Amish Acres

Amish Acres® Historic Farm and Heritage Resort is Listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is America's most complete Amish heritage experience featuring historic interpretation, culinary and performing arts, lodging, and shopping.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

A Good Old Fashioned Revival

A dear friend of mine, the late Willis Hershberger, once told me how gospel groups would play and sing all around the Elkhart Plaza, and how shoppers would gravitate to them and just stand to listen. Willis also said people no longer appreciated live music, and if folks played real instruments and sang good old fashioned gospel, shoppers would just walk right on by as if the radio was playing.
With all the benefits that have come with the digital revolution, there’s still nothing like live music, and the current production of “Smoke on the Mountain” at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres features some of the best live down-home gospel you will ever hear, including one talented individual, Katherine Yacko, who manages to play and sing just enough out of sync to convince us she’s no good at it. Yacko plays June, the untalented Sanders sister who is relegated to hilariously incorrect sign language and impossibly muted percussion during the concert given by the Sanders Family at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in North Carolina on Saturday evening in 1938.
And because this is live it’s easy to miss one of the show’s funniest moments, when June corrects the pastor, who in his excitement has taken up the tambourine, and demonstrates the proper way to shake it is silently.
If “Smoke on the Mountain” consisted of nothing more than the instrumental and singing talents of Director Amber Burgess, who plays Vera the matriarch of the family, Paul Kerr who plays the patriarch Burl, Jeff Raab and Jocelyn Longquist who play the twins Dennis and Denise, Perry Orfanella, who plays Burl’s brother Stanley and is the prodigal come home, then the evening would be worth it. They bring to life one gospel favorite after another, a veritable greatest hits from every battered hymnal resting on the living room piano, and they do it with seeming effortless ease, the kind that comes from talent and hard work..
But collectively the family, anxious for perfection in this first performance after a five-year hiatus (we are told “mother” just died a few months before), testifies to redemption in the way they cope with their broken lives rather than in the Bible verses they rattle off with ease. Burl’s brush with temptation as he attempts to keep his service station open during the Depression, Dennis’ desire to be a preacher which does not fully blossom until he loses his mother’s script and suddenly preaches from the heart, Denise’s desire to fly far away, June’s struggle with inadequacies drummed into her by her family, Vera’s desire to control (articulated most clearly in her uproarious children’s story), and Stanley’s stint in jail, tell our story as well as theirs, and give us hope because evidently God’s not through with us yet.
Ryan A. Schisler plays the Reverend Mervin Oglethorpe, not only faces down his own “Get thee behind me, Satan” moment in his attraction to one of the sisters, but guides his congregation despite himself, absorbing the anger of the church ladies while struggling with his need to be needed.
Perry Orfanella’s Stanley says it best as first in song, and then in story, he testifies just why an expletive came so easily to his lips to end the first act, and why it’s a miracle he’s there at all. Talking about the absence of love in a fellow convict’s life, he shares how after his own release from jail his brother told him simply, “Come home.” “Smoke on the Mountain,” with its glorious live music and perceptive acting, is an invitation to all of us, broken as we are, to accept the invitation from One who loves us despite who we pretend to be, and simply come home.
Smoke on the Mountain, Written by Connie Ray, Conceived by Alan Bailer. Musical Arrangement by Mike Craver and Mark Hardwick.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Smoke on the Mountain Returns for Third Time

The good news is that its 1937 and the Sanders family have come to town with their patented gospel concert. None of that newfangled stuff. We’re going to hear nothing but foot stomping, back slapping favorites, songs like “The Church in the Wildwood,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” and let’s not forget the “Blood” medley: “Nothing But The Blood,” “There is Power in the Blood,” and “Are You Washed in the Blood.”

Ain’t it great to see such a saved family setting an example for all of us, singing about the gospel and living the gospel in their lives? It don’t get better than this.

Only it does -- because when “Smoke on the Mountain” comes to the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres, not for the first, nor the second, but for the third time, we not only get some of the best southern gospel and bluegrass hymns that were every written, but we get something better -- the reassurance that the good news is not for perfect people, but for flawed people perfectly loved by God. Amber Burgess has worked on the last two productions and is directing the current revival. She said, "In addition to the professional instrumental musicians, their voices blend perfectly for the range of songs this unique show requires."

