Political Correctness Out, ‘Hometown Knights’ In

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The Acrosstown Repertory Theatre kicks off 2016 with a comedy of our times, written by Chuck Lipsig, that dates back to the Greeks.

The cast of Hometown Knights (Photograph by Gainesville Downtown)

The cast of Hometown Knights (Photograph by Gainesville Downtown)

The fine folks of Fainburg are finally fed up with egomaniacal Mayor Perry Halfgallon.

For years, His Honor (Dishonor?) has banned downtown on-street parking except on prime-numbered days. He’s required each citizen to cut down a tree on Arbor Day. (“How else is one supposed to build an arbor?”) And, of all things, he’s outlawed puns during city meetings.

Most confounding is his ordinance prohibiting the sale of hotdogs at the local high school during sporting events. That’s a law that, to be frank, might just come back to bite him in the buns.

Fortunately, the silliness is all fiction and part of the fun that is Hometown Knights, a play making its world premiere this weekend at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre on South Main Street. There is a $5 preview performance tonight (Jan. 14) at 8. Opening night is Friday at 8.

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Nothing’s Out of Character for Hippodrome’s Morsey

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Sara Morsey, a member of the Hippodrome Acting Company, continues a string of memorable performances by playing Ruth Steiner in Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories, which begins this week.

Sara Morsey, as Ruth, offers a toast during Collected Stories.

Sara Morsey, as Ruth, proposes a toast during Collected Stories. (Photographs by Gainesville Downtown)

Juliana Davis, left, and Sara Morsey in front of the Hippodrome.

Co-stars Juliana Davis, left, and Sara Morsey in front of the Hippodrome Theatre.

During the past year, Hippodrome Theatre audiences have had the pleasure of watching Sara Morsey play a manic and hapless homebody in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a macabre and amusing hunchback in All Girl Frankenstein and a witty and spirited ghost in A Christmas Carol.

In fact, there are few roles Morsey hasn’t played at the Hippodrome and many other regional theaters during an acting career that has spanned three decades.

“Sara is very chameleon-like,” said Lauren Warhol Caldwell, the Hippodrome’s artistic director. “She’s able to transform into many kinds of people. Her characters are always memorable.”

Beginning this week, Morsey inhabits the world of Ruth Steiner, a distinguished short-story writer and college professor who guards her privacy in Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories. It is the Hippodrome’s first production of 2016 and promises to leave theatregoers spellbound.

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Bank Bar Offers History Lesson, Too

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Those who think they know the full story behind The Bank Bar & Lounge on West University Avenue might be in for a surprise. Its new co-owners are determined to link the past with the present.

Inside the old Dutton Bank, now The Bank Bar Lounge. Photo courtesy of the Matheson Museum)

Inside the old Dutton Bank, now The Bank Bar & Lounge. (Photo courtesy of the Matheson Museum)

Josh Hubner behind the bar at The Bank.

Josh Hubner behind the bar at The Bank.

Jeff Hickey and Rich Pusateri are not history scholars, but as new co-owners of The Bank Bar & Lounge, they certainly can appreciate the building’s historical significance in downtown Gainesville.

Long before the place sold beer, wine and money-themed martinis, Col. Henry Forest Dutton conducted transactions of another type there as president of Dutton Bank, the first financial institution in Gainesville and only the third bank in Florida.

This week you can ring in 2016 in the very room where Dutton did much of his wheeling and dealing 140 years ago. Dutton’s former office is now known as the President’s Room, and it is one of the many cool features of The Bank Bar & Lounge at 22 W. University Ave.

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Hardback Café is Back for an Encore

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Sixteen years after closing its doors next to the Hippodrome, the Hardback Café is up and operating again at a new address—and still aiming the spotlight on local bands.

Owner Alan Bushnell behind the bar at the new Hardback Café.

Owner Alan Bushnell behind the bar at the new Hardback Café.

Alan Bushnell has been doing a lot of catching up with old friends these days now that he has reopened the Hardback Café in a two-story space in downtown Gainesville.

On a recent evening, Chris Wollard dropped by to scope out the Hardback’s new location at 211 W. University Ave. The longtime singer and guitarist for the punk-rock band Hot Water Music also wanted to congratulate Bushnell—and to thank him.
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The Dime: Shining Example of Change

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The owners took their time after it opened to finally give the business an official name, but the swanky little cocktail bar now known as The Dime is worth every penny to its patrons.

Daniel Schexnaydre behind the bar at The Dime. (Photograph by Lena Crane, Reflections of Light Photography)

Daniel Schexnaydre tends bar at The Dime. (Photo by Lena Crane, Reflections of Light Photography)

the dime and gramfest 004For all their business acumen in transforming the epicenter of downtown Gainesville into a hip place to be, Scott Shillington and Hal Mendez might have missed a great marketing opportunity when they finally got around to naming their “no-name” bar earlier this year.

As they pondered their decision, the obvious name was literally staring them in the face.

The Old Joe.

That’s the nickname of the much-maligned Confederate statue that stands sentinel directly across University Avenue from the bar. He’s right there, perched high atop a granite pedestal, his steely gaze burning through you from 50 yards away as you exit the bar’s stubborn glass door. Late at night, hidden in the shadows beyond the streetlights, you’d hardly know Old Joe’s there.

