Topics: College of Fine Arts, Immersive Learning

April 25, 2014

Ball State students have created a musical about Brown County titled "If You Don't Outdie Me"
The musical "If You Don't Outdie" explores the work of Brown County photographer Frank Hohenberger

From the 1920s to the 1960s, Frank Hohenberger shared with the state the beauty of Brown County through his talents as a photographer and newspaperman. Now a group of students from Ball State University is returning to the era he famously captured with a musical exploring his life and those of other notable characters who made the scenic area home.

"Frank was an outsider like us, someone who wanted to produce artistic work that stayed faithful to the people and town of Nashville, much like we do," said sophomore Brandy Drzymkowski, one of 16 students who spent the spring semester creating the musical under the guidance of faculty mentor Jennifer Blackmer. The project is the latest immersive learning seminar to be sponsored by the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry (VBC).

Students say the musical will act as a window into Brown County through Hohenberger's famed lens. The celebrated photographer left Indianapolis in 1917, moving to Brown County's seat of Nashville, where he lived and documented the town through photos and, for decades, a weekly column he wrote for the Indianapolis Star until his death in 1963. His work contributed significantly to making the area one of the state's most popular tourist attractions.

A free, public reading of the musical, titled "If You Don't Outdie Me," will take place at 7 p.m. May 1 in the Choral Hall of the Music Instruction Building. The following week, at 7:30 p.m. on May 9 and 10, additional readings will take place at the Brown County Playhouse.

The idea for "If You Don't Outdie Me" originated with board members of the Playhouse, who solicited Ball State to create an original production after learning of the continued success of another student-created musical, "The Circus in Winter." Board President Kathy Anderson said, "We believe a quality, entertaining show about Brown County, one that features local stories, will be immensely appealing to our tourists."

The students have made multiple trips to Brown County, visiting attractions such as the history center, state park, T.C. Steele State Historic Site and various Nashville downtown landmarks. "It's been a great experience for me because I've always wanted to learn more about a place so close to where I grew up," said junior Rebecca Austin, a Columbus native.

Blackmer said the group faced the same challenges creating the musical that Hohenberger faced when capturing the people and places of Brown County — getting townspeople to trust them to portray them and their community in a real way, not as caricatures or country bumpkins. "Because it's a musical about real people and a real town, there are real consequences to what my students are creating, and it's added this interesting dynamic of how we need to be respectful and honest about our subject material."

Anderson said the townspeople of Nashville are very curious about the production, with the Playhouse's goal to develop the students' work into a fully staged musical. "We hope what the students capture is the spirit of this place — an appreciation for its simple beauty, its slower pace, and the creativity it seems to engender. People can get most taken with Brown County."