Letters to the editor

Is this guy crazy?

What is the Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson water system really worth?

The City of Asheville wants to get out of all agreements, and we all admit that water, airports, golf courses, etc., should not be connected. The big question is what to do with this “white” or “black elephant,” depending upon your perspective.

Is the system worth anything at all, except as a way to leverage money — but will that work, considering the real facts for Western North Carolina? You are immediately saying: Is this guy crazy?

No, I am a practical person who observes the things of the past, and here is what we have in the system, and what it is really worth:

1. A new, high-technology plant that is so expensive that no one will want it, not even Hendersonville.

2. A new, high-technology plant that is too expensive to operate and we may “mothball.”

3. Old lines that burst and blow up buildings. Old lines that run under older construction, making repairs and replacement almost impossible.

4. The land (the watershed), which is priceless — and very valuable. If we sold the land as an asset (value), then we would not have water (priceless), and the whole system is useless.

The assets of the system are only good on paper. We can’t harvest timber from the site; we can’t hunt the bears on the site — and it is a great breeding ground for the black bear. (This is another story, as we build new multi-million dollar homes on their territory and let them breed uncontrolled in the watershed. Is that why we have so many bear sightings?)

The wonders of one-sided thinkers.

Please, elected officials, determine the value of what you have before you stick it to everyone with an autonomous, appointed bunch of self-serving Realtors, builders and others who only think of today and the quick buck. The elected officials are supposed to think.

What a nice thought, elected officials that think!

— Don Yelton

Sweat equity works, too

It was interesting to read Alli Marshall’s article [“Who’s on Broadway?”, Dec. 1] contrasting Broadway in Asheville’s shows with productions using Equity actors. I can only hope that it will not confuse audiences about the differences between professional and nonprofessional productions.

The Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre has been producing professional theater in Mars Hill for 30 years. SART works under Equity contracts and employs Equity actors every season. In addition to “name” stars like Pat Hingle, the company’s regular union performers include Charlotte-based Michael Mattison, Broadway veteran Ben Starr Coates, and local residents Kermit Brown and Liz Aiello. (Aiello will be appearing, Equity card in hand, in SART’s mid-winter production of Always, Patsy Cline, produced under contract at Asheville Community Theatre next month.)

But, like almost every regional theater in the country, SART also employs non-Equity members. Nonunion actors like Kay Galvin, Peter Tamm and Chris Allison frequently appear alongside Equity members. No one who saw Galvin as Gertrude in N.C. Stage’s Hamlet last season, or Allison in any of several productions there or at SART, believes that actors of their caliber and experience are lesser performers, or any less professional, just because they haven’t joined the union.

Hiring mixed casts is not only a major cost-savings for a production company, but [it] also gives local and newer actors opportunities to work with more seasoned performers. Earning professional credits by working in Equity-sanctioned shows is how most actors get their union cards in the first place. But Equity rules prohibit its members from working in non-Equity professional shows, and allow members to work in community or college theater only by special permission. Given the limited amount of professional theater work available in WNC, an Equity membership can be as much a hindrance as a help for younger performers and those who, for various reasons, cannot leave their livelihoods in search of Equity work.

Professionalism is defined by training, experience, pay scale and talent, as well as by Equity membership. And while an Equity card is very valuable for those hoping to carve out a long-term, full-time career in the American theater, it does not, by itself, separate the talent from the chaff.

— Andrew Reed
Managing Director, SART

Let performance be your guide

After reading Alli Marshall’s piece, “Who’s on Broadway?” [Dec. 1], I figured that I had been hoodwinked by that Yankee outfit from Detroit — Nederlander. Here I had gone to see Fosse with a sellout crowd, given the performers a standing ovation with a couple of curtain calls, only to discover that what I thought was a fantastic show was really, according to Alli, a poor performance by a bunch of non-union actors. Next she’ll be telling me that New York bagels aren’t made in New York!

Seriously, I was quite disappointed in the article. It contained many flaws, but I’m not going to try and correct them all. I would like to take on a few. First, The Nederlander Organization, a family company, is in New York City. Second, they have produced many shows on Broadway including: Annie, The Will Rogers Follies and Sunset Blvd. They operate Broadway Series in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Tucson, Detroit, San Francisco, Knoxville, North Charleston and now Asheville, N.C. The same sold-out shows that play here, play in the other cities.