“Smoke on the Mountain” would be great fun, even if it were only a concert showcasing the wonderful ethnic heritage of these songs. But one by one we see the members of this perfect family are broken, just like the rest of us, yet despite this they are still determined to share the good news in song along with their personal stories. This particular musical is a great piece of redemption, and an answer to those who think they must always look perfect in public.

This off-Broadway show, first work shopped in 1988, opened in 1990, and has since become a perennial favorite of the musical circuit. In the show Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in the Smoky Mountains has invited the singing Sanders family to share their songs and their witness. After a five year hiatus the group has come together again, and Pastor Mervin anticipates a glorious evening. It turns out he’s absolutely correct, though not in the way he expected.

The cast includes Ryan A. Schisler as Pastor Mervin Oglethorpe, along with Paul Kerr, Amber Burgess, Perry Orfanella, Jeff Raab, Jocelyn Longquist, and Katherine Yacko as the Sanders Family. It is directed by Amber Burgess. The show, which features over twenty-five songs, has been previously performed at the Round Barn in 2000 and 2005.

According to Amber Burgess, the show's director, "Smoke on the Mountain is difficult for many theatres. The variety of musical talent required is daunting." She added, "Our cast hails from New York City, Louisville, Arkansas, and two from Florida."

“Smoke on the Mountain,” conceived by Alan Bailey and written by Connie Ray, will run from September 8 through October 18. For tickets and reservations call 1-800-800-4942.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A Gusty Version of Godspell

What is it about the daring of youth? Maybe you have to be young to have the guts to write a musical about the Bible. And when you’re young you’re also brave enough to pull it off. “Godspell,” playing this week at the Locke Township Meeting

House at Amish Acres, started out decades ago as a student project, and this youthful production, featuring students from local high schools or the newly graduated from area colleges, is a gusty version which we’ll only get to enjoy for a very few performances this week.

Audiences who loved Joelle Rassi who played the title role in last season’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” may not immediately recognize her as Morgan, dressed in black and singing the character’s signature song “Turn Back, O Man,” but they will certainly also love this performance.

Sara Bowling does a fine job with “Day by Day,” with its beautiful setting for an ancient prayer,. “Bless the Lord,” with its brassy retelling of Psalm 103, was ably sung by Aria Skaggs. Those only familiar with the film version of “Godspell” will not have heard “Learn Your Lessons Well,” which makes Kellie MacGowan’s singing all the more memorable.

I liked Ricky Iniesta’s verison of “You are the Light of the World,” along with his moments retelling the parables. Christain Elias is more than up to the demands of “We Beseech Thee.”

Michelle Miller, who share a haunting rendition of one of the most achingly beautiful songs, “By My Side,” performs a brash characterization of a certain memorable combover in one of the parables, something added by this particular cast.

But then each company reinvents “Godspell” on its own terms. In 1996 the Round Barn Theatre chose a Hoosier theme, complete with a barn and shocks of corn, which made for a very rustic production Director Jeremy Littlejohn has chosen to go with something of a “Breakfast Club” theme, working with the cast to create a company of high school students representing familiar types that walk the halls of our local schools. Goth, geek, athlete, cheerleader, studious, are among the types presented.

My favorite song may be “All Good Gifts,” and I was not disappointed by the rich rendition by Bradley M. Waelbroeck.

But the individuals selected to play the two main roles, T.J. Bresler as John the Baptist/Judas, and Music Director Travis Smith as Jesus, are the experienced performers required to hold the show together. Their duet, “All for the Best,” allows for their distinct vocal styles to be woven together. Though the cast as a whole is strong, these two stand out, as they ought to, Bresler in “Prepare Ye,” and “On the Willows,” and Smith in “Save the People,” “Alas For You,” and “Beautiful City.”

Smith, especially, brings to life what C.S. Lewis once wrote, that Jesus says the most comforting and challenging words in the Bible. These words, all too familiar, are spoken well, and as if said for the first time.

And that’s why this script can be impossible. What do you do with words taken directly from the gospels that people are too familiar with? But this company consistently reboots the Bible, and in the process refreshes the audience with the audacity of scripture, while challenging all of us to, as the cast does in the finale, take the life of Jesus into the world.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Meet Frank Ramirez, Preview and Review Writer for The Round Barn Theatre

Frank has been a pastor in the Church of the Brethren since 1979, and has served congregations in Los Angeles, Indiana, and Pennsylvania prior to accepting the call at Union Center in Nappanee, Indiana. He and his wife Jennie, who have been married for 38 years, share three adult children and four grandchildren.

