Cornucopia of creativity
In the early days of Vero Beach, Florida Theatre on 14th Avenue was the center of entertainment for the community. BRACKETT COLLECTION, ARCHIVE CENTER, IRC MAIN LIBRARY
Theater, art, musical organizations flourish over the years
BY WILLI MILLER
In the 1920s, even before there was an Indian River County, there was entertainment. Movies were shown at Vero Theatre, where, it’s said, Sheriff Billy Frick and his wife, Adelaide, former entertainers, created Vero Follies, featuring talented people from the community. The Civic Players presented plays in the 1930s and the seasonal Tourist Club had a mixed chorus that sang in community concerts and put on variety shows.
“Churches and the few small rural schools had gatherings for music and singing,” said Ruth Stanbridge, historian with the Indian River County Historical Society. “In fact, John’s Island had a singing school, circa 1900.”
In a music-loving town with few venues for concerts, it often fell on Vero Beach churches to take up the slack. Ray Adams, assistant director at Indian River Charter High School and a dedicated champion of accessibility to music, said Community Church and its small concert program around 1960, is a good example of this. First Baptist Church of Vero Beach is well-known for its annual Messiah singalong under Michael Carter, which was begun by an earlier music director, Larry Henry, about 50 years ago.
Adams recalls hearing tales from John Terry, one of the first surgeons in Vero Beach and an avid singer in the community, about concerts in the early days of Vero. According to Adams, the old downtown theater had an organ for the silent movies.
“When the organ was taken out, part of the pipework went to First United Methodist Church to build their church organ,” Adams said.
Adams is pleased that the tradition of local church musicians collaborating to do meaningful programs for the community is still going on. This continuing trend started in 1983, when some of the church musicians would meet monthly for lunch.
As the city turns 100, a Sunday concert might feature music directors from several local churches sharing the stage and sometimes even sharing a piano. This year, in addition to the long list of church venues, schools will be offering their own concert series or hosting groups including Vero Beach Chamber Orchestra, Space Coast Symphony Orchestra, the Vero Beach International Music Festival and others.
Small groups gathered for musical entertainment in the city’s early days. HILL COLLECTION, ARCHIVE CENTER, IRC MAIN LIBRARY
Ray Adams has been a key figure in the city’s music culture since arriving in 1983. VERO BEACH CHORAL SOCIETY
ART THEN AND NOW
The small group of women who formed the Vero Beach Sketch Club in 1936 and held its first exhibition a year later might look on in wonder at the Vero Beach of today. Art galleries are scattered throughout town, with the 14th Avenue Historic Arts District and central island galleries at the hub of the action. Progress is being made in the creation of the Vero Beach Cultural Arts Village in the Edgewater neighborhood west of 14th Avenue and entrepreneurs are forming co-ops to work, display and sell their art.
Vero Beach Art Club
The seed planted by Jeanette Beach and that handful of Sketch Club artists grew into the top-notch Vero Beach Art Club.
At the Sketch Club’s first show in 1937, exhibitors came from Fort Pierce and Sebastian to display their work. In 1947, the name was changed to the Art Club and a few years later it was renamed Vero Beach Art Club. By 1979, the club joined forces with the Alliance for the Arts in negotiating with the city to build a permanent home for an art academy and gallery. In 1984, ground was broken for the Center for the Arts, where the museum and art club are co-tenants.
The club celebrated its 82nd anniversary this year. With membership in recent years hovering around 500, it’s reportedly one of the largest art clubs in the country. The club’s 67-year-old Under the Oaks Fine Arts & Crafts Show has evolved into one of the top shows in the United States, attracting applications from hundreds of artists around this and other countries. The juried show draws tens of thousands of visitors to Riverside Park during the three-day weekend every year for one of Vero Beach’s premier community events. Under the Oaks started as the club’s first outdoor show in 1951.
A 2012 study commissioned by the Cultural Council of Indian River County said the show is the largest public event on the Treasure Coast, leveraging its modest budget for a far-reaching and long-lasting economic impact. An estimated half of its attendees is from Indian River County and the balance from neighboring counties and beyond.
