whatzup2nite • Wednesday, May 25

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Things To Do

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National Shows

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Music & Comedy

Chris Worth — Variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 7:30-10:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425

DJ Johnny Blaze — Variety at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 483-1311

Fort Wayne Comedy Connection — Comedy at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 483-5526

Legendary Trainhoppers — Variety at Embassy Theatre, Fort Wayne, 5-9 p.m., $5, 424-5665

Paul New Stewart & Kimmy Dean — Variety at Venice Restaurant, Fort Wayne, 6:30-9:30 p.m., $1, 482-1618

Karaoke & DJs

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Stage & Dance

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Movies New and Improved!

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Art & Artifacts

36th National Print Exhibition — Hand pulled prints from new and veteran artists on exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 25, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195

Art Cislo: Expressions of the Heart of Man — Woodblock and monotype prints convey his fascination with the heart of man in all its mysterious complexities and myriad expressions, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 10, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467

Beaux Arts & Blueprints: The Allen County Courthouse, a Treasure Among Us — Dozens of the original blueprints from it’s 1902 construction, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 12, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$10, 422-6467

Daybreak in Myanmar — Photography by Geoffrey Hiller, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 29, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 422-6467

Don Osos — Watercolors on exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 25, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195

Elemental Attraction: Works in Iron and Steel by George Beasley and Susanne Roewer — Small and large scale sculptures, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 10, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467

Out of Print: Pushing the Boundaries in the Art of Print — Printed works by Bill Flick, Chuck Sperry, Crystal Wagner, Dennis McNett, Greg Gossel, Morning Breath, Ravi Zupa and Troy Lovegates, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 29, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467

Small Art Show/Sale — Works on exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 25, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195

Tossed and Found — An invitational exhibit of recycled, re-purposed and re-imagined art featuring works from Sayaka Ganz, Dianna T.M. Auld, Branden Thornhill-Miller, Dan Sigler, Jerry Lawson, Art Farm, Mark Phenicie and Jennifer Hart Sunday-Friday thru June 5 , First Presbyterian Art Gallery, First Presbyterian Church, Fort Wayne, 426-7421

Featured Events

Fort Wayne Dance Collective Spring/Summer Workshops — Workshops and classes for movement, dance, yoga and more offered by Fort Wayne Dance Collective, dates and times vary, 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

TekVenture Public Workshops: Interconnecting Imagination, Technology and Community — Access to tools; Saturday hands-on workshops for making things in machining wood and metal, 3D printing, electronics, robotics, CAD design and more; ages 12 thru adult, TekVenture, Fort Wayne, fees vary, membership discounts available, 432-1095


REO Speedwagon

This Car Still Drives

“Keep on Loving You.” “Take It on the Run.” “Can’t Fight This Feeling.” “Time for Me to Fly.” If what you want is a love ballad from the early 80s, all you really need to do is to crank up some REO. The dudes from Illinois knew how to put the heart in rock n’ roll and the hair in hair band, and they’ll be at the Foellinger Theatre Friday, May 27 at 8 p.m. as part of the venue’s summer concert series. Having reached the pinnacle of their fame in the early 80s, REO Speedwagon are perhaps the perfect act to satisfy today’s seemingly insatiable appetite for nostalgia. Their music is guaranteed to take you back to a simpler time of candles in windows on cold, dark winter nights and bringing ships into shore and throwing away the oars forever. Speaking of a simpler time, REO got their start in 1967 when Neal Doughty, then an electrical engineering student, met a young drummer, Alan Gratzer, at the University of Illinois. Doughty became one of Gratzer’s groupies, but his groupie status didn’t last long. Having taught himself how to play along to Beatles songs on his parent’s piano, Doughty was soon recruited to join a new band with Gratzer, bassist Mike Blair and guitarist and vocalist Joe Matt. Having christened themselves REO Speedwagon after a flatbed truck made popular by a certain Ransom E. Olds, these four college friends played fraternity parties and local clubs, cutting their teeth on low-paying gigs just like any other respectable young band with dreams of greatness. What set them apart from the usual weekend gear luggers and nightclub rats is that they actually achieved it. In 1971, REO Speedwagon signed with Epic records and soon put out their eponymous debut. Next came R.E.O/T.W.O (that’s seventies speak for “REO 2.0”), Ridin’ the Storm Out, Lost in a Dream, This Time We Mean It, REO, Live: You Get What You Play For, You Can Tune a Piano But You Can’t Tune a Fish and Nine Lives. For nearly a decade, REO put out a new album every year, despite lineup upheavals and a lack of mainstream success. Such success would not elude them long. The early 80s witnessed REO’s magic moment. Having gone through a number of lead singers, guitarists and bassists, the lineup from 1977 to 1988 was steady, with Doughty and Gratzer being joined by Gary Richrath on lead guitar, Kevin Cronin on vocals and Bruce Hall on bass. This is the lineup that put out Hi Infidelity, REO’s most popular album, in 1980. Propelled by singles “Keep on Loving You,” “Take It on the Run,” “Don’t Let Him Go” and “In Your Letter,” Hi Infidelity held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard album chart for 15 weeks and went on to sell more than 10 million copies. It became the soundtrack of a generation. Soon REO’s music was everywhere, and no one was more surprised by the album’s overnight success than the band members themselves. In a January interview with Songwriter Universe, Cronin, who for a long time shared songwriting duties with Richrath, said that Hi Infidelity was the product of the band all going through tumult in their personal lives at the same time. That shared experience led to songs that cohere and communicate well with one another. “So I think that really helped for the album, that it felt like all the songs belonged together,” he said. “Back in the day of the album, that was very important. It was one of those albums which was definitely top-heavy with songs that people, to this day … they come to our concerts and we play at least five or six songs from Hi Infidelity every night. When we play those songs, you can just feel the energy in the room light up.” Fans will be happy to know that the version of REO Speedwagon coming to Fort Wayne will include Cronin on vocals, Doughty on keys and Hall on bass, as well as Dave Amato on guitar and Bryan Hitt on drums. (Gratzer left the band in 1989, and Richrath, the pen behind “Take it on the Run” and all of the Ridin’ the Storm Out album, died in September at the age of 65.) Known for their powerful live shows, REO Speedwagon are still selling out theaters across the country. Case in point, the Midland Theatre in Newark, Ohio and the Palace in Louisville, Kentucky. A reviewer had this to say about Cronin and company’s performance at the Palace: “The evening was spectacular; a classic REO Speedwagon show. The band seemed to be having such a great time and were all smiles the entire evening. Based on fan reactions after the show, everyone was more than pleased.” And of REO’s performance at Talking Stick Resort, another reviewer wrote: “The band sounded like a well-oiled machine. There is something to be said about a band who can go out and perform older material and still do it justice, and on tracks like ‘Time For Me to Fly’ and ‘Back On the Road Again,’ featuring bassist Bruce Hall on lead vocals, they did just that.” REO Speedwagon have clearly ridden the storm out, and they’ve emerged on the other side, still singing, still jamming, still rocking. Perhaps you’re harboring doubts that these dudes are still cool after all these years. Well, check this. The rapper Pitbull and pop sensation Enrique Iglesias teamed up this April and released “Messin’ Around,” which includes the now iconic earwormy “Take it on the Run” lyrics “heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from another you’ve been messin’ around.” And the melody, which Speedwagon fanboy Pitbull freely sampled, is unmistakable. It’s pure REO. REO 2.0. So there you have it. REO Speedwagon the car might have expired long ago, but REO Speedwagon the band aren’t driving off into the sunset any time soon.

