The longer I've been around promoting the arts along the south shore, the more I'm amazed by people's lack of awareness of the treasures we have in our own backyards. To that end, I would like to share some artistic highlights in our region in the past year. These are not among the year's Golden Globe nominations, but they certainly stand out in my mind.
The Unity Event brought together some 250 teenagers and adults in a single performance of "Evita" at Highland High School on Nov. 11, 2011. The production was a partnership among multiple arts organizations, including the South Shore Orchestra, South Shore Dance Alliance and Southlake Children's Choir, and was directed by David Zak, who founded Bailiwick Repertory in Chicago in 1982.
Northwest Indiana artists and arts entities continue to make important connections in Chicago. Hammond's Towle Theater took its production of "Good Boys and True" to Theater Wit in Chicago for a three-week run. The Towle also presented the Indiana premiere of "Wonder of the World," starring Mary McClelland, gallery manager at South Shore Arts, as an alcoholic who wants to kill herself by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Some called the show the best they'd ever seen at the Towle.
JoBeth Cruz has been president of the Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theatre Foundation for the past six years. She said, "I believe that all the theaters in the area have done a tremendous job of presenting quality performances. It is tough in today's economy to draw audiences to unusual plays or small theaters, yet this doesn't seem to have dampened the spirit the area theaters."
There are 14 community theaters in NIETF, which annually recognizes excellence through an ongoing review and nomination process, culminating in an awards ceremony each fall. This year, the Chicago Street Theatre in Valparaiso received 22 nominations and nine wins, including best play, The Drawer Boy, and best directors Jonni Pera and Traci Brant.
Chicago Street Theatre is unique as a community theater as it employs paid staff, including Lisa Formosa-Parmigiano, director of education. At the theater, Lisa runs the Children's Theatre Works program for ages 5 through 18 and a Resident Ensemble Project for adults.
There were many other notable achievements in the arts on a regional level in 2011. Theatre at the Center, at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster, presented Munster native and Las Vegas performer Kevin Burke in a two-night engagement of his hilarious show, "What Happens in Vegas," as well as the Chicago-area premiere of "Nunset Boulevard."
Chorus Angelorum performed its annual choral concert in an entirely new location, St. Mary of the Lake Church in Gary's Miller Beach neighborhood.
The centerpiece of the program was the majestic "German Requiem" by Johannes Brahms. The 53rd Annual Chesterton Art Fair took place the first weekend of August, always ranked as one of the top in the country. In Hammond, Books, Brushes and Banks for Education celebrated its 10th anniversary of providing innovative programs for children in area schools.
And at South Shore Arts, we presented the photomicrographs of Wilson Bentley, "The Snowflake Man," while the Northwest Indiana Symphony ended the year with nearly 3,000 in attendance at its annual Holidays Pops concert.
With so many great opportunities available so close to home, people need to get off their couches and enjoy the arts in 2012!
John Cain is executive director of South Shore Arts and the Northwest Indiana Symphony. The opinions are the writer's.