Yvette Walts is the kind of person who greets a new acquaintance with a hug instead of a handshake. So imagine the petite, peppy blonde’s surprise when she found herself depicted as the villain of “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition,” a Lifetime TV reality show featuring infamous “Dance Moms” star Abby Lee Miller.
“It was a big shock to my system,” says Walts, a teacher and choreographer with Evansville’s THR!VE Dance Company. Walts, a former dancer and elite-level gymnast, appeared on the show in 2012 with her daughter, Hadley, after a competition director recommended the duo to Lifetime producers who were casting a new show. Out of 2,000 mother-daughter pairs who applied, 12 — including the Waltses — were chosen to film in Los Angeles. In addition to Yvette and Hadley’s roles on “Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition,” they also were featured in several episodes of “Dance Moms” in 2013 and 2014.
Although Walts gained national fame on TV, and former THR!VE dancers have gone on to performance careers with the likes of Cirque du Soleil, the Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders, and Odyssey Dance Theatre, her current focus is right here at home in Evansville. She’s currently busy developing the company’s new recreational program for dancers ages 2 to 18, increasing THR!VE’s community presence through outreach performances, and traveling with the competitive dance team.
Walts lives on the North Side with her husband, Mark, a Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana employee in Princeton, Indiana, and their daughter Hadley, now 14, an accomplished dancer and golfer at North High School.
It’s hard to imagine you portrayed as a villain.
That’s the magic of Hollywood: They can take Positive Polly and make her look really bad, and market her so they can sell more commercials. … I was the only dance teacher who had a child in the competition. To some moms, especially really insecure moms, it was an unfair advantage. I was such an easy target for people to feel uneasy about. Everyone was there for their child to win $100,000, and we all knew there was only going to be one winner.
(During the audition in New York), Hadley and I both had to take a psych evaluation. I just thought they were doing it to see if we could withstand the pressure of the show. I didn’t realize they were analyzing our character. When we got to L.A., I saw some papers, and my name was on one of them. Beside my name, it said “professional, perfectionist.” On another mom’s, it said “emotional mom.” They’re so brilliant, these producers — they want characters who don’t match. They’ve got it down to a science.
What do you wish the casual viewer knew about reality TV?
There was not one time someone handed me a piece of paper and said, ‘Memorize this.’ It’s not scripted, but it’s set up. … They keep everyone separated off camera, and all electronics are confiscated upon arrival. They don’t want you to be able to call back home and let steam off. They’re brilliant through the whole process. What people don’t see is that as intense as it is, we as characters and cast members were treated really, really well. It was an experience we’ll never forget.
What do you wish those viewers knew about you?
I think how I came across on TV is completely opposite of what I live in real life, as someone who looks at the glass at half full. It looked like I was vindictive toward children when children are truly my life and livelihood. … My job is to help build them, not break them.
Both on television and to your dancers here in Evansville, you’re known for your motivational sayings such as “You gotta risk it to get the biscuit!” Where did those originate?
I love to read motivational things, and I love to inspire kids, so I always say fun stuff like, “You’re not stressed out, you’re blessed out!” Sometimes I’ll make them up myself, and other times I read them. You know, “Go the extra mile because it’s never crowded.” Most people today do just enough so they don’t get fired. So most employers pay you just enough so you won’t quit. Why is America like that? Nothing in life is free, so I think: Are you being all that you can be? Then all that goodness will come back to you.
You’re traveling extensively with THR!VE right now, and you stay busy teaching, choreographing, and even judging competitions. Where do you find calm and inspiration?
Now that is a class I’m looking to take. (laughs) That is the million-dollar question. I’m still looking! I do love to work out — Molly (Adams, my THR!VE business partner and fellow choreographer) and I meet at the gym at least four times a week. That’s where I find my zen. I just think I need to keep leading by example and keep in good physical shape. I don’t mean appearance-wise; I mean a healthy heart and being able to keep up with the kids in the studio.
What do you hope to instill in your dancers?
I’m not asking you to be the best dancer; I’m just asking you to be the best dancer you can be. I’m going to teach you how to set goals and strive for excellence in all you do.
