Q&A With Joanna Taft

The Harrison Center executive director shares what to expect at this Saturday’s PreEnact Indy: Monon 16.

Indianapolis Monthly: How would you describe PreEnact for someone who knows nothing about it?
Joanna Taft: At a re-enactment, you see people acting out the way things used to be, and you try on an old-fashioned way of living. PreEnact is the exact opposite. We’re acting out the way things ought to be, with an interactive performance of the neighbors’ hopes and dreams for a world where there’s justice and mercy.

IM: What inspired you to start this project?
JT: I’ve been trying to figure out how to revitalize a neighborhood and still be inclusive. There’s a lot of conversation about gentrification in our country, so I want to strengthen the neighborhood and bring it back to life in a way that benefits everyone. I thought, what if theater could help us? What if we could act out an end result that we don’t really know how to get to? We act out a healthy and inclusive neighborhood, which gives us something to work toward.

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Encounter: Drag Brunch Divas

Published in Indianapolis Monthly, October 2018 

October 2018 Encounter

Whether you’re nursing a wicked hangover or just want to start the weekend with something more exciting than a bagel and coffee, the performers at these weekend meals are the dessert.

HER YELLOW HAIR piled high and pink dress shimmering, “Amaya Sexton” struts down the stairs, hips swaying to Fergie. She spins in her heels, flaring out a satin cape as her long eyelashes brush against rouged cheeks. She glides through the long tables of cheering audience members who sip mimosas and curl loose dollar bills between their fingers. Leaning over, she clutches the money in ring-covered hands while kissing the sides of laughing faces.

It’s not your traditional weekend brunch.

Metro Nightclub & Restaurant, the venerable Mass Ave gay bar, has been serving up breakfast and a show at monthly drag brunches since January. The cast includes members of MASSterpiece Revue, the bar’s in-house troupe, as well as a few special guests, like sassy local queen “Pat Yo Weave” (who might leave some lipstick on your chest).

The cushioned seats fill up almost instantly when the doors open at noon on the second Saturday of every month, but that doesn’t stop more guests from crowding in and ordering glasses of something bubbly before lining up at the buffet. Don’t worry—you’ll burn off most of the eggs, bacon, and biscuits while dancing along to the busty, lip-syncing queens. A small platform below the stairs can’t contain the energy of these ladies: The whole bar’s a stage, so make sure to allow space for their leg kicks and hair whips.

This isn’t a scene for the shy. The later the day grows, the fiercer the dancing and the raunchier the moves. Some performers even warm up to sitting on laps or unbuttoning shirts. After watching a boisterous production number featuring a three-woman medley of Top 40 hits, be ready to hear some smack talk about who really nailed the Nicki Minaj sections. This might be a good time to go back for seconds.

Traveler: Cape May, New Jersey

Forget the images conjured up by the words “Jersey Shore.” Cape May, New Jersey, makes for a relaxing family getaway more akin to Cape Cod than the boardwalking dance party you’ve seen on MTV.

Cape May, New Jersey, is America’s oldest seaside resort, and probably not what most people picture as the Jersey Shore. I’m a longtime fan of this peaceful island at the Garden State’s southern tip—it might be little-known to Hoosiers who prefer ocean getaways in Florida, but its historic charm and family-friendly feel make it a truly serene beach destination.

While the supple sand gets a little too hot for me at midday, it makes great padding for ambitious dives during sunset volleyball games. The next morning, a dip in the pleasantly numbing waves soothes any aching muscles. The beach is never too crowded, even around noon, when a pod of dolphins might pass by close to shore.

The entire city of Cape May was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976, so the oceanside streets lined with Victorian homes have been preserved for tired travelers to rest, laugh with relatives, and nurse sunburns. I visited Cape May in late June for a family vacation, where we rented out an entire nine-bedroom house. This is pretty standard in the family-oriented town, but couples and smaller groups can crash at one of the antique homes now used as hotels.

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Traveler: Weekend Trip To Fort Wayne

Chances are the state’s second-largest city isn’t on your radar for summer travel. We’re here to set you straight with a weekend trip worth the drive.

When looking for a quick getaway, you might not consider leaving the capital for one of Indiana’s smaller metros. But just two hours northeast of the Circle City, Fort Wayne hosts attractions like a nationally recognized zoo and a flourishing arts community. Here’s a roundup of five ways you can enjoy a summer day in the state’s second-largest city.

