Man revives historic Pixy Theatre in Edinburgh
On a Tuesday morning in Edinburgh, people come and go from the Pixy Theatre carrying construction equipment and cleaning up after its most recent production.
A sign outside promotes the next Friday night comedy event.
All smiles and enjoying fellowship associated with bringing life to the hub of Edinburgh’s downtown, local folks soak in the theater’s eclectic mix of urban entertainment with a small town vibe. Pixy owner Mike Harding blends right in with the show-must-go-on mentality.
“One of the reasons for buying this place is it used to be the pearl of the community,” Harding said. “It brings the community together.”
The Edinburgh Pixy Theatre was built in 1907 and was used as a Masonic Lodge until 2008. It was a former opera house, movie theater and home of the Edinburgh Sugar Creek Players for almost 20 years. With extensive renovations done in the last decade, these days it serves as an historical venue for live music, movies, arts, stage productions, weddings and even paranormal investigations. It has hosted line dancing and fencing lessons and has served as a seed location for small startup businesses.
Harding bought the facility in 2008 — two years after his wife, Carol Forrest, died in a tragic flying accident. With the marquee falling off and the Masons wanting to move, the fixer-upper project seemed like the perfect way to heal his broken heart and soul.
“It needed a lot of help, and I needed something to do,” he said. “We’ve had a good time. This belongs to the town, and you have to take care of it.”
Area resident Judy Chandler grew up attending Saturday night Pixy events and now sells tickets and concessions for its weekend shows and cleans the facility for weddings. She has grown to know more local folks with the job and admires what Harding has done to restore and rejuvenate community events.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” she said. “He’s a heck of a nice guy.”
Caring for historical buildings and connecting people to purpose was the premise behind Harding’s hiring of about two dozen young adults in trouble with local law enforcement to help renovate the Pixy. For several years, they painted doors, staircases and spindles, stripped and sanded floors, scraped walls and learned to show up for employment sober and ready to work.
“We taught them some skills and put them to work,” he said. “It took a couple of years and kept them out of trouble.”
Some of the kids fared well and found success after their time at the Pixy, Chandler said. Other workers fell astray — overdosing on drugs or returning to jail. One young man, whom Harding testified for in court to serve the community rather than jail time, died in a car crash running from police.
“I don’t dwell on that,” he said. “You do what you can. We had them for a few years. They were good kids, and they worked their butts off.”
Harding is no stranger to hard work. He grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and graduated from Purdue University in 1976 in environmental science. He lived and worked in California in environmental restoration after such disasters as wildfires and mudslides. In his extensive career, he has consulted on projects around the globe and has given keynote speeches on environmental matters.
His passion for several years was the Flight of Discovery, in which a team of experts retraced the Lewis and Clark trail and collected water and soil samples to study environmental changes. The adventure took place in 2004, 2005 and 2006 with Harding only participating the first two years. In 2006, right before the excursion, his wife, along with two other participants, died in a helicopter crash.
Harding said his wife was a fabulous civil engineer, musician and ballet teacher. The renovated bridal room at the Pixy houses cherished items of Forrest’s past and the couple’s life together. After her death, he returned to the Edinburgh area to purchase farmland in the family from years ago and some other properties, including the Pixy. He has also renovated the downtown Edinburgh building housing Cork Liquors and its bowling lanes upstairs.
“I kind of got enamored with this town,” he said.
The Pixy, which Harding describes lovingly as a true nonprofit organization, is also home to a museum of Civil War memorabilia and lending library, male and female parlors, original projectors and a vintage organ from 1928. New windows bring life and light to the old building, along with a restored lobby and restrooms.
Harding embraces quirkiness at the Pixy, such as his extensive unique mirror collection and theater seating signs for Purdue and Indiana University fans. He recalls a “Cat in the Hat” themed wedding with rhyming vows and he stays on alert for paranormal activity from various unexplained theater presences he calls “tenants.”
On any given day, guests can hear unidentified voices and someone walking the steps, Harding said. They can see orbs and faces in pictures, watch the stage curtain lift on its own, feel cold spots and witness a little boy present in the back of the theater.
“They just want you to know they are here,” Harding said.
A performer and musician himself, Harding’s joy comes from being front and center stage — watching the audience appreciate good talent or a loved one’s performance.
“My satisfaction comes from people’s reaction,” he said. “For every dollar I lose on this place, I get $10 back.”
Mount Auburn resident Glynn Graham attended one of the final concerts of 2021’s season with Tennessee’s popular blues and country rock band Sugar Lime Blue. He loves live music and joins in the fun whenever possible.
“They never get a bad band in here,” he said.
Edinburgh residents Josh and Amy Davis live a block away from the Pixy and attend events often. The couple appreciates the local and regional acts, the theater’s history and the many holiday celebrations.
“It’s kind of a gem,” Josh Davis said.
Harding said Pixy programming typically runs mid-April through mid-December. Events are posted on the website and social media. Tickets can be purchased at the door.