I think dance is so valuable and important. There’s so much more than just performing. … That does not sell commercials, but I was born and raised here, and that’s how I can help the community.
For more information about THR!VE Dance Company, visit thrivedanceevansville.com.
Run for Research
After losing their son Sean to medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, Craig and Katie Witsoe of Evansville started the St. Jude Give Hope Run in their son’s memory. The run is in its fifth year and people of all ages are encouraged to participate in or attend the 5K run/walk to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Thanks to the St. Jude Give Hope Run committee, the event will be held 8 a.m. April 25 at Burdette Park. A short kid’s dash for children under the age of 12 also will take place that day. Food and refreshments are provided with the help of the run’s sponsors; some of the sponsors in the past include Buffalo Wild Wings and Starbucks. Last year’s efforts raised $111,000 and this year’s goal is to collect $150,000.
Tammy Featherstone, a member of the St. Jude Run committee whose son Sam died in 2013 of medulloblastoma, says 1,500 people showed up to the event last year.
“This event isn’t just for people who run,” says Featherstone. “We encourage anyone who is interested in helping St. Jude to come out that day. People walk the course, or they can enjoy the different booths from our sponsors.”
The event costs $25 for adults and $15 for children.
For more information about the St.Jude Give Hope Run, call 317-587-0925 or visit givehoperun.org.
In With The New
Forty thousand historic photographs, racks of blueprints, and acid-free boxes containing documents dating back to the 1800s now sit safely — stacked floor to ceiling — in a new storage room in Willard Library. While the public showed its appreciation for the 8,000-square-foot expansion featuring a beautiful wood-paneled gallery on Feb. 7 (a day with uncharacteristically nice weather), Director Greg Hager stresses the importantance of the project for the library’s significant archive collection.
“We needed a better place to house our archives,” says Hager. “That way everything could be supervised and safe. With the addition, it allowed us to have all of the archives in one place. Before, we had offsite storage, because we didn’t really have the room.”
Construction of the $2.4 million expansion on the state of Indiana’s oldest public library building began in December 2013 and lasted around a year.Willard opened its doors in 1885 and never had been expanded until now.
“We had beautiful weather for the grand opening,” says Hager, who has pioneered the renovation from the beginning. “People were in a great mood, too. People I didn’t even know came up to hug me.”
The 8,000-square-foot addition is designed to look like a Victorian garden wall, matching the style of Willard. With intricate woodwork and deep red walls resembling the original color of the library’s interior, the renovation includes a gallery complete with a screen, projector, seating for 150 people, and four display cases showcasing documents from Willard’s archives. For more information about the exhibits, visitors are invited to use interactive iPads available alongside the display cases.
The addition also houses storage filled to the ceiling with archives.
The third room added in the expansion contains 12 tables and a circulation desk where library-card holders can request archival information or rent the 10 Lenovo laptops Willard provides. Visitors also can view historic photos of Evansville and Willard displayed around the room. The room opens up to Willard’s outdoor park with picnic tables, fountains, and equipment available to borrow, such as footballs or chess games.
“It’ll allow people to transition from the addition to the park and vice versa,” says Hager.
For more information about Willard Library, call 812-425-4309 or visit willard.lib.in.us.
Evansville philharmonic guild homes of note tour
Evansville’s architectural past is put on display as individuals explore the historic homes along Wabash Avenue during the Homes of Note House Tour.
Hosted by the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra Guild for the 17th year, the tour takes place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 16 and includes St. Boniface Catholic Parish, 418 N. Wabash. It is the fourth oldest church in Evansville, and visitors will have the opportunity to see “Our Lady of Lourdes” Grotto, a 72-foot-long room beneath the church that has a glass case displaying St. Boniface relics.
The walk includes eight historic homes, some dating back to as early as 1894, with hostesses throughout the tour who provide information about each home and its history.
Julie Mallory, the publicity and marketing chairman of the EPO Guild, describes the houses having distinct features in the Victorian and Queen Anne style of architecture with original stained glass windows, tiled fireplaces, and antique furniture displayed in several homes.