Yep, The Old Joe has a nice ring to it, evoking time-honored Southern values that still rally some folks but rankle most others.

Instead, after almost a year of anonymity—but not a lack of attention—the classy little cocktail bar is now known simply as … The Dime.
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Charles Bradley Concert to Re-Open Bo Diddley Plaza

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Closed since early this year for extensive renovations, the Bo Diddley Community Plaza re-opens Feb. 25 with a free concert featuring the Gainesville-born R&B singer.


Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley, a Gainesville native known for his soulful and captivating stage presence, will make his first-ever hometown appearance when the Bo Diddley Community Plaza re-opens on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016.

The free concert, from 6-10 p.m, is part of frank2016, an annual gathering of public-interest communicators sponsored by the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

The public event will also feature live art by 352Creates, performances by local bands and a variety of food trucks and micro-brews.

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Muralists Leave Lasting Impressions on Gainesville

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The 352walls project, involving a dozen internationally known street artists, has given the downtown area a dramatic facelift. Tonight’s Artwalk is a great opportunity to view the completed artwork.

A large section of the completed mural by 2Alas adorns the Hector Galley wall at 702 W. University Ave.

A large section of the completed mural by 2Alas on the Hector Gallery wall at 702 W. University Ave.

To passersby on Southwest 2nd Street, the large mural on the wall across from Volta Coffee could be almost any hard-charging football player. But the man who painted the image, Miami-based street artist Reggie O’Neal, knows exactly who the player is. Or, sadly, was.

Reggie O'Neal, also known as L.E.O. works on his mural, a tribute to slain teenager Richard Hallman on the Looseys wall.

Reggie O’Neal, also known as L.E.O., works on his mural, a tribute to slain teenager Richard Hallman, on the Loosey’s wall.

Richard Hallman never got to play college football like his cousin, current UF starting quarterback Treon Harris. That’s because earlier this year, the 16-year-old Hallman was shot and killed in Miami’s Overtown section. Two other teenagers have been charged in his death.

“I watched [Hallman] grow up,” said O’Neal, who uses the tag L.E.O. for his street art. “I wanted to paint something that related to Treon and to Overtown. It [the murder] happened in my neighborhood and took a huge toll on everyone there.”

O’Neal’s mural is one of eight recently added to the downtown streetscape by internationally known artists as part of 352walls/The Gainesville Urban Art Initiative. The last of the artists finished up work on Thanksgiving morning, leaving Gainesville’s downtown area more visibly appealing than ever.

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‘The Snow Queen’s’ Story Behind the Storytelling

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UF theatre professor Charlie Mitchell was not only commissioned to write an adaptation of The Snow Queen for the Hippodrome State Theatre, he was called upon to direct the play as well.

The cast of The Snow Queen

The cast of The Snow Queen. (Photo by Niall McGinty)

Following a recent rehearsal of The Snow Queen on the Hippodrome State Theatre’s mainstage, artistic director Lauren Caldwell applauded and cheered the cast and crew from her third-row seat. She then got choked up realizing her little “tribe of actors” had come of age.

“I love the fact it’s written and directed by one of our own company members,” she said of the play based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. “As an acting company, we become a tribe of people that understands each other’s needs and wants.”

That includes using the talents of company members such as Charlie Mitchell to their fullest, as she has done with The Snow Queen.

“This is very special because it comes from inside. It’s an emotional thing for me,” Caldwell said.

Mitchell is not only a Hipp Acting Company veteran but also a UF theatre professor. When Caldwell read Mitchell’s commissioned script of The Snow Queen, which is actually a story within a story, she fell in love with it. She insisted that he also direct the play.

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Hipp’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ Undergoes a Makeover

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Gregg Jones, best known for his 16-year stint in the role of Jacob Marley, takes over for the venerable Rusty Salling as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Hippodrome State Theatre’s annual holiday production of the Dickens classic. There’s also a new director this year in Niall McGinty.

Niall McGinty and Sara Morsey in the Hippodrome's "A Christmas Carol."

Niall McGinty and Sara Morsey in the Hippodrome’s “A Christmas Carol.”

Earlier this month, dozens of pairs of shoes in all shapes and sizes lined a long hallway outside the rehearsal room on the third floor of the Hippodrome State Theatre. The costume department had placed them there for the large cast of A Christmas Carol, the Hipp’s annual holiday presentation that opens to the public Saturday afternoon.

Gregg Jones will play Scrooge this year in the Hippodromes "A Christmas Carol."

Gregg Jones will play Scrooge this year in the Hippodrome’s “A Christmas Carol.”

This season, actor Gregg Jones will fill a particularly large pair of those shoes—at least figuratively speaking. He will be taking over the role of Ebenezer Scrooge from Rusty Salling, who had performed the play’s signature character for 24 consecutive years.

Salling is taking a well-needed break for health reasons. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with sinus cancer. The news sent shockwaves through the Hippodrome family.

“We took it very hard,” said Lauren Warhol Caldwell, the theatre’s artistic director and longtime friend of Salling. “But there was never a moment that we did not rally around him with every fiber of our being. Rusty is a fighter and was determined to do whatever it took to try and beat this.

“We promised to take care of him, and through his determination and perhaps some divine intervention—and lots of love to him—he did beat it.”

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