get into my work. It can take a while to figure out which way the shadows should fall and how the light hits things. Line form and shape are the hard things to solve. Getting to the details is the fun part.” Ganz has mastered accuracy and detail, but what makes his work stand apart is his intuitive use of the picture plane. “The paper is an arbitrary thing, an abstraction,” says Ganz. “There is value and space beyond the picture that needs to be considered. It is important not to stop at the edges. An image is one part of the bigger whole.” Ganz goes on to explain that a successful piece of art can be cropped into smaller pieces that can stand alone, a feature that is common in his own work. Ganz is an artist skilled at creating worlds that are absurd but so finely executed that we believe them.

Heather Miller

Dan O’Connell

Putting the City’s Best Face Forward

When Dan O’Connell moved to Fort Wayne in 1988 to head the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (now Visit Fort Wayne), he did so because he could see the potential in Fort Wayne and felt much of it had not yet been tapped. Now, almost three decades later, the city has exploded with options for both residents and visitors. While he’s happy with the growth, O’Connell also sees so much more on the horizon. His arrival in Fort Wayne came after O’Connell left a similar position in St. Cloud, Minnesota where he had graduated from St. Cloud State University, part of the University of Minnesota network and a campus that O’Connell says compares to IPFW. His major had been marketing, and he quickly saw that he could apply that knowledge to helping to improve a community. “While I was in school, I had an internship at the local Chamber of Commerce,” says O’Connell. “I saw how advertising and marketing could be more rewarding if it was used to help with community development. Making a destination better, whether it’s through ballparks or festivals, is an asset for both visitors and residents.” O’Connell admits that the focus of the visitor’s bureau in St. Cloud involved a lot of fishing and snowmobiling, but he saw how much Fort Wayne had to offer and how a move here could benefit his career. “There was a lot of potential here that the bureau wasn’t really capitalizing on or championing. At that time the Memorial Coliseum was just adding on the new Expo Center, and there was the Children’s Zoo, Science Central was coming along, and there was the Grand Wayne Center. There was a lot to offer.” Of course, the addition of Parkview Field has helped grow the downtown area and brought more foot traffic to the businesses there, but O’Connell says the seeds of downtown’s revival pre-dates even the ballpark’s contribution. “The Downtown Improvement District was already working to bring more businesses to downtown and making downtown cleaner, greener and friendlier. That was an important foundation block for all the things that followed, like the ballpark, the expanded library, the expansion of the convention center.” That growth also helped the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to both move and re-brand itself Visit Fort Wayne. O’Connell says the changes have helped it grow and better serve the community. “When we moved our offices from a small parking garage across from the Hilton into the corner building on Harrison, we were within walking distance of the Grand Wayne Center and many of the places we were working with. And with the move we decided we needed a new name, and other cities were beginning to incorporate ‘Visit,’ which made sense. When we were the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, people thought we were a government agency, which we’re not, or the convention center, which we’re not. At that same time, our online presence was exploding, and Visit Fort Wayne was already aligned with that.” The main focus of O’Connell’s job is to bring people to Fort Wayne, and a few years ago that effort took a very personal turn. His brother John, a theater and directing veteran, was looking for a new place to call home. When the IPFW theater department was looking for a new chair following the death of Larry Life, John’s brother Dan was able to provide some valuable information that ultimately led to John’s relocation to IPFW – where he is now dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts – and Fort Wayne. “Of course, my brother had come here regularly to visit my family during the holiday season, so he had spent time here. But when he was looking to move here, I was able to pitch the growth of IPFW, which had just become a Division I school and was adding a medical school and the Rhinehart Music Center, so there was great growth there and in the downtown area. But I was also able to tell him that there was an active gay community here. The gay community wasn’t reclusive, and I could tell him what an open community this is. People here are tolerant.” O’Connell also notes how moderate the political landscape is here, not liking anything “ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal,” and that, while it sometimes takes awhile for the city’s residents to get on board with a new idea, once they do, they embrace it. “Once we reach a consensus, this city acts and embraces it. That’s why we’re able to have the best ballpark in the country, the best genealogy center in the country. I was talking to someone the other day who said, ‘I’m so tired of hearing about your River Greenway! You have 60 miles of trails, and in Indy we only have 18.’ I love hearing things like that.” On the horizon for O’Connell is to continue to lure more businesses and organizations into town for their conventions. He says the city’s affordability, not to mention the amenities it has to offer, have made it easier to bring events, like this summer’s National Scrabble Convention, into Fort Wayne. Visit Fort Wayne has also developed its social media presence, with more than 10,000 Facebook likes and 750,000 visits to their website. Those elements have helped draw more attention to everything Fort Wayne has to offer. O’Connell is also excited about the upcoming riverfront development project, and sees terrific potential for its possibilities. “With a quarter-mile of riverfront area to work with, we can do almost anything. We can have a commercial area, but we can also incorporate a natural habitat with parks and picnic areas. We have a lot of riverfront to work with, so we can play to a lot of different tastes. We don’t have to put all our eggs in one basket.” In the end, with all the changes and new developments that have taken place since O’Connell came to town all those years ago, he still likes to sell Fort Wayne with the same approach that made him want to call this city home. It’s a great place to raise a family. “People say that all the time, right? That this is a great place to raise a family. And that was important to me at that time because I did have a young family, and the important factors were schools, parks, Friday Night Lights. But our social services are aimed at kids and our sports programs aim at kids. So those are the things that enticed me, and as a community leader, those are the assets to sell to other people.”