On the denominational level Frank has served on both General Board and the Annual Conference Program and Arrangements Committee. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors for Bethany Theological Seminary.

A writer, he frequently contributes to Messenger, Brethren Life and Thought, The Word in Season, The Upper Room, and many other publications. He is the author of several books, including The Love Feast, The Meanest Man in Patrick County, and Brethren Brush With Greatness.
Frank is a graduate of La Verne College and Bethany Theological Seminary. His hobbies include writing, exercise, and bee keeping. He and Jennie, both native Californians, enjoy travel, gardening, cooking, reading, and working with their two collies, who are both therapy dogs.

The Round Barn Theatre's producer and Amish Acres founder Richard Pletcher and Frank co-authored "The Wooden O: The Story of Amish Acres, The Round Barn Theatre and Plain and Fancy." They are presently collaborating on a new musical presently titled "The Persistence of Vision."

Frank writes thoughtful and educational previews and reviews of The Round Barn Theatre's musicals, dramas, and comedies, including the Second Stage Productions. His previews and reviews are becoming part of this blog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Is There a Musical Less Original Than Godspell?

Is there a musical that is less original than Godspell? Some of the lyrics are taken verbatim out of the same hymnals church members already have in their pews! A lot of the dialog is taken straight from the Gospel of Matthew. And many people have seen so many productions they can sing the songs and recite the lines before they're sung or spoken.

Even the title is nothing new -- it's just the Old English word for Good News -- God Spell -- which is of course the root for our word gospel!

Yet since its opening off-Broadway in 1971 Godspell, (Book by John Michael Tebelak, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz) always manages to sound fresh and new.
Maybe that's what the whole idea of Incarnation is all about -- words are made flesh and dwell among us! Or as it says in the Good Book, "Behold, I make all things new!"Making old things new is the reason Artistic Director Jeremy Littlejohn is excited about bring a week's worth of Godspell to the Second Stage at the Locke Township Meeting Hall as part of the Round Barn Theatre season at Amish Acres.

“My rule is not to repeat a show unless I can do it as good or even better than the earlier production,” Littlejohn said. He thought long and hard about reviving Godspell, because the 1996 Round Barn production, set in  a Hoosier cornfield was, in his words “...a very well executed production.”

However Littlejohn is excited about the concept for this season’s production, taking advantage of the combination of young actors and seasoned veterans.

“I’ve got this Breakfast Club kind of thing,” Littlejohn said. Jesus (Travis Smith) and Judas (T.J. Besler) are both adults. The rest of the company are teenagers. They will represent the different kinds of groups you find in high school: jocks, band people, goths. Also, the Second Stage is a super intimate space. With ten people and an orchestra, we’ve never done a musical this large in the Locke ever.”

One of the show's elements that insures each production is unique is the way each cast brings its own personality into the show. While two actors play specific roles (Jesus and John the Baptist/Judas) the rest are identified by a single name that is not drawn directly from the gospels.

Together they tell the good news beginning with the baptism of Jesus and continuing through the crucifixion and beyond.

Songs include "Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord," "Day by Day," "All Good Gifts," "O Bless the Lord," "All for the Best," "By the Willows," among many others.

While each year's company for the Round Barn Theatre is drawn from actors across the country, this particular production will feature many local actors from the immediate area, places like Nappanee, Wakarusa, and Milford, including several who took part in the Young Actors Studio camps sponsored by Amish Acres.

Song writer Stephen Schwartz once said that the musical is as much about the community of faith owning and retelling the story of Jesus as it is about Jesus himself. Most audience members certainly carry on with that tradition by singing the music as they leave the theater. This is a musical that is memorable, and sticks to your ribs.

The cast includes the Round Barn's Music Director Travis Smith as Jesus, T.J. Besler as John the Baptist/Judas, along with Sara Bowling, Kellie MacGowan, Ricky Iniesta, Aria Skaggs, Joelle Rassi, Christian Elias, Bradley M. Waelbroeck, and Milchelle Miller. The orchastra will include David Brennan, Tom Slavey, and Brian Bell. Round Barn Artistic Director Jeremy Littlejohn is directing the show, and Amber Burgess is in charge of costumes.