Through the years, the club has added Art in the Park, Art by the Sea, Art Trail and Art on the Island. The club’s scholarship program gives monetary awards yearly to four Indian River County students.
Sue Dinenno has been associated with the art club as a member artist and officer for 19 years. “The Vero Beach Art Club was one of the main reasons we moved to Vero Beach,” Dinenno said. “The club is nearly 85 years old. That doesn’t happen by accident.”
Vero Beach Museum of Art
Opening its doors to the public as the Center for the Arts in early 1986, the Vero Beach Museum of Art is heading into the city’s next 100 years with an eye to the future and an appreciation for the past.
Executive Director Brady Roberts, who took over the VBMA helm when Lucinda Gedeon retired almost two years ago, found a supportive community and a healthy organization when he arrived. He plans to continue building on the successful programs developed by his predecessor while adding even more year-round programming with local residents in mind.
Roberts is new to the position, but not to the city. He realized in the 1990s, when he organized an exhibit for the then Center for the Arts, that Vero Beach was a special place.
“It was a young museum at that point, not what you would think a little resort beach town might have,” he said.
He appreciates the museum’s extremely generous supporters, hungry for a world-class museum with creative art classes.
“They expect a lot and help with their generosity,” Roberts said.
As plans evolve to link classes and programs with exhibitions, Roberts is looking forward to the centennial opening exhibition, Made in Germany, from the Rubell Family Collection in Miami. The museum is planning special programs, including a film series, around the exhibition.
Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement, which is from a consortium of museums in Birmingham, England, and called a blockbuster by Brady, will use every gallery in the museum and feature events, films and international speakers. A second version of this year’s popular Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition is scheduled for the end of 2019.
The International Lecturer Series, a film series, Concerts in the Park, a growing list of programs for children and families, school partnerships, Artist in the School and community outreach programs make VBMA an integral part of Vero Beach’s future.
The museum’s ceramics department has been upgraded to assist a longstanding partnership, the annual Soup Bowl. Dozens of clay artists volunteer their time and talent to a community-wide event to benefit The Samaritan Center, filling the studio’s shelves with more than 1,000 handcrafted bowls each November.
An early volunteer in the Docent program at Center for the Arts, Toni Hamner, was also one of the fundraisers for the original construction project. She describes the atmosphere around the museum at the time as “super invigorating. Electric! Intellectually engaging.”
Hamner remembers how resilient the staff, volunteers, residents and visitors were when the building was closed for the first expansion.
“We opened administrative offices and classrooms in Luria’s Plaza and a gallery and museum store in the Indian River Mall,” she said.
The decision to continue the film series at the AMC theater is why “Vero is considered a market for alternative-film showing to this day,” she said.
Two sculpture parks now grace the campus and in 2012, the physical plant was expanded with state of the art facilities for the care and conservation of the museum’s collections and expanded exhibition program.
Retired director Gedeon said the Vero Beach Museum of Art has grown into “a first-class art museum with a growing and significant permanent collection and expanded mission in the arts, education and humanities.”
She said partnerships with community organizations, such as The Learning Alliance, have “increased its depth of offerings in early childhood, school and family programs, and the long planned for Children’s Interactive Center is now a reality.” Gedeon sees growth in quality and impact in other areas.
“Riverside Theatre is thriving and new arts organizations, such as Ballet Vero Beach, continue to develop,” she said. “We are indeed a fortunate community.”
Getting ready to break ground for the Center of the Arts are, left to right, George Armstrong, Timothy Allen, Jean Armstrong and Dorothy Pool. VERO BEACH MUSEUM OF ART
The Alice and Jim Beckwith Sculpture Park provides an area for quiet thought on the campus of the Vero Beach Museum of Art. VERO BEACH MUSEUM OF ART
The old entrance to the Vero Beach Museum of Art gave way to a new look in 2010. VERO BEACH MUSEUM OF ART
A modern new entrance with dual staircases welcomes visitors to the art museum. VERO BEACH MUSEUM OF ART
THEATRE THEN AND NOW
Theater in Vero Beach is a tale of two passions, one for a community theater that gives local thespians an outlet for their talents and one that reaches for the stars.
