Every successful production needs hardworking people behind the scenes. From set and wardrobe designers to lighting and sound technicians, it takes many talented people to put on a great performance. When it comes to the business of entertainment for the greater good, it also takes committed volunteers. Robert “Bob” DeVoss ’69 and Melanie J. Norton ’90 are two such people.
DeVoss, The Cabaret Board of Directors outgoing chair, and Norton, his successor, are passionate about helping the Indianapolis nonprofit elevate and promote the cabaret art form by entertaining, educating and engaging audiences and artists.
The Cabaret’s season lineup regularly includes nationally and internationally acclaimed Broadway stars and jazz musicians, as well as professional development workshops for emerging artists and talent-cultivation activities for local colleges and high schools. Through its variety of entertainment and outreach, The Cabaret proclaims to provide “radical hospitality that gives patrons a memorable experience and personal respite from everyday life.”
DeVoss, a board member since 2013, is proud of The Cabaret’s extensive impact. When he became board chair in 2019, he eagerly took on more responsibilities to advance the mission, but never could he have imagined the crisis ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down stages worldwide in 2020, crippling the economy’s arts and cultural sectors. The Cabaret avoided devastation thanks to Artistic Director and CEO Shannon Forsell and DeVoss’ leadership throughout the continuing pandemic pivot.
“We’ve been really successful in moving on in a positive way with the future of the organization,” DeVoss said. “We’ve been fortunate to participate in a variety of federal, state and local grants that have allowed us to continue.”
With the postponement of live performances as a safety precaution in 2020, The Cabaret found new ways to honor its mission, including sharing virtual performances and creating an outdoor gathering space called The Alley.
Presented in collaboration with the Arts Council of Indianapolis and Buckingham Cos. and funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., The Alley enables guests to experience local art and free live performances. The Cabaret also began offering other community organizations the chance to rent its space. DeVoss, coincidentally, helped The Cabaret find its current quarters on Pennsylvania St., back in 2018.
“We fancy The Cabaret as an entertainment center that is like sitting in your own living room and being able to enjoy a performance,” he said. “It’s a small venue.”
Like DeVoss, Norton is proud of the small venue making a big impact in the performing arts and across the community. Helping individuals and organizations enhance the world in which we live drives her volunteerism and career with Norton Philanthropic Counsel. She is the company’s founder and CEO.
“I’ve always been the type of person who feels the moral obligation to give back,” Norton said. “I think volunteering is a way to lift up our society as a whole.”
She became acquainted with The Cabaret years ago when sought for strategic planning services. Over time, she felt compelled to help in other ways, and DeVoss encouraged her participation on the board.
“The arts need our help, particularly in times of financial turmoil. They bring the color to the fabric of life,” Norton said.
Norton will assume DeVoss’ role as The Cabaret Board of Directors Chair in January 2022.
“The chance to follow Bob and have that Franklin College connection, which is so special, is a real honor for me,” she said. “Bob has provided a remarkable service to the organization during a very transitional time. As I think about my role next year and what that is going to look like, there are a lot of unknowns.”
Norton is certain, however, The Cabaret will continue providing topnotch programming, focusing on diversity and inclusion, and supporting its followers. DeVoss is eager to see The Cabaret’s continued success.
Since retiring in 2008 as owner, partner and president of Retirement Management, Inc., he has been a highly active volunteer throughout Indianapolis and in Franklin. A college trustee since 2007, DeVoss has chaired various committees, including one that brought the Indianapolis Colts to Faught Stadium for practice in 2009. For the past three years, he has supported a relationship between KIPP Indy Schools and Franklin College, introducing children and teens to college life and, in particular, opportunities at Franklin College. More recently, he chaired the committee that oversaw Franklin College President Kerry Prather’s inauguration. DeVoss also is a past member of the Alumni Council.
“The work I’ve done at Franklin College has been satisfying and rewarding,” DeVoss said.
Both DeVoss and Norton said they are thankful for their Franklin College undergraduate experiences, including the liberal arts foundation, lifelong friendships and strong alumni network. All have helped provide them a foundation for fulfilling careers and meaningful community engagement. Norton encourages everyone, no matter their stage of life, to explore volunteer opportunities.
“Find something you’re passionate about,” she said. “If you get out and start to do things, other opportunities also will come your way. Volunteerism leads to so many other great things that you could never even imagine.”
Written by: By Alexa Shrake ’23, Pulliam Fellow
Republished from Franklin College Magazine, Fall Issue
POSTED Feb 7, 2022