Michele DeVinney

Let’s Comedy

Finding Stages for Comics

Open Mic nights have long been a staple around the country, and Fort Wayne is no exception. The tradition provides an opportunity to people who have a desire to perform and to audiences who want to catch a new and perhaps promising talent. Typically those open mic sessions are musical, but a group of friends decided to provide a new spin on open mic, providing a different talent the chance to shine. The result of that desire is Let’s Comedy, a source and resource for local comedy hopefuls to try out material on audiences looking for a good laugh. The friends who made Let’s Comedy happen are Ryan Ehle, Ian Anderson, Alex Price, Jared Busch and Corey Courrielche, and now, more than two years after they first came up with the idea, the quintet are seeing big results from their efforts. Not surprisingly, a couple of them are comedians themselves. “Jared and I have been friends for years, and I worked with Ian at Discount Comic Book Store,” says Ehle. “The three of us all became friends, and Corey and Alex are comedians and have performed all over the region, touring and doing comedy for quite some time. We started talking about bringing open mic nights on a regular basis for comedians in Fort Wayne and surrounding cities. Comedians are always looking for places to perform, and they like to perform in front of different audiences so they can work on material and not have to come up with new material for the same audiences all the time.” Once they got the ball rolling, word spread quickly through old school means like flyers and through the new millennium’s version of word of mouth, social media. Soon comics from cities in adjacent states – Chicago, Detroit, Columbus – as well as cities in Indiana like South Bend were flocking to the events, providing the evenings with a lot of talent. “We would have maybe 75 people show up for these open mic nights, and we’d have to get it down to 12 to 15,” says Ehle. “We were posting flyers all around town, but word was also getting out on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter which was very helpful. We started getting more comics to commit to performing here, and they would talk to other comedians and share our events with them. It’s really helped open up interest in what we’re doing.” And what they’re doing has grown considerably since they began with the simple concept of open mic events. Let’s Comedy has grown into a larger, promotional entity, one which is helping to give area comedians a break while also bringing already established talent to the region. While they continue to host events at local establishments like Pint & Slice, O’Sullivan’s, Pedal City and the Calhoun Soups, Salads and Spirits Tiger Room (where Ehle works booking events, giving him an inside track on the room’s availability), they also filled one of the performance halls at IPFW’s Rhinehart Music Center when comedian Doug Benson appeared last May. That May performance came fresh on the heels of the group officially branding itself Let’s Comedy, with a logo and merchandise to help build that brand. Their events have branched out to include scores of local venues, including Deer Park, Columbia Street West and the new Trubble Brewing on Broadway. On January 30 Let’s Comedy hosts a unique event, An Evening with the Authors, at the Jennifer Ford Art Gallery on Carroll Road. White Rabbit Cabaret in Indianapolis, which hosts An Evening with the Authors regularly, describes the events as “some of the best comedians working in the Midwest today lends their skills to An Evening with the Authors, performing in character as fake authors reading from their fake books.” Ehle sees this as not only a great way to bring comedy to Fort Wayne, but also a means of widening the reach for Let’s Comedy in its quest to give local talent a place to share their comedy. In fact, as comedians from other states continue to come to Fort Wayne to ply their trade, Let’s Comedy is working to expand into other areas as well, particularly Indianapolis, but contacts in larger markets like Chicago and Los Angeles have also taken note of what’s happening here in the Summit City, providing exciting possibilities in the months and years to come. Ehle says comedians and performers are becoming increasingly aware of the growing demand in this area. For his part, Ehle is content to be the man behind the machine while his cohorts take the stage. Ehle says he enjoys writing but leaves the performing to others, preferring instead to handle promotion and marketing. Courrielche lives and works in South Bend, though he performs here as well, and the partners often take the stage to do standup or to play host to the open mic festivities, itself a demanding job. As Let’s Comedy continues to grow, Ehle says local fans of comedy should watch for announcements in the months ahead, including a partnership with Cinema Center where Let’s Comedy will have events similar to the popular Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on Comedy Central. Ehle, a father of three young children, also hopes to provide children’s comedy shows in the near future, giving kids and families a chance to hear less R-rated material than might be found in clubs and open mic sessions. And that’s just a taste of what lies ahead for Let’s Comedy. “People should stay tuned because we have some big plans coming up in 2016,” says Ehle. “There are some big names involved, and we have some great things we’re already lining up for this year.”