Michele DeVinney

Aaron Lewis


Aaron Lewis, the many-tatted singer most often associated with the hard rock act Staind, recently made the leap to solo country music artist, and what a leap it’s been. In 2011 he put out the EP Town Line which climbed to No. 1 on the country charts, and less than a year later his debut full-length, The Road, made it to the seventh slot. Those stats are a clear indication that Lewis is no flash in the frying pan, no Darius Rucker trying on some chaps for size. Rather, he is the real thing: a bonafide country boy with his own hunting show (On the Road with Rock and Aaron) to prove it. Also there’s his growing stash of glowing reviews, including this one from a pleasantly surprised Jordan Buford of On Tour Monthly: “I was shocked that not only was what he was doing country music, but authentic country music. Real country music, before much of the genre became glorified pop.” He added, “From here on out, I’ll definitely be a die-hard of anything Aaron Lewis has done or will do.” Praise indeed. Lewis will be at Wabash’s Honeywell Center Saturday, May 28 for a 7:30 p.m. show.

Deborah Kennedy

Keith Sweat

Mister Rhythm & Blues

“My songs are pretty much relationship songs,” R&B singer Keith Sweat said in a recent interview. “You can be a couple or single and looking for that significant other with my music. You can be with that significant other and it works for both parties.” That basis in relationship songs has sustained Sweat’s three-decade-plus career in R&B and pop, a career that has seen multi-Platinum and chart-topping records, production work, the launching of his own record label and even into an ongoing gig as a radio personality. Born Keith Douglas Crier in 1961 in Harlem to Juanita Sweat, a hairdresser, and Charles Crier, a factory worker, Sweat showed an early predilection towards singing. “When he was four years old, he’d go outside and sing to the girls,” Juanita told People Weekly. “I’d say, ‘Stop that noise.’” As a child he even had dreams of performing that seemed portentous.  “People might think I’m lying about them, but as a kid I used to go to bed and dream I was on stage giving a concert. I could see myself singing and the people were screaming and the whole thing was so real to me I used to wake up and really believe I had done a show,” he told Ebony magazine. “You couldn’t tell me it didn’t happen … I would get up in the morning and start looking in my pockets for all the money I’d made from my shows.” Indeed Sweat began his actual singing career early, performing as the frontman of the band Jamilah on weekends at the age of 14 while going to school and working part-time as a stock boy at Macy’s. The band performed throughout the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Once he graduated from high school, he studied communications at the City College of New York, after which he went to work on Wall Street while he continued to sing with Jamilah. He eventually worked his way up to a lucrative brokerage position, but he still wanted a career in music. In 1984, he broke from Jamilah to pursue a solo career and began performing in nightclubs in New York. His vocal work attracted the attention of Vincent Davis who owned a record label called Vintertainment, which was known for its foundations in hip-hop and had a distribution deal with Elektra Records. Davis signed him and released Sweat’s debut album, Make It Last Forever, in 1987, which went on to be a massive hit, selling 3 million copies. The album featured the hits “I Want Her,” which reached No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 5, on the pop charts, along with the title track, “Something Just Ain’t Right” and “Don’t Stop Your Love,” all of which were Top 10 R&B tracks. Sweat’s debut established him as not just an enticing new R&B lover-man, but as an innovator. Produced by Teddy Riley, the album – and especially “I Want Her” – is often credited as the origin of New Jack Swing, a hybrid of hip-hop and R&B that featured the former’s beats and the latter’s vocal stylings. New Jack Swing’s popularity lasted only about six years, but was an important development for both of the genres it straddled. For Sweat, the lyrics on the album didn’t just reflect R&B traditions, but his own experiences with relationships, specifically a breakup with a longtime girlfriend. “That was a very tough time in my life,” he told Ebony. “I was coming out of a relationship where I was hurt and I mean really hurt bad. It was a heartbreaking relationship for me, the kind where you are hurting so much you have to find someone to talk to or go crazy. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to, so what I did was talk to my album.” The remarkable success and influence of Make It Last Forever was never quite rivaled by any of Sweat’s subsequent efforts, but he continued to have chart-topping hit singles and Platinum records. His follow-up album, I’ll Give All My Love to You, was another Platinum success and spawned the hit single “Make You Sweat.” His third album, Keep It Comin’, was another success. After its release, Sweat moved to the Atlanta area, founded his own record label (Keia records, named after his daughter) and began adding production and talent development to his repertoire. Groups like Silk and Kut Klose soon benefited from Sweat’s influence, and he continued to expand his repertoire, establishing a recording studio and a nightclub, while continuing to release records like Get Up on It and the simply-titled Keith Sweat. In the mid-90s he also instigated an R&B supergroup of sorts, LSG, which consisted of himself along with fellow R&B icons Gerald Levert and Johnny Gill. The group hit Platinum with their first outing, 1997’s self-titled Levert Sweat Gill, which kept an up-to-date sound by featuring producers such as Sean “Pufffy” Combs and Jermaine Dupri. In the new millennium, Sweat has kept busy releasing albums and establishing himself as a radio personality on the syndicated Sweat Hotel. Though his mainstream audience has dwindled, he’s remained a strong presence on the R&B scene. He even authored a book in 2013, Make It Last Forever, fittingly featuring relationship advice which he dishes out on the Sweat Hotel. In 2015, he also launched the inaugural SweatFest, a music festival in Jamaica featuring the likes of Dru Hill and Ginuwine. For anyone who doubts Sweat’s continued success as a singer, he recently hit No. 1 again, this time on the Urban Adult Contemporary chart, with “Good Love,” the lead single from a forthcoming album due out this summer. As to why his new song resonates with listeners, he told You Know I Got Soul, “It’s the soulful music. The great melody, the sultry vocals. Everything about it, the great hook. I think along with the music and the lyrics, it says what people want music to say nowadays.”

