News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 10, 2010

Stephanie Salter: Turn off your TV — real life is happening in the Valley

Stephanie Salter
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — I have written this column before. Only the names of the events have been changed to update the story.

The story is titled, as always, “You Can’t Find Anything to Do in Terre Haute?” It is subtitled, “The lie that just won’t die.”

This time around, I started thinking about the lie as I left Tilson Music Hall late last month after the Terre Haute Symphony had knocked the socks off of several hundred of us who’d come for the 2010-2011 season opener. The symphony’s slogan this year is “Great Music! Close to Home,” and that’s exactly what the orchestra served up in the first of its five concerts.

The initial half of the program featured a fine march by Hector Berlioz and a contemporary piece by a young composer, Simon Proctor, that spotlighted an ancient and exotic instrument called the serpent. The serpent was played by Douglas Yeo, a guest artist from the Boston Symphony.

But it was the second portion of the concert that resurrected my notion about the lie that won’t die. Little old Terre Haute’s symphony tackled a piece of music that orchestras twice its size would fear, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

A Mahler fan, I have heard the Fifth performed live about a half-dozen times by big-city symphonies with internationally known conductors such as Michael Tilson Thomas and Leonard Slatkin. I’ve listened scores of times to full recordings of the work under the baton of such luminaries as Leonard Bernstein, Herbert von Karajan and Giuseppe Sinopoli.

Because of this, I must confess, I figured I’d better lower the bar for David Bowden and the Terre Haute Symphony. But I didn’t have to. Indiana’s oldest continually performing symphony orchestra hit a grand slam with Mahler’s Fifth. I was as wrung out and exhilarated at the end of their performance as I’ve ever been after hearing this piece. And the passionate standing ovation the orchestra received indicated I was not alone.

A couple of weeks later, as the lights came up on a compelling production of “The Baltimore Waltz” at Indiana State University’s New Theatre, I thought again about the lie that just won’t die.

Directed by ISU theater professor Arthur Feinsod, the play was written by Paula Vogel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who currently serves as an adjunct professor at Yale University. Funny and poignant, “The Baltimore Waltz” features only three actors, who get a verbal and physical workout from the moment the play begins until its last plaintive scene.

In Feinsod’s production, three ISU students — Ani Cohen, Neil Jordan Carpenter and Andrew Todd — played far above the caliber one expects of young, unpaid actors. The horseshoe-shaped New Theatre is small, intimate and therefore unforgiving of an amateurish stage presence or line delivery. Cohen, Carpenter and Todd performed like seasoned pros — with some of the most difficult material I’ve seen a student cast attempt in a long time.

Like any encounter with good, live theater, I found myself thinking about the production for days afterward.

Using the symphony and play as bookends, I did a quick review of just some of the cultural offerings in between. These are, of course, in addition to the usual autumn lineup of high school and college sporting events that make living in this part of the country such a timeless pleasure:

Country music poet-guitarist Terri Clark turned the historic Indiana Theatre into an acoustic love fest, drawing some 500 fans from the bistate area for her “Alone and Unplugged” concert. No stuck-up C&W diva, Clark stayed for more than an hour after the show, signing autographs until the last person in line left happy.

Clark performed on a night in which Downtown Terre Haute was jammed with art exhibit openings, a fabulous Frank Lloyd Wright program at the Swope Museum, author Maury Miller reading from his new “Psalm Songs” at BookNation, an all-class Rose-Hulman reunion at the Ohio Building, and area restaurants such as Market Bella Rosa offering special First Friday fare. Down on South 25th Street, the Community Theatre was in its second weekend run of “The Seven-Year Itch.”

Three nights later, CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts kicked off the ISU Speakers Series in Tilson with a candid, inspiring talk about the international journalist’s life that emerged from his humble, challenged youth. Pitts has reported from 40 countries for CBS, interviewed six presidents and led his network’s 9/11 Ground Zero reporting. He is a regular contributor to “60 Minutes.”

The price of admission to his enlightening presentation? Not one cent.

Every Friday, the Tribune-Star publishes a 12-page entertainment guide called ’Bash. It has not featured a blank page yet. Instead, the section is filled with diverse offerings in Terre Haute or within easy driving distance. Our four institutions of higher learning, alone — ISU, Rose-Hulman, St. Mary of-the-Woods and Ivy Tech — produce so many possible events to attend, a person could try to make them all and fall short every week.

Throw in organizations such as Osher Lifelong Learning, the Community Theatre, Arts Illiana, the Children’s Museum, Fowler and Dobbs parks, and commercial venues such as The Verve, Ballyhoo, Mulligan’s, Stables, Pizza City, Apple Club, Boot City and all the karaoke bars listed in ’Bash’s Live Clubs section, and there is no excuse for anyone to go a week without attending something in the community that involves other human beings making art, music, theater or comedy together.

Today, Broadway can come to you at Rose-Hulman with the Gershwin review “’S Wonderful” (3 p.m., Hatfield Hall), or you can travel back in time at the Collett Park Old Fashion Day (noon-5 p.m.). Tuesday, the Kenya Safari Acrobats are at ISU (7:30 p.m., Tilson) or you can drive to Rockville to see state legislator-Elvis impersonator Bruce Borders’ Presley tribute (7 p.m., Ritz Theater).

The Covered Bridge Festival is in full swing in Parke County through Oct. 17, there are Halloween haunted houses open all over the place, and live music going on every single night this week somewhere in the Valley.

On Thursday, Clabber Girl Museum hosts an artist’s reception (6-8 p.m.) for Jeff Paitson, who has mounted a stunning photo exhibit titled “First Fruits.” Like so many events and activities in this area, Paitson’s beautiful exhibit costs nothing to enjoy but the effort it takes to get there. So move it already.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or