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Local arts stars collided at Clowes Memorial Hall on May 7. Their universal mission: to entertain, and to raise money for the Indiana AIDS Fund, at Spotlight's 17th showcase of live performance talent.
At the outset, the number are staggering. The dollars raised in the past 17 years to benefit statewide HIV/AIDS programs: nearly $5 million. This year's take: $401,000. The funds raised at the 2011 Spotlight event: also upward of $400,000. Kathy Nagler, development director for The Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis, said that 89 cents of every dollar raised will go directly to grants through the AIDS Fund.
The needs for prevention, treatment, and testing are also remarkable: More than 10,000 Indiana residents live with HIV or AIDS, and 2,000 of those are not aware that they have the virus or the disease, according to state health department numbers cited in a WFYI-produced video.
Many well-heeled arts patrons were in attendance, as was one reality TV star and son of Indy, Austin Armacost. There was much to like among the talent on this night, and 20 solo and group performances comprised the two-hour show, titled Spotlight 2012: Seeing Red. Most of the performers appeared in rouge or ruddy attire on this night.
Among the highlights, poet Tasha Jones drew gasps from the crowd during her piece, "Sole Speak." In her typically commanding delivery, she said, "We fight ... So I, so you, so we may live in this stench of rotted aristocrats/ I am not free because of 1776/ I am free because I exist."
Phoenix Theatre's "Avenue Q" puppet performers received the heartiest laughs with their so-wrong-it's-right tune, anchored by Claire Wilcher's guttural delivery of the lines for her horned-Fozzie-Bear-on-acid puppet creature. "The Indianapolis Children's Choir's dramatic reading of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Miserables elicited much applause. In the four years that this writer has attended Spotlight, the Kenyetta Dance Company has hardly appeared more crisp than its six performers did during "The Red Thread of Fate."
The second performance, by Actors Theatre of Indiana, charmed with a delightfully playful "Cantata for a First Date" from I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change. Bookending that was penultimate act Indianapolis Men's Chorus, turning in a stirring rendition of "i carry your heart," with text by e.e. cummings.
Indiana Repertory Theatre players from The Miracle Worker (the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan) came off masterfully on the Clowes boards. Jon Jurgens' robust tenor voice led an expressive quartet from Indianapolis Opera's Rigoletto, by Verdi. Local drag performer Asia LaBouche (nee Doug Mellinger) also performed, with a few glamorous mercenaries as dancers. That act closed the first set. (The complete list of performers here.)
The evening's low point arrived just after intermission. The Pride of Indy Jazz Ensemble has rarely sounded better, but their glow was all but usurped by vocalist Brenda Williams, who bungled her entrances and lines repeatedly. The singer was woefully underprepared at best, and at worst, appeared disoriented. Her attempts to belie her own awkward gaps and stop-starts during "Besame Mucho"—by way of ad libs and odd mannerisms—served only to amplify them. A fine line exists between being a diva and an embarrassment.
At the end of it all, this event was about fundraising, and not about performance perfection. The monetary haul by way of ticket sales, smartphone text donations, and silent-auction gift baskets was more than $400,000. In these trying economic times, that figure cannot be downplayed.
Photo of Tasha Jones by Tony Valainis
Photos at Spotlight and of Austin Armacost by Jonathan Scott
>> BONUS: IM's May 2012 piece on Spotlight favorite Tasha Jones, in her own words
>> ALSO: our Q&A with reality TV personality Austin Armacost, an Indy native who attended Spotlight
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