Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame will honor prof, theater founders

Each week arts writer Meredith Moss writes about the people and events making arts news in our region. If you have news you would like to share with our readers, contact Meredith:

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Former Wright State University theater professor Abe Bassett and LaComedia Dinner Theatre founders Joe and Marilyn Mitchell will be inducted into the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame on Saturday evening, July 30, at Sinclair Community College. The special evening also incorporates the annual DayTony award presentations.

The Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame was created in 2001 to honor local theatre artists and patrons of the arts whose life-long participation, innovation and creativity have influenced the Dayton arts culture. The special honor recognizes individuals who have dedicated themselves to the cause of theater arts in Dayton or have made a significant impact on Dayton's theatrical community. The 2016 inductees are Abe Bassett and Joe and Marilyn Mitchell.

When Bassett first came to Wright State in 1970 to build the school’s theater program, there were two faculty members, six theatre courses, and no dedicated facilities. Under his leadership by 1980 the department led the state in number of majors and size of audience. The school won Program Excellence Awards from the Ohio Board of Regents in 1984, 1986, and 1988, bringing grants of more than $1.5 million.

In 1988, Bassett left Wright State to become the founding Dean of the College of Fine and Performing Arts at Indiana University Purdue University in Fort Wayne. He retired in 1994, and is a past president of the Wright State University Retirees Association, and presently serves as Secretary and Webmaster.

Joe and Marilyn Mitchell are being recognized for bringing La Comedia Dinner Theatre to the Dayton area. The popular theater, which stages productions year-round, opened January, 1975. Over the years, the Mitchells estimate their theater has presented more than 325 productions and 15,000 performances. It has employed more than 6,000 actors and theatre artists plus hundreds of management and restaurant employees and entertained nearly 6 million guests. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell served as co-producers and owners until 1987.

Tickets to the gala are $35 if purchased by July 20, $40 until July 27. Go to The Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame is operated and governed by the Dayton Theatre Hall of Fame Executive Committee. For more information visit the Facebook page or the website:

Brighter Connections Theatre performs today

A theatrical group made up of special needs children will give a free public performance this afternoon at 2 p.m. at the University of Dayton’s Fitz Hall Black Box Theatre. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.

The new partnership between the University and Brighter Connections Theatre is designed to help children on the autism spectrum who learn to portray characters on stage and at the same time are aided in expressing themselves in real life. UD is donating facilities, faculty and student volunteers. The partnership also provides opportunities for the children to learn about the technical side of theater, including lighting, set design, costumes and props.

“All of our students at some point on stage are acting and speaking through a character that either deals with or experiences the same struggles that they do,” explains Katie O’Leary, Brighter Connections’ founder and president who created Brighter Connections in 2013 to help children with autism improve their social and behavioral skills through the therapeutic use of theater. The six-week summer program, open to ages 8-14, emphasizes children with autism, but anyone is welcome to participate. For its first three years, Brighter Connections held its rehearsals and performances at the Dayton Theatre Guild.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one out of every 88 children will be identified with autism spectrum disorder. Children with autism may have difficulty developing language skills and understanding what others say to them. They also may have difficulty communicating non-verbally, such as through hand gestures, eye contact and facial expressions.

Michelle Hayford, director of the theater, dance and performance technology program, approached O’Leary about the partnership after she and fellow theater faculty member Donna Beran saw last summer’s Brighter Connections show.

“I was just really moved by the whole experience of watching these kids succeed with — and in spite of — a struggle,” Hayford said.

Lunch on the Lawn in Springfield

Here’s a lovely way to spend a summer afternoon: The Springfield Symphony Orchestra is presenting Lunch on the Lawn, a series of free, informal ensemble concerts held on the front lawn of the Springfield Museum of Art on four consecutive Fridays from July 22 to Aug. 12.

Here’s the schedule: Friday, Jul 22: Full Sound Chamber Group; Friday, July 29: Mojo Brass; Friday, Aug. 5: CORDtet, Joseph Glenn, Garry Ball and Friday, Aug. 12: Good Vibes Jazz.

Sack lunches are available for $6 (with beverage), while they last. You’re asked to bring your own lawn chair or put down a blanket under a tree. Seating is also provided under an outdoor tent. In case of rain the performances will move inside the museum.

Admission to museum exhibits is free to event patrons after the concert.

DAI joins ‘Museums on Us” program

If you’re a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch cardholder, you’ll want to know about the ‘Museums on Us” program which entitles you to free admission to more than 150 arts, cultural and educational institutions during the first full weekend of every month. The Dayton Art Institute is one of the participating organizations.

To qualify you only need to present your credit or debit card and a valid photo ID at The DAI’s Guest Services Desk on the first full weekend of the month to gain one free general admission. The offer is limited to the cardholder and excludes fund-raising events, special exhibitions and ticketed programs (not to be combined with other offers).

The Museums on Us program, now in its 19th season, has experienced major growth in recent years due to increased demand, bringing the total geographic reach to 100 cities in 33 states across the country.

For a complete listing of Museums on Us participating museums and other program information, visit

Learn more about Harriet Tubman

Now that we know that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, it’s a great time to learn more about the inspiring former slave and abolitionist. She will be the first African-American and the first woman in over a century, to be featured on the face of U.S. paper currency.

We asked our friends at the Dayton Metro Library to suggest a reading list and video possibilities for folks of all ages. They recommend “Harriet Tubman: Imaging a Life” by Beverly Lowry, “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero” by Kate Clifford Larson and “Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom” by Catherine Clinton.”

For teens, they’re suggesting “Harriet Tubman: Moses of the Underground Railroad” by Anne E. Schraff and “Fighters Against American Slavery” by Stephen R. Lilley.

Children’s book possibilities include “Harriet Tubman: a Woman of Courage” by the editors of Time for Kids; “Minty: a Story of Young Harriet Tubman” by Alan Schroeder; “The Story of Harriet Tubman” by Rachel Koestler-Grack; “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky” by Faith Ringgold. (I love this one!)

Books about the Underground Railroad suggested include “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad” by Eric Foner and “Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad” by Richard Cooper.

There are also children’s films available entitled “Harriet Tubman, Antislavery Activist,” “Heroes of Freedom: Harriet Tubman & Rosa Parks,” and “A History of Slavery in America.” DVDs for adults include “A Woman Called Moses” and “Underground Railroad.”

Thanks to library staffers Jean Gaffney, Kathy Monhollon, Erin Wen and Matt Kish for the great suggestions.