Ryan Smith

Cadillac Ranch

Formula for Success

It can take awhile for a band to hit on the right formula, the right blend of musicians, and that has certainly been true for Cadillac Ranch, a band which has built a solid following in not only northeast Indiana but in much of Ohio as well. Several musicians have come and gone through the years, but at no one position has there been more change than at vocals, where the band estimates they featured as many as 18 different female lead singers before finally landing the right one. But through all the changes, the many who have come and gone have all contributed to the sound which has become a hot ticket in area clubs and outdoor venues. In fact, change has been a constant for Cadillac Ranch, formed in 2004 by drummer Steve Hagan and guitarist Dave Reithmiller. Since that time, there have been two more changes on guitar (Terry Green and current guitarist Austin Putt), just one change on drums (current drummer Greg White joined in 2006) and a whopping four bassists in the last seven years (LeWayne Fisher, Cary Ausderan, Eric McKinley and current member Dave Nelson, whose first gig with the band was Halloween 2015). But it was at vocals where the band struggled to find consistency. “We’d had 16 or 17 different singers over the years,” says drummer White, “and when Megan White first started singing with us, people would say ‘I don’t know if I’ll know your name or not.’ And she thought ‘I’ll show you.’ And she has, she’s been with us ever since 2008.” Greg White joined after Hagan’s departure, having known the then-bass player from another group that played around Angola. With the exception of a recent death in the family, White hasn’t missed a gig in 10 years. His transition into the fold was relatively smooth, though he did have to learn some of the Cadillac Ranch cover songs. “I did have to play some country songs that not only had I never played before, but some of them I’d never heard before,” says White. Despite the occasional growing pains of new members, and the revolving door at lead singer, Cadillac Ranch became a popular cover band that found itself playing with great frequency. But they really took off when Megan White settled into her role as singer, with a little help from technology. “When she first joined the band, she really hadn’t played out that much before,” says Greg White. “She was pretty green, but pretty soon we got our hooks into her, and she loved playing live. I decided to buy a cordless mic for her because she was still a little tentative on the stage. I didn’t want to spend much money, in case it didn’t work, but as soon as she got ahold of that thing she started going out into the audience and singing with people. Ever since then Megan has been really working the crowds. In fact, I had to go out and get a better cordless mic because the one I’d gotten for cheap only let her get about 50 feet off the stage.” Greg King says Megan White’s become a great performer, and her popularity has proven to be a boon for Cadillac Ranch. She typically sings nine songs per set (with four sets a night), taking only an occasional break to let one of the other band members sing. In fact, with her heavy vocal load and the frequency of their performances, the band recently made a change in their bookings, one which was made to preserve Megan’s voice. “As much as we were playing in smoking clubs, Megan was having problems with her voice the next night or maybe for an entire weekend. I’m a smoker myself, but even I have to say that some of those places get pretty smoky. Even my eyes start to water. So we’re going to avoid some of those places we used to play and focus more on non-smoking clubs or outdoor venues where it won’t be a problem.” Greg White discovered another advantage to playing in less smoky environments. “I recently got a new drum kit, and I didn’t realize how the smoke had damaged the old kit until I saw how shiny and clean the new one was. So avoiding the smoke – and as I said, I’m a smoker myself – is better for Megan’s voice, but also better for our equipment. I think, especially in the summer, we’ll be able to focus on outdoor places – decks and beer gardens. We play a lot of places around the lakes during the summer months.” When Megan King joined the band, she was six months pregnant and is now a mother of three young boys. With young children at home, the usual Cadillac Ranch gigs were perfectly configured to accommodate her schedule, since the band generally plays for older crowds who prefer an early evening. “Most of our audience is older, maybe 50 or so,” says Greg White. “So instead of playing bars from 10-2, we’re playing legions and places like that from 7-11 or maybe 8-12. That made it easier for everyone to get home at a decent hour and for Megan to get some rest before her kids got her up the next morning.” However, as Megan White’s children have grown, so have the demands to keep up with their schedules, which had led to a possible slowdown for Cadillac Ranch in the months ahead. By 2017, Megan is hoping to keep her performances to two or three times a month, a far cry from the sometimes four performances in a weekend now. If that takes place, there’s a plan for how Cadillac Ranch will respond to the curtailed schedule. “Cadillac Ranch will always be with Megan,” says White. “People love her, and we don’t want anyone to be disappointed because they came from miles away and then didn’t get to see her. So if she cuts back, we may just get another female singer and call the band by her name ‘and the Ranchers’ or something like that. We’d make it a different name so people would know it was us, but they’d know Megan wasn’t singing with us that night.” With a setlist that covers everything from Nancy Sinatra to Linda Ronstadt to Janis Joplin (and many other classic songs along the way), Cadillac Ranch continue to evolve and adapt to the changes that have defined their history. Greg White says the one thing they’re most grateful for is the loyalty of those who keep coming out to hear them play live. “We just really appreciate all the folks who come out and see us, sometimes driving an hour or more. We have a great following in Ohio, and there are a lot of people who see us over and over. We could never do what we do if it weren’t for them.”