“With lots of forest mills around in the 1800s, a lot of furniture businesses came to Evansville,” says Mallory. “Many of those furniture businesses were primarily German. German woodwork is substantially sturdy, and that furniture reflects our German heritage.”
These homes embody that German craftsmanship. Tickets are sold for $15 in advance at local Schnucks locations, First Federal Savings Bank branches in Southwestern Indiana, Paul’s Menswear, Wildflower Boutique, or call the EPO Box Office at 812-425-5050. Tickets can be purchased for $20 the day of the event at the featured homes.
For more information about the Homes of Note House Tour, call 812-867-0912.
Night on the Town
Gone are the days where plodding cover bands ruled the nightlife scene in Evansville. Today, on any given night, guests can come across a neighborhood bar with an edgy folk singer, or a packed sweaty venue grooving to a touring band. Here’s where we’re meeting friends for music.
Deerhead Sidewalk Café
Many Tri-State musicians caught their first taste of live music in the venerable Deerhead Sidewalk Café. Known mainly for jazz and blues (and pizza!), the joint located at 222 E. Columbia St. has welcomed many of the areas top-tier musicians for years.
“We never charge a cover charge, and we always offer a wide variety of musicians, everything from jazz, bluegrass, classic rock, and blues,” says owner Chuck Johnson. “We’re also well known for our outstanding food, so most of our customers come for dinner and stay for the entertainment. We are adding 10 more draft lines to give us a total of 18 draft beers.”
Change is in the air down at the Haynie’s Corner Arts District. “The amount of new and planned construction on our beloved corner is mind boggling. At Bokeh Lounge, we are adding 3,300 square feet of bar space, new facilities, and a kitchen,” says Bokeh owner Mike Millard.
Bokeh Lounge, 1007 Parrett St., offers an eclectic mix of entertainment; folk, edgy rock, modern jazz, and standup comedy acts are on tap on a given night. “It is a warm, friendly, welcoming environment,” says Millard. “The performance area is up front and personal with the audience so I feel there is a closer connection between artist and listening fans.”
Lamasco Bar and Grill
Lamasco Bar and Grill feels like a small town bar. Those who frequent the bar see many familiar faces and if they’re newcomers, they won’t be for long, says owner Amy Rivers-Word.
Lamasco is expanding with more room for a new stage and a brand-new general purpose room. Almost all of the music is chosen by Rivers-Word, a musician herself.
“We are adding music at earlier hours, as this is the biggest request we get in terms of music, so we can help bring music to another demographic,” she says. “Our ability to book some larger bands, ticketed shows, more double and triple bills (more bands per night) is going to increase.”
Backstage Bar and Grill
Situated across the street from the Ford Center and next to the Victory Theatre at 524 Main St., Backstage Bar and Grill offers the Downtown Evansville crowd a convenient place to grab a tasty lunch or after work or game drink.
“Since we are located across from the Ford Center, we thought it was only appropriate to have up and coming acts that might even play at the Ford Center one day. Most importantly, we wanted a more upscale bar that with great customer service and cleanliness,” says Backstage President Matt Elpers.
Backstage is one of the few to consistently feature country music.
Order a glass of wine at Cavanaugh’s Restaurant at Tropicana Evansville and sink into the luxurious sounds of legendary local musicians Matt Clark and Bob Green as they play anything from Cole Porter to Elvis Costello. Other current performers include The Honey Vines and Bob Ballard.
Cavanaugh’s recently underwent a nearly $700,000 renovation updating wall coverings, carpet, and expanding the dining room. Fresh furnishings, lighting, and framed historic photos of Evansville were added to the interior. The facelift was one the first major projects to impact customer service planned by Tropicana General Manager Jason Gregorec.
“We went from nine seats around the piano to 27 seats at the bar,” he says. “We wanted a place where business men and women could entertain clients in a first-class facility. We are working toward a true four diamond restaurant with the ambiance, the music, and the food.”
Need for Speed
University of Evansville freshman Roberto Lorena admits that before he first set foot on a racetrack, he couldn’t see the intrigue of auto racing.
