City Reporter 

City Reporter

Meeting of the Minds

City council, school board try to work out differences.

By Mary Cashiola

After months of indirect squabbling, the Memphis City Council and the Memphis City Schools board had a largely harmonious luncheon meeting this week that ended with a plan to have more meetings.

City council members and city school board commissioners called it "critically important" and "a giant step in the right direction" that the two bodies were sitting down together and not talking through the local media. The entire school board and all the city council, with the exception of Jack Sammons and Tom Marshall, were present.

Although originally slated to be a discussion on consolidation -- council members wanted to speak to the school board before the council votes on a resolution to urge the board to hold a charter referendum in October -- the meeting's agenda was fairly open. Discussion ranged from annexation to having a CPA look over the district's budget for the city council before members approve it.

"You don't need to be dealing with the nuts and bolts of Memphis City Schools," school board president Carl Johnson told the council. "We don't need another set of administrators. We don't need another board. What we do need is a meeting of the minds of elected officials."

Later, council member Janet Hooks complained about the city repaving Cooper Street and then tearing up the street a few weeks later for gas-line maintenance. "Can we not coordinate these things? Hopefully out of this meeting, that's what we're doing," she said.

Council chairman Brent Taylor proposed a series of meetings that would bring individuals from all over the country to help the city council and the board look at student achievement, parental involvement, the implication of the No Child Left Behind act, and consolidation. He said he would be willing to ask private sources to fund the series.


The Light Returns

Dinner theater company reopens after 17 years.

By Janel Davis

Dinner and a show will soon take on a whole new meaning with the revival of one of Memphis' most popular entertainment establishments next month.

The Gaslight Dinner Theatre returns May 30th for a two-day production of John Patrick's comedy Everybody Loves Opal at Heartsong Church in Cordova. Although the production sports a new venue, the pioneers behind the original theater, Howard and Diann Cobbs, haven't changed. Both will be involved in producing and managing the production, with Howard emceeing the show.

The Cobbs have done everything from teaching school to working with computers since retiring their first Gaslight Dinner Theatre production in Whitehaven 17 years ago. The original theater, located on Brooks Road, closed in 1986. "The area went down, people moved out of the neighborhoods, and theatergoers no longer wanted to come into the area," said Howard. "[At the time] we didn't have the financial backing to move to a better area."

The building was demolished a few years ago, leaving a grassy lot as the only remnant of more than 25 years of entertainment. "Sometimes me and my wife would go out to the old location for the memories. The production lived and died in the Whitehaven area," he said.

After hearing numerous "Gaslight stories" from longtime fans, the Cobbs decided to revive the theater. The May show will be a Gaslight reunion of sorts, with Joey Butler, former executive director for the company, returning as designer and director. Butler will also join other area actors, including Gaslight veterans Trisha Branch and Sharon Fewell, on stage for the opening production. Plans for future productions include two seasonal shows in the fall and spring.

Gaslight Dinner Theatre at Heartsong joins Trinity United Methodist Church as two of the remaining dinner-theater venues in this area. Trinity's annual theater show will also take place next month with a production of Rumors Are Flying.


Bringing Home the Green

Green Eyeshade Awards honor local journalists.

the Memphis Flyer and its sister publication, Memphis magazine, were winners at the 2003 Green Eyeshade Awards, held April 5th in Atlanta. Hosted by the Atlanta chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, this competition honors the best work of writers and photographers in 11 Southern states.

This year's winners included:

Marilyn Sadler: first place, feature writing, "Meeting Halfway," Memphis magazine.

Vance Lauderdale: first place, humorous commentary, "Ask Vance," Memphis magazine.

Vern Evans: first place, photography, "Return to Shiloh," Memphis magazine.

Jackson Baker: third place, non-deadline reporting, "Meltdown in Nashville," The Memphis Flyer.

Chris Herrington: third place, sports commentary, "The Second Time Around," "Split Personality," and "Silver Lining," The Memphis Flyer.

Other local finalists included The Commercial Appeal's Geoff Calkins, second place for sports commentary; and David Williams, third place for sports reporting.


A New Refrain

Music commission looks to the future after CEO's departure.

By Mary Cashiola

When Jerry Schilling moved on, so did his former employer, the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission. Even though it's been without a CEO since Schilling's resignation last September, the commission has been working toward the future of Memphis music.

"For a commission that's not doing anything, we've been very busy," said commission chairman Phil Trenary. It has sent the Bar-Kays to Hollywood and the North Mississippi Allstars to Congress. And this week, it's releasing a questionnaire for an economic impact survey of people affiliated with the music industry.

"There is a difference between the music commission I worked for before and the music commission I work with now," said interim director Joann Self. Self, the writer and director behind The WLOK Story, was once Schilling's executive assistant. She returned in March to head the commission until a new CEO and president is named in June. "When I was here before, there was more of a hang-up on the heritage side and how do we bridge the heritage with what's going on today. Now we're more focused on moving into the future."

As part of an overall planning process, the commission is looking for input from those in and around the music industry. In addition to the economic impact survey, Self said it is planning 15 focus groups and a lifestyle survey, all of which will steer the commission's focus.

"If you went around the board," said Trenary, "and asked everyone what is the role of the music commission, you would get very different answers. Everyone is very committed to the commission, and that's wonderful, but you can't be effective that way."

The economic impact survey is partly to show how much of the Memphis economy is generated by the local music industry. But the commission's primary goal, Self said, is to help the most people make the most money. "It's not just for musicians but for graphic artists who like to design CD covers or entertainment lawyers who don't have enough clients to be entertainment lawyers all the time. Everybody has to be a generalist," said Self of the local music industry. "We want to increase the opportunities for making money."

Under Trenary's guidance, the music commission forged a partnership with Memphis Tomorrow, a group of local CEOs who funnel investments into sectors such as biotechnology, early childhood education, and music.

"One of the things I keep hearing from local artists is that we have to find a way for artists to make a living doing music. One of the problems is it's hard to get exposure," said Trenary. "If you're a musician, you almost have to leave Memphis to have a career. We have a lot of recording studios and a lot of engineers, but we don't have everything we need."

In February, the commission held its first Grammy reception at Manhattan's China Club to increase exposure. Memphis and the Mid-South boasted 14 nominations, but the party was open to any Memphis musician. Trenary said two major-label CEOs were also there, as well as CEOs from several indie labels.

"It's so frustrating to see a city like Austin, Texas -- whose musical roots go back to 1974 -- declaring itself the live music capital of the world," said Trenary. "What they've been so successful at doing is reaching a consensus on that. Their chamber, their [convention and visitors bureau], the city council, the whole state signed on to declare, 'We're the music capital of the world,' and people started buying into it."

Trenary thinks this is a perfect time for Memphis to reposition itself. "I believe music is one of our most important assets, both economically and culturally," he said. "We're sitting on top of a gold mine, but we're not mining it."

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