Michele DeVinney

Lauren Nichols

Acting on Her Faith

By Michele DeVinney Even as a small child in upstate New York, Lauren Nichols, artistic director for all for One productions, was a theatrical sort, happy to stage plays and performances with other kids in the neighborhood. In fact, she had a tight-knit community of friends which pretty much introduced her to repertory theatre. “As a kid I was a voracious reader,” says Nichols. “We lived in a quiet area, but I wasn’t allowed to cross the street. We had the best backyard, so the kids would all play in my yard, and I was always coming up with role-playing and pretend games for us. There were probably some early indicators there of what my future would be. The older girls all loved horses, so I started coming up with stories and chose names for all the horses. There were a lot of scenarios, but usually something tragic happened to the horses.” Attracted to drama, Nichols was living in Fort Wayne and attending Bishop Luers High School when her mother suggested supplementing the theatrical opportunities at school with something a little bit different. “My mom took me to Fort Wayne Youtheatre, and she really had to drag me kicking and screaming because I thought that was just for littler kids. I did get cast for the role of the mother in Hans Brinker because I was taller than the other girls.” More significantly, it was there she met Dennis Nichols. She had seen him perform and was attracted to his talent and, although he didn’t know, she says she had “a mad crush on him.” He came to know eventually. The couple married five years later and have now been married for 33 years. Both deeply religious, they attended Boston University where Nichols earned a degree in communications. They weren’t sure if theater was compatible with their deep faith and had set it aside for some time when an opportunity to teach arts enrichment classes led to a move to Los Angeles. “We got to L.A., and the whole project fell through. At that point we were stuck because we had no money to come back, and [we] stayed for over four years. But we did hook up with Jews for Jesus, which is a traveling gospel team, and then we had our first child.” During this time, Dennis was interested in doing a one-man play about Martin Luther, which led to Lauren penning A Mighty Fortress. But as their yearning to perform returned, they knew that, with one of them staying at home full-time, they couldn’t afford to raise a child as they wanted to if they remained in California. Returning to Fort Wayne, they started looking for opportunities to produce plays. Nichols had long remembered her early theater experiences in Fort Wayne, particularly a performance of Inherit the Wind at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre. She also knew she needed to touch base with Youtheatre’s director, Harvey Cocks, to learn more about how to get a play produced. In 1991 they found a Lutheran church which allowed them to premier A Mighty Fortress. “From that point we started traveling with the show, booking it in Lutheran churches, which was easy to do since all we needed was a chair and a tablecloth.” In their efforts to promote faith-based productions, they met Sharon Henderson, now the executive director of all for One productions. Her connection with First Missionary Church provided the building block which would become all for One. After networking through Christians in the Theatre Arts and traveling with their productions, Henderson began to plan for something more substantial and grounded in Fort Wayne. “I still remember Sharon gathering us around our kitchen table with the idea of a Christian theater group,” says Nichols. While the company didn’t happen overnight, the conversation at that meeting grew into the all for One. Another Nichols play, Sentimental Journey, which told the story of World War II and D-Day, provided new material for the new group. Nichols had written the play years before as a one-act, but she always felt that it begged for more. Once she further fleshed out the material, she credits Henderson with seeing its potential and helping all for One finally take the next step. “Sharon is such a visionary leader, and she saw this as a way of honoring veterans and enriching and educating audiences. We were booked for two performances at the Grand Wayne Center, and both sold out, so we added a Sunday matinee. In all, 1,600 people ended up seeing the show, and there was a strong response that people wanted us to do more things like this.” They also knew that to grow and provide a rich schedule of programming which Nichols says “should demonstrate a basic Judeo-Christian ethic but not be overtly Christian,” they couldn’t rely on only original material and began looking for published works to perform. They also began finding other stages in town for their plays including Founders Hall, where they staged The Curious Savage in 2002, and Canterbury High School, where they produced I Remember Mama in 2003. By 2007, they found a more permanent home. “It took awhile to nail down what we were looking for, but in 2007 we contracted with the Allen County Public Library to use their new auditorium as our new home. It gave us a great location in downtown, and we were finally able to begin planning entire seasons rather than just one or two plays at a time.” Nichols’ love of reading has paid dividends as she has adapted some classic works (most recently Jane Eyre) as well as continuing to look for works which tap into historic times and situations which challenge both the actors and the audience. She looks forward to providing more premiers in the years ahead. Having done much acting over the years and having been successful as a playwright, she’s learned that her childhood penchant for directing her neighborhood friends in elaborate stories was an indicator of what her future would hold. “I think if you held a gun to my head and told me I could write plays, direct plays or be in them, I think I would have to say I’d rather direct them. When we did Turtle Soup this year, it was the 30th production that I’ve directed since 2004. I love production design, and I always have a picture in my head of what I think it should be. It took me awhile to realize that I’ve come full circle, that those early hints of playing with friends, that directing was always going to be where I landed.”

