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12/1/2018 1:04:00 PM
Logansport performing arts council takes final bow after 40 years

Ben Middelkamp, Pharos-Tribune

The curtain is closing on the Performing Arts Council of Logansport after bringing live entertainment to the city for more than four decades.

The organization sponsored its final performance last weekend. But one of its founders hopes the mission behind the council can start a second act in the future.

Ken Fraza has been involved with the council since its beginning in 1977. The year before, he started as the facility manager of what was then known as the McHale Auditorium on Logansport High School’s campus, a position he retired from earlier this year. The venue hosted most of the performing arts council’s events over the decades.

Fraza recalled how Libby Hillis, The Civic Players of Logansport’s first president, reached out to him with an idea she predicted he’d share — that the city needed a community concert association. He agreed, adding the auditorium he managed begged for it.

Hillis didn’t think one organization could take on the task, but figured multiple ones could team up to do so and split any potential loss, Fraza went on to say.

So the Civic Players of Logansport, Kappa Kappa Kappa Sorority and Psi Iota Xi Sorority collectively booked the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for Feb. 26, 1977 at the McHale Auditorium, now known as the McHale Performing Arts Center.

“Much to our delight, it sold out a week before the concert,” Fraza said. “...That means that this concept of a community concert series would probably fly.”

And it did. With representatives from the theater organization and the two sororities, the Performing Arts Council of Logansport incorporated as a nonprofit. It went on to sponsor between three and five events a year — acts like Johnny Cash, the Oak Ridge Boys, Crystal Gayle, Sha Na Na and the New Orleans-based Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Semitrailers loaded with scenery and buses filled with actors rolled into Logansport for roadshows of musicals like “Mame,” “Crazy for You,” “Can-Can,” and “The Toy Shoppe” starring Alan Thicke.

The council has brought acrobats flying over the McHale stage and ice-skaters gliding across it atop synthetic ice.

The Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra was the council’s final sponsored event on Nov. 25.

“We thought if we had started with a symphony, we ought to end with a symphony,” Fraza said.

The council’s season ticket holders peaked in the early 1990s at 823, leaving only 66 seats remaining to try to sell for each show, Fraza recalled.

When McHale’s interior was redone to equip it with wider seats, handicap seating and an audio mix location, capacity dropped to 815.

Last year, the council had 227 season ticket holders, Fraza said. The council as of late typically sold about another 200 tickets per show, contributing to a total that left half the house empty, he continued.

“You just can’t formulate a budget for top-name acts anymore,” Fraza said. 

The council has slowly been using up its savings over recent years, he went on to say, leading to an outcome he called sad.

The council mulled spending the rest of its funds on a couple of top-name acts before calling it quits, but decided instead to save the money for a potential comeback in the future.

Fraza was reminded of how organizers of the city’s former annual Med Flory Jazz and Blues Festival reassessed the event after turnouts continued to decline. Eventually they came back with an event that offered multiple musical styles.

“That’s the thing here,” Fraza said of the performing arts council. “This particular group is going to disband. The money is going to be saved so that there’s seed money for a new group, whenever it happens.”

Considerations in that regard are already underway.

“There’s a lot of brainstorming going on here,” Fraza said. “So who knows how long it will remain dark.

“...Perhaps in a couple years or three years or whenever, another group of people, maybe younger, will come along with a different plan — maybe it’s more country, maybe it’s more whatever — and will figure out what is the pulse of the community,” he went on to say. “But in the meantime the money is safely invested and we’ll wait and see what happens.”

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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