“I thought, what’s the point of watching cars go around and around for two hours?” he says. But one day, bored, he stopped by a rental go-kart track near his native city of Sao Paolo, Brazil. As soon as he climbed into a vehicle, he was hooked — although, as he recalls, “I was super scared. I couldn’t get my foot off the brake.”
Lorena started racing go-karts competitively in 2009, and by the next year, he was competing on the national level in Brazil. Then an American team recruited him to come to the U.S. — a country whose auto racing program is “way more competitive,” Lorena says. In 2011, he moved to Florida alone at 15. There, he began open-wheel racing, topping out at speeds of 145 miles per hour. This spring, for the first time, he will race a Porsche 911 GT3 — a high-performance version of the popular sports car — with his current team, Miami-based Ansa Motorsports. In just a few years of competing in the U.S., Lorena has earned honors such as Rookie of the Year and fourth place in the Formula 2000 series and seventh in the Formula 1600 series.
Lorena now calls Atlanta home when he’s not studying at UE — a school that piqued his interest after he met with a team of leaders from UE’s Schroeder School of Business, Institute for Global Enterprise, and international programs when they visited Brazil last spring. In addition to studying marketing at UE, he works nearly 30 hours a week (“Is that a lot?” he asks) as a customer service representative at D-Patrick and is involved with UE’s Formula SAE team, a group of engineering students who design and build a formula race car for an international competition.
We caught up with Lorena to learn more about his life in the fast lane.
What goes through your mind while racing?
Not much. You have to be really focused. During practice sessions, you find spots on the track to use as reference: This is where I brake, this is where I turn, this is where I go up a gear. I never get stressed. I’ve seen some drivers get cut off and they’re screaming, hitting the steering wheel. When I get to the track, I just think about crossing the finish line. I’ll do everything to keep myself calm and do what I have to do.
How do you train for competitions?
It’s an expensive sport, so you have very limited practice. In 2011, I only got two days of practice, and this year will probably be the same. On a good season, you might get 10 testing days. But what you can do is learn about the setup and work on your physical preparation. Strength in the upper body is really important to hold the car on track. And I try to read as much as I can about the mechanical side of it – the changes you can make to the car to make it handle the way you want.
What’s it like to crash during a race?
When you crash, time stops. The adrenaline is incredible. I had a crash at 110 miles per hour — a driver cut me off into the grass, and there was a wall right on the other side of the racetrack. As I was going toward it, I thought: “OK. I’m going to crash. What can I do?” You try to turn the steering wheel, brake, accelerate, go the other way. Nothing works. Then you take your hands off the steering wheel and you crash. And that all happens in, like, two seconds.
I haven’t really gotten hurt. Cars are built to withstand impact, but even though they are safe, you still have a gray area. We had the highest level of casualties in the sport last year, so it’s still not as safe as it should be. But if you’re thinking about that, you’ll never go racing.
What do you think of Evansville drivers?
Honestly? I don’t have a driver’s license. Every time I moved, I found somewhere that was close to anything I needed so I could walk. I take the bus to work, and that’s all I’ve seen of Evansville drivers. I’m a resident of Georgia, so I have to take the test there. I finally got it scheduled in January, and they sent me to the wrong DMV, so now I’ll try to take it in March.
How do your marketing studies at UE overlap with your passion for racing?
Marketing is a really important part of auto racing. I need the marketing knowledge to sell myself and earn sponsorships and keep doing what I love to do. I also like doing research and working with numbers, and marketing consists of that. It’s a natural fit.
What are your goals for the future?
I’ve never had a specific series I wanted to race in. I just love racing. I have fun doing it. As long as I can sustain myself and make a living, I’d be up for anything with an engine and four wheels.
Night at the Gala
Each year, the Holy Rosary Catholic Church Annual Gala grows bigger — and better — says Christine Gilles.
“It’s actually a lot of fun,” says Gilles, Holy Rosary’s volunteer and stewardship director. “Everyone looks forward to it every year, and each time we try to make it bigger.”
The annual event, now in its 23rd year, helps raise money for something specific at the church or school. Last year, the funds went toward updating technology, such as getting new iPads for the classrooms. Gilles says this year’s funds will help purchase new playground equipment for the school.