Michele DeVinney

Alec Johnson

Artist in the Digital Age

No paintbrush or chisel will be found in Alec Johnson’s studio. He works with pixels microprocessors and flat screens. During a recent show that brought life back into the space Artlink used to inhabit, now the Cinema Center Spectator Lounge, patrons enjoyed watching the displays that brought ordinary flat screens to life. Along with artist Carey Shafer, Johnson, guided by Jennifer Ford Art, filled the space with sculpture caught in perpetual change. Shafer, a world class stone carver and sculptor, collaborated with Johnson, and together they created a room filled with cutting edge pieces displayed on screens married with heavy steel chain and limestone. The pairing of these two artists happened as a result of a slowly developed friendship and working relationship that began when Johnson, also a city landscape architect, started to render a plan for a sculpture park in Fort Wayne. When Shafer pitched his sculpture ideas to the parks department, Johnson quickly shut him down, stating that there would soon be a call for artists and that Shafer should wait to move through the established process. Johnson looked the artist up online and discovered Shafer is a classically trained stone carver with a curriculum vitae that includes restoration work at the White House. Johnson and Shafer started working together on other public art pieces across the country. A lot of the projects involved landscape architecture, as thought had to be given how to place certain sculptural pieces within the landscape. “His work started to become more abstract by adding steel,” says Johnson of Shafer’s work. “We started to work together, even if it wasn’t for a competition project. We just started working on projects together and that sort of ‘metamorphed’ into the work for the Bytes and Pieces show.” Johnson’s digital artwork sprung from his interest in computers, but that’s only part of it. An explosion of ideas came to him after attending the opening of the black box theater on Main Street. “The first time I was in there I was looking around at these 30-foot walls and imagining what kind of performances you could do in there.” He started to think about doing surround animation that could wrap around the audience. “I walked out of there thinking that would be really cool but how do I do that?” For most people that is where an idea ends – but not for Johnson. His curiosity drives him to act. “I just started researching digital technology and wondered how do you do that. How do you create the technology to do that?” he said. Johnson learned about different ways to create digital animation and that led him to the new art form of generative digital art where the computer is used as a tool like a digital paintbrush. “I found that all of these things feed into each other. I learned a technique for projection mapping and found that the software I was using for landscaping architecture comes into play in many different ways. The work has mostly been a byproduct of me being super curious.” Johnson isn’t afraid to just jump into a project. That attitude has been a guiding force that navigates him through life. “I never set out to become a super successful artist. It’s always just been thinking how do I satisfy this curiosity.” According to Johnson, he always needs a creative outlet just to stay sane. “Landscape architecture is in some ways very technical but also very artistic because you have to sketch, draw and convey designs in a way to convince people it is a worthy thing to build,” he says. The digital art form that Johnson has made the current focus of his creative outlet is in its infancy. “Ever since there have been computers, there have been people who have tried to use computers to produce art, but because the technology hasn’t always been so successful, it didn’t always work out,” he says. Today the technology allows for the artistic freedom that so many have been waiting for. Johnson is one of those artists and he is excited about what the future holds. “Technology is going to make it possible for new forms of art that we can’t even imagine,” says Johnson. He is quick to note that just because the computer is the platform for creating digital art, it is still a skill that must be learned and mastered. Just as a painter must master the use of paint and brushes, a digital artist must learn the material to execute an idea properly. By learning the material, an artist also learns its inherent boundaries. Rules and parameters are important to Johnson. Without limiting himself, the options offered by digital creation can be overwhelming. “I still have to create a framework for my work. I still have to make rules for my work. I have to limit the possibilities some way otherwise the options are just way too vast. I have to say I’m only going to use this color palette or I‘m going to use these shapes. You are still limiting yourself to a small parameter. Otherwise there are too many things to think about and it won’t be effective. I don’t think digital art replaces traditional art. We just have a new tool now. ” To Johnson, it is important for all art, traditional and digital, to evoke emotion. He doesn’t care if the emotion is adverse or joyful; he simply needs to ignite something in people with his work. Johnson’s current work has been described as feeling alive. With pulsating lights and shapes, he can transform a common screen into something that appears as though it is breathing. Undulating shapes seem to grow organically. An interactive piece encourages people to swipe a touchpad that changes the colors and patterns of the work. There is a sense of playfulness that immediately overtakes the viewer. There is actual dialogue happening between the computer and the viewer as the shapes change and take on a life of their own. “Technology is changing so rapidly it is impossible to even know what the vast options are,” says Johnson who will keep bringing this cutting edge art form to our area. Art lovers and collectors are the ones who will benefit from the curious spirit that drives him forward.

