Something odd is going on with The Villages Entertainment Department. And if you ask us, it stinks.
For more than a month, rumors have raced throughout the community about changes coming to the Entertainment Department, community events going away and cutbacks likely for the few that survive. Many Villagers who perform in these groups have expressed legitimate concerns about the expected cutbacks and pointed out more than once that the ability to enjoy the best years of their lives performing in those various groups was one of the big reasons they moved here.
Not surprisingly, the biggest problem here is a complete lack of communication. Apparently, judging by two recent Letters to the Editor and things we’ve been told, getting answers from the brass at the Entertainment Department – or even a return call or email, for that matter – is about as likely as winning the lottery twice in one week.
We’re not sure if it’s arrogance, complete lack of respect or incompetence – we certainly have our own theories and we’ll just call it all of the above – but the fact that residents paid several hundred thousand dollars to live here and are still shelling out big bucks in amenity fees makes us believe they deserve answers to their questions. They are customers, and even though they may not like those answers, the powers-that-be at the Entertainment Department owe them the requested information.
This issue recently surfaced when a member of the Amenity Authority Committee, Don Deakin, brought it up in one of the group’s meetings. Deakin, a Community Development District 4 supervisor who sits on the AAC, said he had been told by members of resident performance groups that they were being kept in the dark about the Entertainment Department and hadn’t yet received a schedule of 2019 events – something they desperately needed so they could start planning and rehearsing. Typically that information is in their hands by this time of the year.
Deakin said many of the folks in these acts that have become staples in the community are upset and want some answers. Many have even looked at the Entertainment Department’s online listings for special events and come to the same conclusion that we have – it’s quite sparse!
In fact, the only things on there through May are a Cajun Cruise & Blues event benefitting the Buffalo Scholarship Fund, five monthly cruise ins, the Strawberry Festival at Brownwood and two St. Patrick’s Day Festivals with parades. Glaringly missing is Colonial Days – we’ve been told that one died a silent, painful death – and Mardi Gras, easily one of the most popular events in the rich history of The Villages and one many performance groups count on being involved with.
Of course, we can’t be sure if the annual Mardi Gras celebrations that draw huge crowds are continuing or not. If ones goes solely by the events calendar, one would be left to wonder and probably assume the worst. But Mardi Gras could just be missing from the listing (remember that incompetence thing we mentioned earlier?).
We’ve also received two recent Letters to the Editor that have raised some excellent questions about the future direction of the clandestine Entertainment Department. One was from Villager Dan Howard, a member of the highly popular Perseverance Brass Band that has been a part of festivals in these communities since some of the fourth-generation Villages leaders were still wearing designer Pampers.
Howard, who has played sousaphone in the band since 2008, was told by the group’s leader that he received a letter saying their services at the Feb. 22 Strawberry Festival in Brownwood were no longer needed. In addition, the group would perform in only one Mardi Gras festival on Fat Tuesday in a square to be named later (we’re still not sure this one is going to happen based on the cracker-jack online entertainment calendar). And no reason for the cancellation and cutbacks were given in the letter, which amazingly enough, also referred to the band as “excellent.”
Another letter from Villager Christina Crispi also raised plenty of concerns about the Entertainment Department. She complained of not being able to find someone in the department to talk to about the cloak-of-darkness operation.
“No one can get an answer as to what is happening regarding the groups that donate their time to perform on the squares for special events, such as Cruise-In’s, holiday festivals, etc.,” she wrote. “Used to be, if one had a question, you could call the Entertainment Department, talk to a real person and get real answers. Now you get a recorded message and no response. I have emailed twice and called at least four times over the course of a month, with no results whatsoever.”
As we said earlier, we have our own theories about what’s going on in that department. We believe that someone has decided that festivals with local groups performing are too much trouble.
But here’s the thing. Changes happen in communities. Some people like them and some don’t. But the so-called leadership hiding behind the walls of the Entertainment Department at the very least should give these residents a straight answer when they ask questions.
Let’s remember that many of these groups have money tied up in outfits and equipment. None of that stuff is cheap. And those Villagers have shelled out their own hard-earned money to purchase those items, not to mention dedicated countless hours in rehearsal time to get ready for various events.
Let’s also not forget that many of these residents probably moved here to be able to take part in performance groups. We’re guessing they were told plenty of wonderful stories about those groups when a sales agent was blabbering away in an effort to secure his or her hefty commission. And we have no doubt that some residents made the decision to live in The Villages instead of Spruce Creek South, Del Webb Spruce Creek, Stonecrest, Water Oak and On Top of the World in Ocala because they would have the chance to live the dream and get back into something they really enjoyed once they no longer had to go to work every morning.
Let’s also think about one other thing. Many Villagers didn’t live in the community when its true visionary, H. Gary Morse, was alive, or when his late father, founder Harold Schwartz, roamed the streets shaking hands and listening to what residents had to say. Both of those noble men were all about what residents wanted. Yes, they banked millions of dollars, but they never seemed to do it at the expense of things residents had been promised – especially those activities that keep them active and healthy and living their retirement dreams.
But unfortunately, things are changing rapidly for this fast-growing, mega-retirement community. Houses are popping up at a rapid pace south of County Road 44 in an area that doesn’t yet connect with the rest of the community. And instead of things that benefit seniors like the popular calendar of events they’ve come to expect, we’re hearing about out-of-touch things like driverless taxis and cutbacks in various popular forms of entertainment from leaders who are five and six generations removed from the very people they are supposed to be serving.
At some point soon, we’re hoping the big brass at the Entertainment Department will put on his big-boy pants and answer the legitimate questions Villagers are asking. They paid wads of cash to live here and they have a right to know what’s going on. And even if you aren’t going to deliver information they want to hear, at least step up to the plate and demonstrate some class and decency in being responsive instead of hiding in your office behind constantly ringing phones and unanswered emails.