Fort Wayne TinCaps
The first thing you notice when you walk through the gates of Parkview Field is the aroma of fries that slams your senses. But when you go to buy some of your own during a lull in the third inning, you might find it difficult to choose between the four main concession stands and the 20-plus other food carts and bars available at the single-A TinCaps’s stadium. After you settle on a vegetarian black bean burger or a custom-made burrito, you’ll inevitably be tempted instead by the huge cone of hand-dipped ice cream melting onto the hands of the kid in the front row.

Since Parkview Field opened in 2009, it has become a popular weekend destination for all ages in Fort Wayne, from children who just want to meet Johnny Tincap to young couples looking for casual dates with great photo ops. Get a group together and watch the action from the luxury of an air-conditioned suite, or bring a blanket and sprawl out picnic-style in the outfield lawn, just $5. But if you go for the lawn, start moving toward the infield seats during the last inning to make sure you have a clear view of the fireworks show, launched directly from the field after nearly every game this season.

Until then, don’t miss the Bad Apple Dancers and occasional visits from Jake the Diamond Dog between innings. The 21-and-over crowd can also look forward to bourbon and wine tastings coming up this summer, or stick to the $1 beer on Thirsty Thursdays every week.

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Q&A With LeVar Burton

The former Reading Rainbow host and Roots actor visits Indy PopCon at the Convention Center June 8–10.

So what will you be doing at PopCon?
It’s just a good way to stay in touch with the fans. I’ll be taking pictures and signing autographs. I also have the opportunity to spread the word about LeVar Burton Kids and Skybrary, my digital library, as well as LeVar Burton Reads, my podcast. I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years, and I feel lucky to have been inserted in some really pivotal pieces of pop culture.

What are you most looking forward to this weekend?
Well, Wil Wheaton will be there. I rarely get to see him, so that will be fun. And I’m sure a lot of people will come to meet the actors who play Bran and Hodor from Game of Thrones. Also, I married a Hoosier, so my wife is just up the road visiting her mom in Fort Wayne. I’m hoping there might be a surprise visit from her.

You were co-executive producer for the 2016 remake of Roots. The 1977 original, of course, was a landmark cultural moment. Why did you think it was time to reinvent that?
I actually didn’t. Normally, I’m not a fan of remakes. But I was convinced by a single conversation with Mark Wolper, son of the original Roots executive producer, David Wolper. When Mark showed the original to his teenage children, they couldn’t relate to it. They didn’t recognize the cast members. The photography, the lighting, the make-up—it all dated itself. We remade it to keep this story alive in American culture, which meant introducing it to a new generation in a way they would embrace and understand.

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Quick Q&A With Indy Pride Director Chris Handberg

Indy Pride’s executive director fills us in on what to expect and how to observe the city’s week-long celebration of the LGBTQ community.

Late last June, Chris Handberg started as the first-ever executive director for Indy Pride. The 2018 event, which the organization began planning in August, will be the first time he’s led a festival in this role. After nearly a year spent developing programs and building community partnerships, Chris expects as many as 60,000 people to show up at Historic Military Park for the Indy Pride Festival on Saturday, June 9. We spoke with the man in charge of this year’s party about what to expect during Pride and the days leading up to the celebration.

There’s more to Pride than the main show on June 9. What else are you looking forward to this week?
All of our events are fantastic, but I want to highlight three. The first is the 35th anniversary of our community picnic, which will be this Sunday at noon in Garfield Park. The first Pride gathering in 1982 was held at the now-closed Essex Hotel. The next year, they moved to a park and had a picnic. Those people were brave. It was a time of great hostility, when it wasn’t cool to be gay, and people were mocked by their family and friends. We honor them by continuing the community picnic tradition.

Then on Monday at 6 p.m., we’ll have the first Deaf Pride. Central Indiana has a large community of people who are both LGBTQ and deaf or hearing-impaired, so they’re gathering to celebrate their lives and their queerness.

We also have #TransGlam on Wednesday night at The Tube Factory. This will be a great party that’s similar to a prom, and all ages are welcome.

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What Constitutes Tradition

After the end of a pause to social events for most Ball State University fraternities, members look for the best ways to move forward.