Michele DeVinney

The Green Frog

Sunday Brunch a Locavore’s Dream

The worst thing about Sunday brunch at the Green Frog is deciding what to order. The best thing is realizing that it really doesn’t matter. There are no bad choices. Granted, this generous assessment of the Green Frog brunch is based on just two of the seven dishes offered. Certainly it would be a mistake to heap praise so wantonly were it not for the resume and track record of the people at the controls. Matt Billings, owner of the Green Frog, has joined forces with Andrew Smith, Jack May and Dan Campbell, the team behind the Junk Ditch Brewing Company and Affiné Food Truck, and Grace Kelly, the GK in GK Pastries, to offer up a menu that is varied and unexpected. And the bloody Mary bar doesn’t hurt. Fancy a tumble with croque madame (house ham, Havarti, pickled onion, fried egg, GK Cuban bread)? Or do biscuits and gravy (house chorizo, lime, scallion, GK biscuit) sound more like your style? Neither of those appeared at the table on a recent Sunday in early January. What did show up, however, was an appealing plate of potato rosti (fingerling potato, oyster mushroom, bechamel, spinach, slow egg) and another of shrimp and grits (crispy shrimp, polenta, jowl bacon, house knackwurst). The potato rosti was a perfect balance of ingredients. It would have been easy to soak the veggies and ’shrooms in the sauce, which combined with the egg yolk would have required a straw or strong tongue to lap up. But such was not the case. The firm exterior of the potatoes yielded nicely to reveal the fluffy interior while the finely cooked spinach added a healthy feel to the dish. As for the grits and shrimp, no southerner could complain. The polenta (the fancy name for cornmeal mush) was just mushy enough if that makes any sense. Snuggled in and on the grits was an ample school of tender and crispy shrimp and cubes of jowl bacon and knackwurst (a fancy name for sausage). It wasn’t easy for me to tell the difference between the bacon and the knackwurst. I don’t think they could pick me out of a pile of grits either. But that’s okay. Recognition is not required for enjoyment. I was happy, and the hog didn’t complain. Speaking of hogs, the ones who add flavor to the Green Frog brunch selections did not have far to travel, coming as they did from Gunthorp Farms in Lagrange. The other ingredients come from local sources as well. Junk Ditch Gardens provides the produce, Fischer arms in Jasper the beef and maple syrup, eggs come from Wholesome Horizon in Larwill and from Country Garden in Fort Wayne, which also supplies produce. Hawkins Family Farm rounds out the localvore dream team by providing chicken and produce. The menu is rounded out by the brunch must-have, Benedict (Hollandaise, house Canadian bacon, slow egg, GK biscuit) and perhaps the most adventurous of the items: chicken and waffles (fried chicken, sweet potato waffle, citrus, maple, Valentina). Well, almost rounded out. The pastries must not be neglected. Consisting of banana bread, cranberry and white chocolate scone and cinnamon roll, the baked goods whipped up by Kelly are enough to make any grandmother hang it up. The perfectly balanced flavor and texture, not to mention the delicate sweetness, made the Green Frog brunch experience complete. Rating: 4.5 napkins out of a possible 5. mark.whatzup@gmail.com