Heather Miller

Embassy Theatre

New Life for a Landmark

The people who saved the Embassy Theatre from oblivion in the 70s, 80s and 90s never solidified a plan for revitalizing the adjacent Indiana Hotel and they may not have had any solid interest in solidifying a plan. “The founding fathers, like Bob Goldstine – they didn’t really want the hotel,” said the Embassy’s marketing director, Barb Richards, “They were focused on the theater.” The seven-story hotel, which once catered to traveling businessmen, closed in the late 60s or early 70s. It had 250 tiny rooms, and there have been at least 250 casual proposals across four decades for what to do with it. Now, the Indiana Hotel is no more. It has been transformed into something that would surely please the late Goldstine and his partners in reclamation. The four remaining, undeveloped floors of the dilapidated hotel are gone, and in their place are a grand ballroom and a number of things the theater has been badly in need of, including classrooms, conference rooms, rehearsal rooms, a copy room, a break room and proper office space. The former offices have been turned into a lounge, a new suite of dressing rooms has been added in the basement and there’s a rooftop terrace overlooking the city. None of this was easily achieved. Because the Embassy is a historically protected landmark, Weigand Construction couldn’t knock out any walls, as it might otherwise have been inclined to do. Debris had to be carried out in wheelbarrows, and steel beams had to be brought in through windows and maneuvered down long, narrow corridors. And the theater could not close, said Executive Director Kelly Updike. The renovations had to be accomplished without disrupting business. Final cost of the project is $10 million, she said, $8.2 million of which has been raised. One of the wonders of the grand two-story ballroom, apart from its photogenic staircase, is that it has been made to look like it was created at the same time as the rest of the theater, circa 1926. “That’s a high compliment,” said Updike. “Moake Park Group is the architect. They are thrilled when people say that, that it looks like it’s always been here.” The process to create the textured walls required nine laborious coats, she said. The need for the ballroom went beyond the merely decorative. Before this expansion, one in four people who wanted to rent a portion of the Embassy for a private event had to be turned away because of space or logistical constraints, Updike said. Now the Embassy will be better able to earn its keep. Updike said this expanded roster of private events should net the Embassy between $100,000 to $150,000 a year. The ballroom is already booked through February 2017, she said. The new rentable spaces will help ensure that the Embassy will never again need to be “saved.” For the most part, the rooftop terrace will be available for use by people who rent the ballroom. But there will be a series of Wednesday night summer concerts on the terrace, crowdfunded by Arts United’s Amplify Art! They start May 25. “There will be music up here and a portable bar,” Updike said. “People will maybe pay a small cover fee, and they’ll be able to come up here and sit.” There’s really nothing else quite like the rooftop terrace in downtown Fort Wayne, and Updike thinks it is spurring some competition. “I think other people who are building things are saying, ‘Hey, maybe we should do something like that with our rooftop.’” Two permanent bars were added to the theater lobby via a one-story expansion into an alleyway, she said. “We owned half of the vacated alley and the parks department owned the other half,” Updike said. “We had to obtain that from them.” The mobile bars that the Embassy used to use meant that inventory and equipment constantly had to be shifted around. “It’s nice to have a home for things,” Updike said. There are new homes for a lot of things in the theater, and this has meant that the staff has had to devise new migratory patterns, so to speak. They have had to come up with new workflow paths. Efforts at the end of the last decade to link the new Courtyard By Marriott with the Embassy and the Grand Wayne Center accelerated movement on Indiana Hotel rehabilitation. The Courtyard’s requirement of a covered walkway to the Indiana Hotel launched other refurbishment plans. If no agreement on the walkway had been reached, the entire Harrison Square project might have collapsed. For years, Updike said, people looked up and saw four floors of perpetually dark windows. Everyone knew something needed to be done. In the 90s, many of the people who’d helped save the Embassy thought it should almost be a museum, reserved for high culture and closed to the public many more nights than not. But people have come to understand, Updike said, that the Embassy needs to be a living, breathing thing. If future generations are going to care about, and care for, the Embassy, they will need to experience it in visceral ways. Richards said she believes the Embassy’s saviors would approve of what it has become. “We’ve taken every single inch of this hotel and made it into something that benefits the Embassy Theatre Foundation,” she said.

Steve Penhollow

Jon Durnell

Chaos and Clarity

Don’t be too concerned by the title of Jon Durnell’s new album. Although the album’s songs offer plenty of clarity, there’s very little chaos to be found anywhere among the 10 tracks. Instead, Durnell writes about the clarity that comes after chaos, and by the time he gets around to singing about the hard times, he seems certain that better times are just around the corner – if they aren’t, indeed, here already. The album’s opening cut, “Good Thing,” exemplifies Durnell’s look-on-the-bright-side aesthetic; in it, he sings of disruptive change on the horizon but can’t help expecting that the change is going to bring a better day. The same goes for “Hoppin’ a Train” in which geographical change is the impetus for positive life changes. When Durnell writes about the challenges of relationships, he does so from an optimistic perspective. In “All the Things I Lack” he celebrates the complementary nature of his and his partner’s relationship, and in “The Way That I See You” he tries to inspire confidence in her with his unflagging support. Even the bittersweet reminiscence of “Remember When” comes at loss with the expectation that it’s all part of the plan, and that things will get better. True chaos is not in Durnell’s musical vocabulary, whether in his lyrics or the smooth, saxophone-embellished flow of his music. When he calls for revolution in “Wake Up,” he’s not talking about anarchic revolt. His revolutionary message is one of positive thinking and hope, and he delivers it gently.