Last year, the gala raised about $94,000, the second-highest amount in the event’s history. Gilles says she’s hoping to surpass that this year.
The gala features music by Anthony Orio and the Goodfellers, a Nashville-based band that is returning to the event for a second time. This year’s theme is “Black and White.”
The Holy Rosary Gala offers both a live and silent auction. Some of the items up for bid include dinner for eight at the Bonefish Grill, a two-week stay at an Orlando resort in March, free rounds of golf at several Evansville golf courses, as well as many other interesting items.
The gala is at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Evansville County Club, 3810 Stringtown Road. Tickets are $80.
For more information about the Holy Rosary Catholic Church Annual Gala, contact 812-477-8923 or visit hrparish.org.
Swing and Shag
Evansville resident Tammy Jacobs and fellow members of the Evansville River City Bop Club wanted to bring a dance convention to Evansville. Similar events are common in bigger cities like Nashville and Louisville, but nothing like it had ever taken place in town. Now in its fourth year, the Swing Fling, which started as a one-day event, will take place over three days, Feb. 26 to 28, at the Holiday Inn North.
The Swing Fling features dancing in the evenings (until 2 a.m.!) and lessons during the day, with dancers who range in age from high schoolers to retirees in their 80s. The club has fostered a bigger interest in dance around Evansville since 2007, and Jacobs says she thinks the Swing Fling will help.
“Dancing in Evansville has remained kind of an underground thing,” she says. “Bigger cities host dance conventions like this, and we’re excited to try something on a bigger scale in our own community.”
The group hopes to attract about 250 people to Swing Fling this year, which is smaller than events in cities like Cincinnati and Indianapolis, but it’s “still a good place to start,” says Jacobs, who works as the Help Desk/IT Associate at Old National Bank.
There will be several different styles of dance at the Swing Fling including ballroom, waltz, Rumba, and East and West Coast Swing.
For more information about the Evansville River City Bop Club, visit ercbopclub.com.
Behind the political force of Frank Underwood on the Netflix original series “House of Cards” is the stoic and ever-present force of Edward Meechum. University of Evansville alumnus Nathan Darrow plays Meechum, a U.S. Capitol Police officer assigned to protect Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, and his wife Claire, portrayed by Robin Wright. It’s a role that the 38-year-old Brooklyn, New York, resident calls “challenging and exhausting” because of the silent internal rumbling of the character he portrays in the political drama series based in Washington, D.C.
Darrow, a native of Kansas City, earned his bachelor’s degree in theater performance and literature from UE in 1998 before continuing his training at New York University where he received his master of fine arts degree. His extensive resume includes starring roles in numerous plays such as, “Richard III,” which was performed at London’s Old Vic, among other venues. In “Richard III,” Darrow acted alongside Spacey, who played Richard, which introduced Darrow to “House of Cards.” The award-winning series debuted in February 2013 and returns for its third season Feb. 27 on Netflix.
How did the University of Evansville Department of Theatre shape your career?
Going to Evansville prepared me to audition for conservatories. I ended up at a conservatory in New York (New York University). I’m sure I wouldn’t have the career I have if I hadn’t come to New York when I did. As an actor, I certainly developed quite a bit (at UE) due to the extraordinary talent and efforts of the faculty.
What led you to your decision to study in Evansville?
I had auditioned for John David Lutz the summer before I graduated high school (Shawnee Mission North High School in Overland Park, Kansas). I started talking with him and eventually I visited the campus for a long weekend. I actually will never forget sitting in on John David Lutz’s acting classes and seeing the work to me that was incredibly impressive and mind-blowing and at the end of that work, he was pointing out what was working and him saying, ‘Here’s where you can go deeper. Here’s where you can go harder.’ It confirmed to me that I was at a serious place where the work of acting was viewed as something that could take a lifetime of exploring and finding its roots.
What roles did you play while at UE?
I was in a couple Shakespeare plays. There was an “As You Like It” (Jacques) and “Macbeth” (Banquo). I played Konstantin Treplev in “The Seagull” pretty poorly, but I got the shot to do it, which was cool. I was in a couple studio shows. I had a lot of opportunities there, in fact. I got the chance to do a lot of different things.