It’s too bad Alli’s piece couldn’t reflect the audience response to Fosse, or talk about 2,400 people in downtown Asheville — on a Wednesday night — who wouldn’t have otherwise been there. I (along with the other Civic Center commissioners) was excited to learn that Nederlander would be bringing shows to Asheville. Our research showed that Nederlander is a quality company that prides itself on being a good citizen of the community and supporter of local arts. While the Equity status of the actors is one indicator of the potential quality of the performance, it isn’t the only one. Achievement trumps most everything, and Fosse brought the house down. I, for one, can’t wait to see Fiddler on the Roof.

— Max Alexander, Chairman
Asheville Civic Center Commission

[Reporter Alli Marshall offers the following reply: It’s great to see such an outpouring of support for the arts, local or otherwise. Considering the scope of the article, it was impossible to include all the intricate details that Mr. Reed and Mr. Alexander have provided. As for Nederlander Productions, Mr. Alexander is quite right in pointing out that the century-old theater company, which originated in Detroit, has additional locations in New York as well as California, Illinois and England. However, the multiple companies under the umbrella of Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment are not limited to Broadway-based endeavors. Nederlander also handles pro sports, TV and film productions, venue operations and worldwide entertainment-market development.]

Cultural ecosystems need options

I have been a resident of Asheville for just over five years now. All the while, I have owned property in downtown Asheville’s Church District (zoned CBD). As such, I understand and honor the Lantzius family’s decision to do what they please with their property. But as a community member, I am deeply saddened to see Vincent’s Ear closing.

Our business serves clientele of tourists who are articulate, upstanding (clean) artists and professionals who like the unique and/or offbeat options Asheville has been known to offer. I cannot count how many guests have found Vincent’s Ear in their exploration of Asheville and come back to rave about it. Vincent’s Ear is a one-of-a-kind place, and our cultural-tourism industry will suffer from its passing.

Tourism does not organically grow from a solid layer of patrons who can afford $600,000 condos alone. Tourism, like community, relies on tiers of cultural options. Like an ecosystem, these tiers feed off one another; if one tier goes missing, the rest of the system will get out of whack.

The need for an inspired cultural ecosystem points to a bigger issue for all of our community. Although hands-off regulation of our property is our right as landowners, is it really the best for our community?

Gentrification of community-focused environments (like downtown) is only to be expected when there is no incentive for owners to keep the quirky and less refined. Perhaps the city could adopt an incentive system for landlords who rent to culturally unique points of destination? Because, heck, why would travelers come to Asheville to get Pottery Barn- or Starbucks-like experiences when they can get them at home?

Vincent’s Ear was the minnow. Let’s hope there are more guppies out there.

— Rupa Vickers
Owner, Arthaus Hostel

Vincent’s has inspired vital community

I am an employee at Downtown Books and News, and have been a part of the unique community on Lexington Avenue for close to 10 years. Most weeks during those years, a day has not passed without me going to Vincent’s Ear — for a coffee to help me make it through the day, for the certainty of meeting many of my friends there after work, and mostly because I know that I will be recognized as a friend there and not just a faceless customer.

Without Vincent’s Ear, I would literally not know half of the people I know, some of whom I count among my dearest friends.

The type of community that exists at Vincent’s Ear is not one that can be built overnight. I sincerely hope that with its closing, this vital community won’t be destroyed overnight. While Vincent’s is still open, let’s do what we can to save this place which has always catered to and welcomed the people who actually live and work downtown.

— Dianne Tinman

Feminine strength may balance the world

Many thanks to Lisa Watters, Patty Levesque and Mountain Xpress for bringing back and sharing with the people of Asheville tapes of the speakers from the Omega Institute’s “Women and Power” conference.

Thanks, too, to the owners of the Grove Corner Market for hosting the Tuesday night screenings of these tapes.

We have been touched by the diversity of [the] speakers’ styles, and the power and inspiration of each message. Eve Ensler, Ilanya Vanzant, Gloria Steinem, Marion Woodman, Jane Fonda, Johnetta Coles and Sister Joan Chittister each shared rich experiences, genuine vulnerabilities, clarity and integrity in their speeches. As a result of hearing and seeing these women speak, we came away feeling more and more enthusiastic about sharing our own lives with others, honoring and respecting the wisdom of women, and working from a place of feminine strength to bring our world back into balance.

We hope these viewings will be offered to the public again in 2005.

— Jane Lawson and John Myers

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