Evan Gillespie

Mark Allen

Mark Allen

Mark Allen has modest goals for his self-released, self-titled EP: he just wants to sell the CDs he’s having produced. Despite the opportunities offered by the digital world, Allen isn’t concerned with taking his music online right away, and for this EP release ahead of a planned full-length album this summer, he’s going old school in terms of distribution. That’s an approach well-suited to Allen’s music, which is 100 percent old-school rock. Allen’s influences are crystal clear from the initial chords of “Hit the Road,” the first of the EP’s three songs. After a slow, chiming intro, the song kicks in with a chugging distorted guitar riff that underpins the rest of the tune. Allen acknowledges that riff’s similarity to The Guess Who’s “American Woman,” but there’s just as much of Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” in the song’s vocal melody and unwavering tempo. There is, too, a touch of early Kiss in the song’s heavy simplicity, but Allen’s vocals never reach the extremes of Paul Stanley’s wail or Gene Simmons’ growl. The moderately lighter “Baby I Got You” finds a spot for Allen within the Kiss cosmos, however, as the song’s janglier melody and mid-range vocal fall into line with the band’s Ace Frehley-fronted material. If any of the three songs are incongruous, it would be “No More Yesterdays,” a song that pairs the grimy guitar from decadent 70s rock with an inspirational Christian refrain. Otherwise, the song toes the same tempo line as the other two, keeping the EP solidly consistent in its reverence for old-time music.

Evan Gillespie

Shoeshine Tommy

Shoeshine Tommy

Funk is in the middle of a resurgence right now, no doubt about it, but funk of the slick, uptown variety is not the kind that Shoeshine Tommy play. The Defiance, Ohio-based quartet calls its hybrid sound “the fluezz” – that’s a combo of funk, jazz and blues, not this year’s newsworthy virus – and that term comes pretty close to summing up the moody mixture on the band’s debut album. At the same time, it perhaps understates the album’s rock influences. Maybe “fluekzz” would be a better, more comprehensive hybrid term for the music, but you can’t blame the band for not choosing it. Like funk should, these songs depend heavily on the band’s rhythm section – drummer Jon Spencer and bassist Edward Mason – and the blues often rears its head, too, sometimes even wearing a swampy cap as in Robert Chase’s acoustic slide guitar on “Baby Boy.” Jazz figures in, thanks to Chase’s wandering keyboards, although his synthy touches also sometimes bring to mind prog rock. Underlying all the genre-melding, though, is an urgent darkness that could only come from the realm of rock, specifically metal and punk. Even if songs like “Good Times,” “Sunshine,” “Stop” and “Move Your Feet” turn a superficially happy, funky face to the world, there’s turmoil in the songs’ hearts. Often the darkness is lying right there on the surface – the grief of “Baby Boy,” for example, or the heartbreak of “Get on That.” There’s very little smoothness in Kevin Eis’ vocals, and if that makes his voice not quite right for uptown funk, it’s perfect for the edgier stuff that Shoeshine Tommy play.

