When Kelly Updike assumed the role of executive director at Fort Wayne’s Historic Embassy Theatre, she began helming one of the most iconic and beloved of the city’s venues. But it was also in many ways greatly misunderstood.
To appreciate how she has tackled the joys and challenges of the job, it’s necessary to know the diversity of her background and how each of those professional, and even personal, experiences helped prepare her for the unique combination of not-for-profit and building stewardship.
A native of Fort Wayne, Updike graduated from Northrop High School and earned a degree in communications from Ball State University, focusing herself on journalism and public relations. That background prepared her to work in a remarkably varied professional setting, and she enjoyed many years at Fort Wayne Community Schools and Lincoln Financial before joining the Leona Group, an organization dedicated to the growth of charter schools. That job required a lot of travel, however, and as her children were entering high school and planning beyond for college, she was looking for something which would keep her closer to home. The job at the Embassy filled that bill and also allowed her to put all of her previous years of experience to good use.
“When I applied for the job and met with the search committee, I told them that I thought all of the things that I had learned in my career and personally over the years made me a good fit for this job. I had learned the business side of things working on projects and with teams. And I knew through studying communication and through working with others over the years that good communication is the reason that things go well. And it is also the reason things went wrong if it doesn’t go well.”
Her background in Fort Wayne also helped her understand the importance of the Embassy Theatre to the history of the city, but she also has come to understand that that history must only be part of the story. It’s also important to keep the building vibrant and moving forward. Balancing all of that and making sure everyone knows about the Embassy’s history has kept her job fresh for more than eight years.
“The Embassy is iconic in our community and region. I love a challenge, and I just didn’t think people knew enough about the Embassy so I wanted that to change. I had to make sure that the board of directors were on the same page with me, and our board is very diverse and has a broad range of skill sets, so we began working to move the Embassy forward and bring it to more people.”
Among those changes has been a growth in educational programs which bring school-age children through the Embassy doors. It has also meant bringing more eclectic programming – from rock concerts to Broadway musicals – to the stage, removing some of the stodgy image which long dogged the theater. Updike says that even those who fought so diligently to save the Embassy from demolition more than 30 years ago have been surprised by the changes.
“There was a group of six people who were really the ringleaders in saving the Embassy, and three of them are still alive. They’ve told me that they never expected there to be rock shows here or that children would be taking classes here. I am keenly aware of the stewardship of this building, but it’s not a museum. Museums are great – don’t get me wrong – but the Embassy isn’t a museum. We don’t want it to be stodgy, and we have continued to find new ways to make it available to people.”
Even as the theater has made small changes, like allowing alcohol in the theatre itself rather than only in lobby, there has been concern about what those changes would mean for the historical structure.
“That was a huge, big deal,” says Updike. “There is a perception about what we should be allowed to do here, and it all comes from people caring so much about the building.”
Also key to moving the venue forward are renovations which will continue through 2015 and will ultimately allow the Embassy to share heretofore unseen portions of the building – unseen at least to generations now living. The $10 million update will include a two-story high ballroom, a rooftop patio and garden, a history center and classrooms to expand the educational component. The opening of the new additions will take place in 2016.
Along with expansions and renovations, Updike also knows that keeping the technology current and relevant is important, another key area where the structure needs to balance history and state-of-the art. The only way to maintain the Embassy’s history is by assuring its future.
“I’m proud that we’ve raised the profile of the Embassy, and its more part of the community than ever. The perception was that it was just a small theater, but we’ve worked hard to change that.”
Thursday, April 27
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Community Unity — Community dinner, games and prizes, and neighborhood safety forum, 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Jennings Recreation Center, Fort Wayne, free, 427-6028
Issues and Ales — Panel of experts discuss important issues in the community with audience Q&A , 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits, Fort Wayne, free, 456-7005
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Chris Worth — Variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Fort Wayne Comedy Connection — Comedy at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Hubie Ashcraft — Acoustic at River View Tavern, Decatur, 7-10 p.m., no cover, 724-3500
Open Mic — Hosted by Mike Mowry at Pedal City, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 415-6167
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Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Karaoke at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 422-5055
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., ,
Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at By: Belle Haven, South Whitley, 8 p.m., no cover, 866-716-9243
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Shut Up and Sing — Karaoke at Duesy's Sports Bar, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 483-5681
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-1311
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Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, April 26-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
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37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3 , Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru April 30, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568