Godspell, Book by John Michael Tebelak, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, will be performed at the Locke Township Meeting Hall at Amish Acres, August 31 & September 1 @ 7:00 PM, September 6 & 7 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM. For reservations call 800-800-4942.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Indiana State Parks Provide Farm Focus

My Indiana Home magazine
May 19, 2015

Lincoln’s Boyhood Home in Lincoln City, Indiana.
Amish Acres was recently featured along with Conner Prairie in an article titled "Indiana State Parks Provide Farm Focus," by Rachel Bertone. She began, "When visiting one of the 24 state parks across Indiana, you might expect towering trees, challenging hiking trails, scenic campgrounds and water activities ranging from fishing to canoeing. But at several Indiana parks, you can immerse yourself in centuries-old farm life, discover a water-powered gristmill, visit with heirloom livestock, and explore fascinating history – all focused on agriculture."

The State Parks that have a focus on agricultural history included Life of Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, Lincoln City, Spring Mill State Park, Mitchell, Prophetstown, Indiana's newest state park, in Battle Ground , and O'Bannon Woods State Park in Corydon.

Amish Acres in Nappanee and Conner Prairie in Fishers are among the few additional historical farms in Indiana not located in a state park with Amish Acres being the only one privately operated.

Lincoln's Living Historical Farm depicts typical activities of the 1820s Lincoln farm, and is complete with a cabin, outbuildings, split rail fences, farm animals, vegetable and herb gardens, and field crops.

Spring Mill contains 20 historic buildings to explore, including the majestic centerpiece – a three-story limestone gristmill from 1817 that still grinds cornmeal today. In addition, guests can explore a historic leather shop, saw mill, distillery, gardens and blacksmith shop on the grounds.

Conner Prairie is one of the most-visited outdoor museums in the country, with exhibits including 1836 Prairietown, where visitors can experience 19th-century life, and Animal Encounters, which features world-class, rare animal breeds such as English Longhorn cattle, Ossabaw Island hogs and Leicester sheep. 

The Farm at Prophetstown, which serves as a world-class training farm for low input, horse-powered agriculture. Staff at the 125-acre farm is dedicated to showing, sharing and teaching about horse-powered farming, as well as modern farming techniques, including genetics and machinery.

O'Bannon Woods State Park in Corydon features a uniquely restored, working haypress barn and holds events such as Living Pioneer Farmstead days on Aug. 1.

Amish Acres in
Nappanee is a real working farm with barnyard hens, livestock, gardens, an apple orchard and agricultural demonstrations. The farm's family, according to Professor James Landing, was the first Amish to settle in Indiana. In addition to the historic farm, Amish Acres features live musical theatre in The Round BarnTheatre.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Radio to the Rescue

The United Nations has declared today World Radio Day in celebration of radio's unique status as a "simple and inexpensive"technology with the power to reach even the most remote, marginalized communities. We don't quite fit into that category, even though we can't get USA Today in Nappanee any longer.

It is fitting that last night we wisely chose to forgo driving in the cold to Elkhart Northside Gym to see NorthWood High School's boys' basketball team play Elkhart Memorial in the final conference game of the year. So in the warmth of our television room with its 55 inch TV hooked up to Netfix, armed with two laptops, our Ipad, Kindle and two smart phones, we set out to watch the game on But no matter which device or method of maneuvering the website, we could not connect with the broadcast. Finally we brought the alarm clock radio from the bedroom, with its single wire antenna, to join our electronics store of devices and attempted to dial in 1340 AM.

It was all static and only two stations came in, both Christian stations, the only ones who any longer invest in signal strength. Susie suggested we try the built-in "stereo" receiver we haven't depended on for years. Finally we made contact, not the clear signal we expect today, but the one that vacillates between intelligible and non. We were able to discern our team was down 13 points heading into the fourth quarter. With only one conference loss and a chance to tie for the league title, this was not good news. Within half of the final quarter NW had pulled within 5 points. The announcer were so excited they nearly blew out the microphone with every ensuing every basket.

A minute to go, down two junior point guard Braxton Linville hit a three pointer from the left wing, to take the lead only to lose it on the next possession, then regained it again on another Linville three pointer from the right wing only to lose the lead on the answer bucket. 4.8 seconds to go, down two, Braxton sees two seconds on the game clock, lets fly from the top of the key, hitting his third three point shot in a row in less than a minute. Game over. So? We realized it was more exiting on the radio than if we were there, more exciting that watching it streaming through our computer. Through our imagination we have a more vivid memory of this outstanding effort than if we had been there. We've seen most of the games this year and this was the best one we heard. Radio still has its place and should be required listening.