What classic role do you really want to play?
There are so many I want to play. There’s a couple I want to do again. I would like to play Biff Loman in “Death of a Salesman.” I would like to play Tom in “The Glass Menagerie.” I would like to play Edmund Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” again. I got to do it once a few years back. I think I got somewhere with it but I would love to get back at it. There are those parts that kind of stay with you in a weird way. They are still offering their secrets and I would love to hammer it out.
Talk about the all-star cast of Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey. What is it like working closely with them?
It’s extraordinary. They are two actors who are really playing above the rim. They work intensely and seriously but at the same time, they work with a lot of joy and fun. They challenge each other and they enjoy that challenge. They really bring all of us up, too. They are actors who really want the scene to happen when the cameras roll … It is very exciting to be making it right there. We are all trying to do our best work, and sometimes, we don’t, and that’s that. They hold it lightly and you count yourself fortunate. They are both fantastic examples of that.
What’s it like to play Edward Meechum?
It is challenging emotionally to play someone who keeps himself so very close to the chest, but still to know that he has come out of an experience — a kind of incredible and intense experience that he lives with — for that to simply vibrate in him and rumble in him without direct expression as of yet is challenging and exhausting. I am really happy to go at it every day I’m on set regardless of what I’m doing. I am very happy for the opportunity to take up the story of this guy right there in the moment. He definitely has stuff in there that’s not worked out and that’s a weird place to inhabit. You have that place in life but to actively go there is kind of something else.
Your role expanded in the second season. Tell me about your screen time and role in the third?
You will find out all that Feb. 27. That’s all I can tell you.
To watch Nathan Darrow as Edward Meechum in “House of Cards,” visit netflix.com.
On With the Show
A slice of New York City culture has made its way to the big screen in Evansville — but it’s far from the only way to get some world-class viewing opportunities on the local big screen. Even as huge blockbusters dominate the headlines, venues like AMC theater and the Evansville Public Library are offering movie and special event screenings that give patrons a chance to sit back, relax, and enjoy something completely different.
AMC’s live screenings of the Metropolitan Opera and Royal Ballet are broadcast by satellite to select theaters across the country, including AMC Evansville 16 on the West Side.
“Around here, a lot of people may not get the opportunity to see the Metropolitan Opera in person,” says Josh Boze, general manager at AMC West. “This brings the show to them.”
Boze says hosting performances of the opera and ballet in the theater provides viewers with an experience they can’t get at home. Typically shown on their widest screen in high definition and surround sound, it’s the closest audience members can get to the performance without actually being there, says Boze.
AMC offers other unique screenings as well, including live sporting events like United Fighting Championship matches, as well as its most popular special event RiffTrax. RiffTrax is typically an older movie with running commentary from comedians Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett (the former stars of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”) playing over the original audio. Boze says these events have the most loyal following and a good turn out.
For those who want something different on a smaller scale, the Evansville Public Library’s film series provides unique screenings in a more social and intimate setting.
The patrons who attend the Evansville Public Library’s Classic Film Series are a loyal group. Kaitlin Conner, reader’s advisor at the Central Library, attributes the program’s dedicated following to the relaxed feel and sense of community the event offers.
“People enjoy coming out and watching these films with their friends, or making new friends while they’re here,” says Conner. “Sometimes people will also bring a younger family member and introduce them to a classic film for the first time.”
The Classic Film Series meets the third Thursday of each month at the Central Library location. Conner says these movie nights tend to draw about 15 to 20 attendants, and she tries to provide a good variety in the movies they show.
“We try to get a nice mix of musicals, dramas and comedies,” says Conner. “We also try to have fun seasonal films, like ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ in December and ‘Where the Boys Are’ over the summer.”
The Central location also offers a series called Film Movement, which spotlights different independent and international films. The series is hosted by Dain Hill of the Tri-State Cinema Society, and Hill leads a discussion after each movie. Conner says even though the Film Movement series has a smaller turnout, it still provides a great outlet for members of the community.
“It lets people know what’s available at the library, that we’re not just a place with books sitting on the shelf,” says Conner. “It’s also a shared experience with others, and people tend to enjoy that a lot.”