From its beginning as an occasional stop for touring shows, Riverside Theatre continues to evolve as the community’s needs grow. It became the first and only Equity theater on the Treasure Coast in the late 1980s and has become one of the largest producing professional theaters in Florida.
The Riverside Theatre building was funded with private contributions in 1973 on 54 acres that the city set aside for a cultural park. It was the home of Vero Beach Theatre Guild until the group moved across the bridge and to a new home on San Juan Avenue in 1985.
Riverside Children’s Theatre was added in 1980, but it was five more years before it really came into its own, hiring an education director who was charged with producing shows featuring local children. Today it offers youngsters opportunities to learn and hone skills both on stage and behind the scenes.
Its classes and performances touch many young lives.
“We served about 15,000 kids last year between kids taking classes here, kids doing shows for kids, young professionals doing shows for kids here, those young professionals taking touring shows to the schools and after-school programs, and shows that are rehearsed at individual schools with kids from that school and then brought here to perform,” marketing director Oscar Sales Jr. said.
Professional dance instructors at Riverside Children’s Theatre provide a structured and rigorous environment that reflects the physical, intellectual and emotional skills the study of dance develops. Students develop the confidence to interact with the professionals who star in main season shows on the Stark and Waxlax stages, and are sometimes given the opportunity to perform with them.
The theater’s Festival of Trees is an annual family event that raises funds for its programs. Individuals, businesses and organizations design trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses to display and sell, while local music groups move through the auditorium entertaining the strollers.
Riverside has developed programs to appeal to a wide range of audiences. In the early 1980s, a Celebrity Series began its run with Ray Charles. As Vero Beach enters its next 100 years, the Distinguished Lecturer Series will reach its 21st anniversary.
Movers and shakers in politics, show business, the media and the humanities have shared their experience and knowledge with audiences. From George Plimpton to George W. Bush, each season Riverside taps a top catalogue of speakers.
In recent years, Riverside has created a new audience with Howl at the Moon and Comedy Zone Experience on the more intimate Waxlax stage, adding the bonus of its Live in the Loop outdoor festivities those evenings.
A Riverside season brings full-blown costumed musicals and thought-provoking plays to the Stark stage and smaller, critically acclaimed performances to the Waxlax theater. My Fair Lady, Evita and Next to Normal are on the schedule for 2019.
Allen Cornell, producing artistic director and CEO, believes that status quo is not an option when it comes to keeping the arts alive. Staying in touch with the ever-changing evolution of modern day theatrical storytelling is a priority for Cornell and Riverside Theatre.
Contractors and city officials review a construction site in 1972. As the theater’s programs continued to grow, so did the campus on Riverside Park Drive. RIVERSIDE THEATRE
Community dignitaries took part in the 1965 groundbreaking for what would later become Riverside Theatre. RIVERSIDE THEATRE
Vero Beach Theatre Guild
The Vero Beach Theatre Guild’s 21st century grand facility is nothing like the church building the troupe moved into in 1985, although if you look closely, you might see a hint of what it was. Almost 30 years before that move, the Little Theatre group started by the Vero Beach Business and Professional Women’s Club was granted a charter as a nonprofit corporation, the Vero Beach Theatre Guild.
Shows were produced wherever it could find a stage and its theater paraphernalia was stored in any available spot around town.
Realizing the need to plan for the future, the Vero Beach Community Theatre Trust was formed, a half-million dollars was raised and ground was broken for Riverside Theatre. When the decision was made to split with the group seeking equity status, the community theater segment headed for a former church in its old neighborhood near Dodgertown, which had been the naval base where it sometimes performed.
The guild has always been about dedicated volunteers and it took thousands of hours to prepare the new digs for the first show of the 28th season, John Loves Mary. Outreach programs were started along with fundraising to turn the old church into a proper theater. By 1993, it started the season with a fresh face and Neil Simon’s Rumors.
