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The Gary Frontiers Service Club selected Mark Spencer as its 2020 Drum Major

Mark Spencer is a "Drum Major" for the arts

Contributed By:The 411 News

Frontiers Service Club took a leap to recognize the arts as a pillar in the Gary community

When the Gary Frontiers Service Club honored Mark Spencer with the Drum Major Award at January’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Breakfast, it was recognition that the field of the arts was taking its place as one of the pillars of the Gary community.

Since 1986, when State Rep. Katie Hall received the first Drum Major Award, the Frontiers have chosen an individual whose service improves the lives of others. Before his death, Dr. King spoke of how he would like to be remembered. "Say that I was a Drum Major; say that I was a Drum Major for Justice. Say that I was a Drum Mayor for Peace."

Recipients of the award had mainly come from the arenas of civic and social engagement, politics, religion, and education.

As Director of the West Side Theatre Guild, Spencer is the first Drum Major for the arts, where he brings attention to others, not himself. In 1998, Spencer began the transformation of the West Side high school drama club into the West Side Theatre Guild. His vision was for a regional theatre to showcase students and community members, national and international performing artists, and thought leaders.

The backbone was already there: the West Side auditorium seated 2,000.

Now in its 22nd season, the Theatre Guild has lived up to Spencer’s dreams.

He has served dual roles in the classroom and as the director of the Theatre Guild where he has produced a diverse and extensive collection of plays, concerts, albums and television specials, featuring international artists such as Maya Angelou, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Shirley Caesar, Ramsey Lewis, Chaka Khan, Spike Lee, Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Nikki Giovanni, Cicely Tyson, Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Coretta Scott King, Marvin Sapp, Ed Asner and Kirk Franklin.

Spencer is a Gary native and a member of the first graduating class of the Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts. "I am forever grateful to Emerson VPA," he said. "For without Emerson, there would not be a West Side Theatre Guild."

Spencer described the Emerson experience as transformational. "I am indebted to that institution for allowing me to explore, dream and hone my craft without limitation. The staff of Emerson VPA allowed us to develop our intellect as well as perfect our character. Being a member of the first graduating class, in 1988, gave me as well as my classmates the charge to serve as ambassadors from the city of Gary."

Spencer has the distinction of grooming many students and community members for careers onstage, onscreen, and in the music business. Under his tutelage, alumni have gone on to work with Grammy-winning artists like the Jacksons, Frankie Beverly & Maze, Mary J. Blige, and Anthony Hamilton, as well as performing on Broadway, in the NBC production of The Wiz, and with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

While Mark has filled a social and cultural void in Gary for a community starved for top flight programs and performances normally only found in entertainment meccas like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, his greater claim to fame comes from his impact on more than 50,000 Gary Community School Corporation students through annual performances of Lyrics – a multifaceted, multi-disciplined, multimedia extravaganza featuring the children themselves.

From the very first performance of Lyrics for Living that attracted over 100 students to more recent iterations featuring professional sound, lighting, staging, multimedia, and community members, Mark has turned his dream to build community through the arts into a reality for the people of Gary.


WSTG unveiled its new TV studio, WSTG-TV, when the Jacksons returned to Gary for the Hard Rock Casino ground breaking in January.

Story Posted:02/14/2020

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