Mark Hunter

Ryan Kerr

Live Well

Ryan Kerr makes music that seems to constantly evolve as it’s being played. It moves and slinks effortlessly like the best kind of narrative. Kerr definitely falls into the singer/songwriter category, but he travels among the DIY punk scene like an elder statesmen. That’s to say he’s a well-respected man, among both his peers and those who love his songs (and there are plenty who do). Kerr is a storyteller. He unspools songs with just his voice and an acoustic guitar – songs about love, relationships and the everyday cycle we can all relate to. For as long as Kerr’s been playing music you’d think he would’ve put out a full-length album before now, but that’s not the case. He’s finally ready to give his friends and fans a proper LP. It’s called Live Well, and it was worth the wait. For those who’ve seen this North Manchester resident play in a coffeehouse, basement, living room or anywhere anyone has invited him to play, you’re used to seeing Kerr with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and his booming voice. On Live Well, which was produced by Kerr and Robert Lugo at Lugo’s DBB Records in Fort Wayne, his songs are filled in with plenty of instrumentation: drums, percussion, Rhodes, organ, electric guitar and bass and, of course, acoustic guitar. There’s still this organic punk rock vibe in his tunes, especially on album opener “Sattison Family Name,” which feels like a cross between The Hold Steady, Frank Turner,and a folksier Springsteen. “I Got a Son” pushes and shoves like an Irish wake at 2 a.m. before it slows to a hangover crawl. “Smoking Twilights and Sinkholes” has a slink and groove to it that even the Red Hot Chili Peppers would be happy with (back in 1991, anyway.) “Vessel Dust” is part dust devil stomp, part cautionary tale and wouldn’t sound out of place on an early 80s Nick Cave record. There’s still plenty of voice and guitar here, too. “Throwin’ Stones” is mainly voice and guitar with some great organ and bass ornamentation. “Five Friends” closes the album with what matters most, Kerr’s voice and his acoustic guitar. One of the real musical treasures here is the excellent “Ballad of a Lonesome Girl.” With electric bass, organ, drums and electric guitar, this track feels like it should be on the radio playing for all to hear. Backing vocals by Amara Gilraine only solidify my conviction that this song should be coming out of car radios and earbuds everywhere. Live Well is a solid musical statement from Ryan Kerr. He’s waited to release this collection of well aged and seasoned songs till the time was right. The time is as right as ever. Head over to Bob Vila’s This Old House on February 28 for Live Well’s record release show and grab a copy for yourself. (John Hubner)

John Jubner

The Snarks

It’s Like ... Carpe YOLO, Man

The spirit of punk is alive and well. It spits and swings, spins and flails and breathes fire on The Snarks new EP, It’s Like ... Carpe YOLO, Man. Last year’s Night at Crystal Beach was a rallying cry from the Fort Wayne-based Snarks – a mix of post-punk angst, surf rock dreaming and fractured pop jangle. There was no denying the infectious swagger that was contained on that EP. If you weren’t a convert to The Snarks before, prepare to be. “Toothache” opens with the sound of someone saying “Roll it”; then the band break into a swirl of punk rock bravado. “Counterfeit” doesn’t let up, with Kendra J spitting each word through the speakers with just the right amount of attitude and indignation. “Space Cases” is a dreamy track, and epic in length in comparison the the first two tracks’ under-two-minute time stamps. Kendra Johnson, Bart Helms, Zachary Evan Kershner, Dan Kinnaley and Dan Arnos pull off introspective just as well as they can aggressive. “Drone” sounds like the love child of The Damned, Love and Dick Dale – a whole mess of surf rock, jangle, and a middle finger to the establishment. “Make It Stop” is an explosion of hardcore speed and Johnson’s innate ability to push 10 tons of anger down your earholes while you’re giving yourself whiplash. It’s the ultimate punk rock statement on an EP that’s filled with ’em. The Snarks waste no time. There’s no dead air in between these five songs and the very tight 12 or so minutes this EP inhabits. Recorded and mixed directly to tape at Jason Davis’ Off The Cuff Sound in Fort Wayne, It’s Like ... Carpe YOLO, Man is yet another shining example of the quality bands that are coming out of the Midwest, and Fort Wayne in particular. If hardcore, post-punk, jangle pop, and even bits of late-60s surf rock pique your interest, then grab a copy of It’s Like ... Carpe Yolo, Man at its CD release show on February 6 at The Brass Rail. Check out The Snarks playing these tunes live, along with special guests Heaven’s Gateway Drugs. You can also order a copy at thesnarks.bandcamp.com.