On Oct. 24, 2017, officials at Ball State University called together a meeting with presidents from each of the 13 Interfraternity Council (IFC) chapters on campus. Kari Murphy, the director of Greek Life, and the other officials there told the group it was time to solve a problem.

Throughout the spring and fall semesters of 2017, the IFC organizations had displayed a pattern of behavior university authorities described as “unacceptable.” According to an email statement from Ball State’s Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services, the Office of Greek Life filed 51 reports related to alcohol, fighting, hazing, excessive noise, or sexual misconduct between Aug. 1 and Oct. 23.

Trevor Holland, who was president of the IFC at the time, says excessive alcohol consumption and rowdiness had been causing more hospital visits during Greek activities. Friction between some of the fraternities had also ended in fights at a few of the parties.

Murphy says some of the ongoing concerns included noise complaints to the University Police Department and the increased number of events happening several nights a week, not limited to weekends.

The meeting, which took place a couple days after Ball State’s homecoming, was not motivated by any specific incident or weekend. But during homecoming, the pattern of behavior that had emerged moved from fraternity houses to the tailgating fields, and that visibility contributed to a decision that change needed to happen.

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“Thank You, God, For Making Me Gay and Catholic”

Sometimes, two cultures central to a person’s identity can seem incompatible, but Sam Albano does his best to prove otherwise.

Sam Albano knows how to ask the tough questions.

What does it mean to be gay?

How am I supposed to be a good Catholic?

Does God love me?

When Sam joined the parish pastoral council at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in 2012, he brought those questions with him. At the council’s annual retreat, the pastor asked the group to figure out why so many registered members didn’t show up for Sunday Mass at their church in Carmel, Indiana. It’s unavoidable, some said. All of America is running from religion.

Sam, who has asked tough questions about the Catholic Church since high school, had a different idea.

Is there something we’re doing wrong that keeps people away?


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Beneath Ball State

Her first weekend at Ball State University in the fall of 2013, Jane Doe was looking for something to do. She wasn’t a partier, she says, so the typical choice for newly freed young adults was out of the question. Her friend, who had recently graduated from the residential high school on Ball State’s campus called Indiana Academy, was spending his final weekend in Muncie. He offered a solution.

Drinking and partying might have been too much for Jane’s first weekend. But trespassing—that would be okay.

They went out after dark, around 11:30 p.m. Everyone would be at the parties, they figured, and campus police would be patrolling the neighborhoods. So Jane and her friend ventured to the quad, near the southern edge of campus. Jane’s friend approached a maintenance grate near the Burkhardt Building and lifted it from the ground.

They timed their entrance carefully. They needed to watch the lights at the nearest intersection to make sure traffic would be moving past them and car passengers wouldn’t have much time to stop and look around.

Jane jumped into the hole, about a four-foot drop.

The first section of tunnels beneath Ball State’s campus was installed in the 1920s, and now they connect most buildings on campus. These tunnels were built purely for utility purposes, says Jim Lowe, the associate vice president for facilities planning and management at Ball State. The underground spaces contain high-voltage electrical lines, steam pipes covered in hot condensation, the chilled water that cools campus buildings, and almost any other service that doesn’t involve gas. They’ve never been meant as pedestrian tunnels, and they aren’t designed for easy travel, so students have never been allowed inside.

Until recently, however, not much stopped them.

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Addicted to Perfection

While often praised, an overwhelming need to achieve can create imbalance, and eventually complete mental break downs.

“Work hard, but not too hard,” my dad always says when I return to school after an all-too-brief break.

I’ve spent my academic career trying—and failing—to find that balance.

Despite a recent societal push toward things like relaxation and mental health, I think most people still want to succeed at all costs. Hanna McCabe-Bennett, a doctoral psychology student at Ryerson University in Canada, says most aspects of today’s culture tend to be polarized. We now emphasize self-care, even while demanding achievement and expecting people to go above and beyond what they’re assigned.

Working too hard is when productivity becomes an addiction, McCabe-Bennett says. Some people, like me, might devote more time to things like getting good grades than to other parts of life that provide meaning and balance.

That dependence is tough to break. Unlike some other addictions, workaholism and perfectionism receive praise and reinforcement from other people. Losing these rewards can be scary for those wanting to escape the addiction.

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