Now more than 60 years old, Vero Beach Theatre Guild has recreated its space and its vision. A three-story wing has been added and the focus will be on exploring new, contemporary, and exciting works of the American Theater and offering a fully staged show or an Apron Series reading monthly.
It wouldn’t be community theater without a glitch or two. Donna Roberts Mitchell recalls the time when she was dancing on a 16-foot-high bridge in Brigadoon and given instructions by choreographer Chris Dale Sexton to “shake it for the audience. ” The reaction was not exactly what she expected, making her think she’d had a costume malfunction. At the reception after the show, someone explained that a man in the balcony was so intrigued by her dance that he leaned over the railing and his dentures fell out and hit a woman below.
Then there was the time an actress fell onstage and split open her head. Her husband, a doctor, jumped in to stitch her up and the show went on, as it always has and always will with the Vero Beach Theatre Guild.
Vero Beach Theatre Guild moved from Riverside Park to a former church building in 1985. VERO BEACH THEATRE GUILD
The guild’s new building gave the company a much-needed three-story storage and rehearsal space. VERO BEACH THEATRE GUILD
Ballet Vero Beach
In 2013, ballet instructors Adam Schnell and Camilo Rodriguez realized their students weren’t seeing the big picture.
“Our students never connected dance as a career as something that might be possible for them … because they didn’t see any working professionals around them,” Schnell said.
At that time, according to Schnell, there was no professional dance organization in the region and no professional ballet company between Orlando and Miami.
“Ballet Vero Beach was founded because I felt that Vero was missing a jewel in her cultural crown,” he said.
From a one-event-per-season company to a celebrated company with three main-stage performances plus the new Nutcracker on the Indian River, community outreach performances and smaller special events, Ballet Vero Beach’s operating budget has quadrupled since the first pas de deux.
Vero Classical Ballet
Barry and Amy Trammell’s Vero Classical Ballet is staging its 11th performance of the traditional Nutcracker in November, with students joining several professionals, including the Trammells. The school’s repertoire includes favorites Swan Lake, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
Vero Classical Ballet, founded in 2005 as a school for aspiring professional dancers, is a performing and teaching company. Classes are held at Leisure Square and it accepts students beginning at the age of 3. Amy teaches a class for special needs students, Ballet Magnifique, and welcomes those students into the cast of The Nutcracker.
MUSIC THEN AND NOW
Vero Beach Choral Society
One of the mainstays of choral music in Vero Beach for 35 years has been the Vero Beach Choral Society, an audition-based community chorus that sometimes requires members to have a passport. The season’s schedule has it at Community Church of Vero Beach but invitations from abroad have taken members across the Atlantic to Estonia, Vienna and the 10th International Church Music Festival in Coventry, England. After that concert, the singers toured England and Scotland for two weeks. They’ve been invited to Carnegie Hall twice.
Ray Adams, founding director of the Visual and Performing Arts component of the curriculum at Indian River Charter High School, founded the society when he accepted his first professional position in Vero Beach in 1983 as director of music at Community Church.
Treasure Coast Chorale
Almost 20 years ago, Michael Carter, minister of music and worship at First Baptist Church, pulled together a group of Vero Beach Choral Society members and community singers to build a chorus for those who just enjoy singing. He named it the Treasure Coast Chorale. Its series of concerts brings innovative and eclectic programming to the local music scene with multimedia presentations and audience participation. A typical theme might be patriotic, Big Band, Broadway, or maybe an all-Irish selection of songs. It also joins the collaboration of singers each Christmas season in the performance of Handel’s Messiah. Anyone interested in joining is welcome to rehearsals for a simple audition.
Vero Beach Opera Guild/Vero Beach Opera
It was 1988 when a group of opera fans decided to share their passion with the community, showcasing local talent and promising a lot of fun. Along the way they created a scholarship program and exposed students to great music with the Opera in a Classroom program.
John Houx, who performed in many of the shows as a singer and a narrator, pointed out that opera singers can be extremely difficult to come by, so they tackled operettas by Gilbert & Sullivan, Broadway and love songs, popular music from the 1800s to the present, and holiday music.