Evan Gillespie

Jill Bixler

An Actor’s Life for Her

When it comes to musical theater families, Jillian Cook Bixler’s definitely qualifies. She has been performing since childhood, she married a fellow performer and now their children are well on their way to careers in performing as well. Raised in Grove City, Pennsylvania, Bixler grew up happily in a home filled with music. “My mother was very musical,” she says. “She played a little piano and violin and was in high school orchestra with her twin sister Lois. Her younger brother John played a mean piano. Mom used to play records of Broadway musicals while she was ironing, and we would sing along.” The music never left her head and even followed her to school. “My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Phillips, had to remind me several times not to tap dance or sing in class,” she says. “I don’t know that I was a born performer, but I know there was always music around and in me.” When she was in third grade, her parents brought home an upright piano and she began taking lessons. “One of the local piano teachers had a music club and we would do recitals and perform for civic meetings in town,” she says. “My friend Julie Hodge and I sang ‘Edelweiss’ from The Sound of Music. We thought we were the biggest thing ever.” She attended Grove City High School and was active in theater there. “One of my first auditions was for The Velveteen Rabbit in high school. I was scared out of my mind.” She credits her two theater teachers, Tony Naples and Kaye Pollock, as helping her feel comfortable onstage. Their encouragement worked, and she was cast in the lead role. Her small town high school allowed her to participate in many activities. In addition to being a theater performer, she was a majorette and sang with and played piano accompaniment for the school choir. After graduating in 1977, she attended Ohio University in Athens, where she was a vocal performance major. After a year and a half, she switched her major to theater. “At the time, schools didn’t have musical theater degrees. You were either a music major or a theater major.” Before she had taken all of her general courses required to graduate, she moved to Orlando, Florida, to live with her Aunt Lois for a summer. There she performed in Damn Yankees for a summer theater program at Rollins College and playing Catherine in Pippin at the University of Central Florida. While there, a friend told her about the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre Apprentice Program in Jupiter, Florida. One of the requirements was an associate’s degree at a Florida institution. She finished her associate’s degree by taking her general courses at Valencia Community College in between performing. She auditioned for the apprentice program and was one of a dozen or so accepted. She was placed into not one, but two apprentice groups from 1981 to 1982, and at the end of the program she and the other apprentices received their Actor’s Equity union cards after earning Equity points while performing in shows at the dinner theater. “I realize now how lucky I was to have this experience,” she says. “I got to work with many prominent actors and see how they developed their craft from the rehearsal process to the stage.” One of the most prominent actors, she says, was her teacher, Mr. Charles Nelson Reilly. “That is how he always introduced himself – Mister Charles Nelson Reilly,” she says. “He always referred to his friends by their proper names, as well. Mr. Reynolds, Miss [Julie] Harris, Mr. [Vincent] Gardenia. It was very important to him to show respect to those he loved.” Reilly, who died in 2007, was a prolific TV, film, and stage actor in the 1960s and 1970s, although he was perhaps best known for TV game shows, Match Game and Hollywood Squares. “Above all, his favorite thing to do was teach,” Bixler says. “He loved us completely.” His humor made him a favorite among the apprentices. “He asked me to perform the song ‘Is it Really Me?’ from The Rainmaker for one of our apprentice shows,” she recalls. “One rehearsal he came over to me and said, ‘Just sing the [expletive] out of it!’” During the program, she understudied the role of Chava in Fiddler on the Roof for the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre and performed in three mainstage shows, including The Music Man. Reynolds himself also taught, including a very popular late-night class, which met from midnight until 4 a.m. “We didn’t care,” Bixler says. “It was exhilarating.” One particularly fond memory she has involves the graduation of the first group of apprentices. Bixler was set to participate in the second group, so she just sat on the far end of the first group’s graduating class. “When Mr. Reynolds came out, he introduced all the graduates,” she says. “When he got to me, he didn’t say anything. He just reached down, took off my shoe, and tossed it off stage to the stage manager.” She sat through the entire graduation ceremony wearing only one shoe. At the end, Reynolds asked the stage manager to bring out the shoe, which he did, carried on a pillow. “Mr. Reynolds took the shoe, kneeled down, and told everyone if the shoe fits I would get to stay,” she says. “It was really sweet. My father was in the audience and I know he told that story many times.” She went to work on a cruise ship after the program ended, spending the next three years on three different ships, both as a performer and as an assistant cruise director. “It was a great thing to do when you are young and have no other commitments,” she says. “It was fun, but three years was definitely enough.” A fellow performer on the ship was Kent Bixler, whom she had met through mutual friends. In 1989, Kent and Jill left life on the open sea to return to college. Kent received a second bachelor’s degree in communication, and Jill finished her degree in elementary education. They married in 1992 between semesters and had two daughters, Darby and Dana. Their daughters are also actor/singers, and the family has performed together onstage in different combinations through the years. Kent was in Les Misérables at Civic and Violet at Arena with both girls, and Jill was in White Christmas at the Civic with Darby. “The girls came with us to church choir and performed in church productions,” Bixler says, “so they’ve always been involved with music and theater. Both girls performed for the Fort Wayne Youtheatre. Harvey Cocks has been instrumental in encouraging the girls to continue to grow as performers.” Darby recently graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and will work with the Missoula Children’s Theatre in June, Bixler relates proudly, and Dana will be a sophomore at Wright State University studying music theater. After a long break from the stage, she spoke with director Suzan Moriarty, who talked her into auditioning for her current project, the Arena Dinner Theatre comedy Always a Bridesmaid. The biggest challenge Bixler has found has been learning all the lines. “I just figure it’s age and menopause,” she jokes, “but my director and cast mates have been so supportive and helpful.” She says it’s been fun to take ownership of the material after a long rehearsal process, now that the show has opened, and she finds the experience of working in an all-female cast “empowering.” “Women relate to each other differently,” she says. “Suzan is very creative, and she encourages us to go to the next level.” By day, Bixler works for Southwest Allen County Schools as an assistant teacher for the ESL (English as a Second Language) program. She also has 20 private piano and voice students and works a few hours a week for Dave’s Music Den at Sweetwater. Now that she has gotten her feet wet in theater once again, she is looking forward to what comes next. One of her plans is to get new headshots and to do some commercial auditions. In the meantime, she is enjoying the freedom of being an empty nester back on the Fort Wayne audition circuit. “We’re so lucky

Jen Poiry-Prough

Dragon Boat Racing Comes to City

Fare Warning

our summer vacations were always in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Not the typical resort hot spot – I didn’t have any friends whose families similarly planned trips to northeast Indiana – but since we had grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and such to see, it was an exciting place to come. Especially if we came during Three Rivers Festival. My grandparents had a house one block from the St. Joe River, and often there were activities there we could enjoy right on the riverbank. Of course the floods led to walls being built which made the riverbanks less accessible. Fortunately, in recent years there seems to be a renewed passion for our rivers as not just a means of identifying geographic locations but as a way to enjoy our city more fully. The Three Rivers Festival has even brought back the Raft Race, one of the most iconic of all Fort Wayne river fun. But there’s something new afoot in our rivers this year thanks to Riverpalooza (and you can’t go wrong making anything a palooza): a new twist on the popularity of raft racing. With Riverpalooza on Saturday, June 25, Fort Wayne gets to try out Dragon Boat Racing. That sounds extremely cool. What is Dragon Boat Racing, you may ask? That’s actually a good question because I had no idea myself. But, as someone who really enjoys folklore and traditions, I decided to look into it. Sure enough, there’s a great story involved, and I’ll just share what it is directly from the Riverpalooza website (riverpaloozafw.org). “The origin of Dragon Boat Racing dates back more than 2,000 years ago and is tied to the story of a Chinese statesman and poet named Qu Yuan and his ritual suicide,” the story goes. “According to legend, after being cast into exile due to a disagreement with the king, Qu Yuan threw himself in and drowned in the Miluo River. While he was drowning, local fisherman frantically attempted to rescue him by racing to the scene in their traditional long boats. While en route to Qu Yuan, the fishermen beat drums and splashed their paddles into the water. This was an attempt to scare dangerous fish and water dragons away from his body. Additionally bags of rice were thrown into the river as well. It was believed that the rice would nourish Qu Yuan’s weakened spirit.” Now that we’re all properly versed, there are probably many of you who might want to reenact this ancient tradition, and the good news is you can. A team consists of 20 paddlers and one drummer, and each team must have a captain. There are all-male, all-female and mixed teams (the mixed team must include at least eight females), and each team will be provided a steerman. Team registration runs through June 13, and all rosters must be submitted by June 15. For information about cost and registration, you’ll find all you need on the Riverpalooza website. So start recruiting your teams, and get ready to hit the water!

Michele DeVinney


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