John Hubner

Gregg Bender Band

The Long Road from Berne

When Gregg Bender, longtime Journal Gazette illustrator and frontman of his eponymous band, was a teenager growing up in Berne, he and his friend John Ludy performed original music in the style of the West Coast rock revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s – a revolution that involved infusions of country and folk music. “He’d write five songs a day,” Bender said. “When I got together with him, we were like ‘Why can’t we make it? Why can’t be one of those people?’” This may be an especially plaintive question to ask in tiny Berne, which is known more for Swiss homages than rock revolts. But long odds didn’t stop the young men from getting into a car and driving to L.A. The year was 1974, and they had $200 to their name. “The first day we got there, we drove around the city twice and said, ‘What are we doing?’” Bender said. They checked into a fleabag motel and started offering to perform at restaurants in exchange for meals. Fortune soon smiled on them. A well-to-do family in the dining room one night asked them if they’d like to provide entertainment at a party they were hosting. “It was in Santa Monica,” Bender said. “A really nice house. He was a lawyer. She was a writer and also a professor at UCLA. They had four kids.” After the party, the couple made a proposal that may seem exceptionally generous and credulous in these paranoid and cynical times, but might have been fairly typical in Southern California seven years after the Summer of Love. They asked the guys if they wanted to move in. “We were Midwestern youngsters,” Bender said. “We were like, ‘Oh no. We can’t do that.’ Three days later, we were knocking on the door.” One day after Bender and Ludy had moved in, the family went on vacation and left them alone in the house. Many great things began happening for them. The family had connections in the music business and hooked the men up with composer Patrick Williams, who went on to score several dozen of the biggest films and TV shows of the 1970s and 1980s, including Breaking Away, Columbo, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Streets of San Francisco. Williams liked their music and offered them free studio time. “It was $100 an hour,” Bender said. “And the Stones had been in there. Vanilla Fudge.” They recorded a demo tape and took it to Leon Russell’s Shelter Records where they received further kudos and blocks of free studio time. That resultant accumulation of recordings was subsequently well received by Jackson Browne’s manager. And while it did nothing to further their career, babysitting for former Gilligan’s Island star Dawn Wells — who lived down the beach from where Bender and Ludy were luxuriously bivouacked — provided the men with a brush-with-greatness tale that still impresses today. But establishing a national musical career requires much exigency and many falling dominoes, and the men began to lose faith before too long. Six months after they’d arrived in Los Angeles, they returned to Berne. “I mean, we were 19 years old,” Bender explained. The men eventually went their separate ways. Bender’s newspaper career took him to Kendallville; Jackson, Tennessee; South Bend; Little Rock, Arkansas; Jackson (again) and, finally, Fort Wayne. It was during his stint at the Kendallville News-Sun in the early 1980s that he hooked with an old college buddy named Tracy Warner. Bender became a fixture at, and sometime host of, the open mic nights at Munchie Emporium, and it was during this period that he learned Warner played saxophone. The two formed an atypical guitar/saxophone duo for a time. In all the towns where he has lived, Bender has always tried to find places to play his guitar and sing. He seems to get an almost daredevil thrill from entertaining. “Not everyone is geared for that sort of thing,” he said. “But, for me, stepping out in front of people and playing is almost like putting yourself out there in a sporting event. You practice and practice and have one shot to be the best you can. If you are a perfectionist, second place is not an option. But the rules of the game are: You’re not going to do your best every time.” About two years after he started working at the Journal Gazette in 2003, he started performing solo again in Fort Wayne and with Warner. He had no grander plan than that. But sometimes grander plans are thrust upon us. In 2006, Bender started attending, then participating in, open band nights at the North Star Bar and Grill. He ran into a former high school friend of his named Jim Childers, and the pair repaired to Bender’s house for a jam session. “And I said, ‘If we’re going to do this and make it sound pretty good, we might as well go out and play,’” Bender recalled. “I dragged him out to open mike night and it went over really well.” The twosome began to accrue additional musicians: Drummer Mike Andrews, who Bender said owes his lead style of playing to Jimi Hendrix’s percussionist, Mitch Mitchell; bassist Dave West, who Bender said has mastered a bewildering array of songs and genres in his decades of performing in Fort Wayne; and Warner, of course. Before too long, the Gregg Bender Band was born. A mere three years after forming, the Gregg Bender Band performs almost weekly in numerous regional venues and has been featured on Julia Meek’s public radio music showcase Meet the Music at least four times. The Gregg Bender Band is strictly a cover band, but Bender said they try to choose deep cuts that probably can’t be heard anywhere else in town. Bender said this unexpected later-life success is much more fun than any of the triumphs of his callow youth because “these guys are my friends and we get to share this experience together. “I had never really played in a band before,” he said, “although I knew of others where fights developed and everyone parted ways. We’re older now and don’t have that baggage anymore. There are no aspirations of being big. We just want to play the best we can and let the other stuff roll off. There is really no pressure except the pressure we put on ourselves to play to the best of our abilities.” Bender said Ludy, now a retired teacher living in Fremont, might come down in March to participate in a recording session. But any resulting CD would serve posterity, not fuel ambition. “This is a vanity project,” he said. “We have no illusions. We can hand it out at shows.”

Steve Penhollow


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