In 2003, a new board of directors decided to take the guild in a more professional direction and incorporated in 2006 as Vero Beach Opera. Heading the mission were Roman and Joan Ortega-Cowan. With connections in the international opera community, they booked Metropolitan Opera stars who discovered the treasure that is Vero Beach.
Deborah Voigt appeared in concert in 2004 and a few years later joined the group to form the Deborah Voigt/Vero Beach Opera Foundation, mentoring and encouraging young singers. Voigt and Met tenor Marcello Giordani have held international vocal competitions at the Vero Beach High School Performing Arts Center, opening the auditorium to the public during auditions. In 2016, Voigt was named artistic adviser to Vero Beach Opera.
In partnership with Vero Beach Museum of Art, an opera studies program was created, led by Wayne Kleinstiver. Another community partner, Majestic 11, broadcasts The Met Opera Live in HD. Vocal and piano scholarships are awarded to students in high school or college and the Music Angels Education Fund makes it possible for younger students to take music lessons. The coming season will include a fully staged opera, following the success of last year’s Madama Butterfly.
Atlantic Classical Orchestra
It was almost 30 years ago that a small group of professional musicians brought together by Andrew McMullan volunteered to play, unpaid, for a concert at the Center for the Arts and the Lyric Theatre in Stuart. McMullan knew that if people were exposed to his dream, it would fly. And it worked. The very next year subscriptions to an Atlantic Classical Orchestra series were selling like hotcakes and the musicians were being paid.
Thanks to a dedicated volunteer base, determination to stay out of debt, and a unique concept of having two cities, Vero Beach and Stuart, own the orchestra, each having its own friends support group, the Atlantic Classical Orchestra not only survived but has become a major attraction for classical music lovers.
When McMullan retired he passed his baton to Stewart Robertson, who has expanded the geographic reach into Palm Beach County and uses his pre-concert talks from the stage to inform and entertain his audience.
Through Robertson’s efforts and those of today’s music director, David Amado, the orchestra is stronger than ever. In addition to the Masterworks series in the three counties, a chamber music series is offered at the Blake Library in Stuart and at Vero Beach Museum of Art. The orchestra will be heard in a new Vero Beach venue in 2019, Community Church.
Andrew McMullan founded the Atlantic Classical Orchestra with the help of professional musicians who believed in his dream. ATLANTIC CLASSICAL ORCHESTRA
Maestro David Amado conducts the Atlantic Classical Orchestra in its new Vero Beach home, Community Church. ATLANTIC CLASSICAL ORCHESTRA
Indian River Symphonic Association
Since its first two-concert series in 1994, Indian River Symphonic Association has made its home at Community Church. In the early years, the Brevard Symphony Orchestra began its long relationship with the association, playing concerts every season and collaborating on a Children’s Concert Series.
The board quickly learned that connecting with international orchestras on tour in Florida was a win all around. The orchestras could squeeze in another performance in a location that didn’t conflict with their contractual obligation to larger venues. Vero Beach residents were able to enjoy classics led by the world’s best conductors directing the top echelon of symphony orchestras, including Detroit, Pittsburgh, Munich, Vienna, Iceland and others. The Moscow Philharmonic and the BBC Orchestra of London have played for audiences at Community Church, along with soloists such as Joshua Bell and Barry Douglas.
Christ by the Sea United Methodist Church’s music director, Marcos Flores, produces a winter series that often includes local professional musicians in a fun and sometimes raucous concert, and solo recitals by musicians brought in from out of town and out of the country. Jacob Craig, in charge of music and arts at First Presbyterian Church, brings in small groups and soloists and sometimes can be persuaded to join in on bagpipes or piano.
It isn’t all classical music that’s available at the turn of Vero Beach’s century. Live From Vero Beach brings back the music of the ’60s and later at the Emerson Center. Riverside Theatre’s Live in the Loop fills the entrance apron with audiences rocking to blues, country and rock ’n’ roll all year. The Treasure Coast Jazz Society offers a luncheon concert series every winter.
Lucinda Gedeon’s words will ring as true in Vero Beach’s second century as they do as the first ends: “We are indeed a fortunate community.”