Carmel native returns home for her first trip to the basement


Beverly Engelson (Hillary Smith), center, reaches to close the music box after singing “Jer Er Sa Glad” to its melody with (from left) Pastor Gunderson (Eddie Curry), Karin Engelson (Katherine Proctor), Mavis Gilmerson (Karen Pappas) and Vivian Snustad (Licia Watson) in Away in the Basement, A Church Basement Ladies Christmas. (Photos provided by Beef & Boards)

Cathedral High School graduate Hillary Smith has enjoyed many roles at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. She’s flown with Peter Pan, sang about her hard knock life with Annie and followed the white rabbit down the hole to Wonderland.

In the four years since she’s stepped onto its stage, she’s earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Florida State University and moved to New York City.

“I can’t express how great it is to be back home in Indianapolis and back home at Beef & Boards,” said Smith. “Beef & Boards will always feel like a second home to me. I have learned so much from fellow actors, directors, crew members and staff members while performing here.”

Now she’s returned to Indiana, for what might be considered the unenviable task of stepping into an iconic series at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre: Church Basement Ladies. On stage now through Nov. 25 is the third show in the musical comedy series about women who work in the basement of a Lutheran church in Minnesota: Away in the Basement. Smith plays the youngest character: Beverly Signe Engelson, a 15-year-old preparing to be confirmed.

She is the only newcomer to the cast, which features the return of Karen Pappas as the hilarious Mavis Gilmerson, Licia Watson as the matriarch Vivian Snustad, Katherine Proctor as Beverly’s mother, Karin Engelson, and Eddie Curry as Pastor E.L. Gunderson.

“I was a little nervous coming into the process because Eddie, Karen, Katie and Licia have all been part of this show before and I was the only new member,” said Smith. “However they welcomed me with open arms, along with our director, Curt Wollan.”

“Playing Beverly is so much fun,” she added. “My mom and dad sat in on our final dress rehearsal and I could hear them laughing out loud in some of my character’s sassier moments. It must mean that Beverly and ’15-year-old’ Hillary aren’t as different as I might have thought! I love playing this character. She has so much to discover about herself and some of those ‘growing up’ discoveries or moments happen in the show for her.”

As if nine performances a week weren’t enough, Hillary is also taking the lead role in Cinderella, the fall installment of Beef & Boards’ Pyramid Players’ Live Theatre for Kids series, now on stage Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 17. The one-hour performances are designed to introduce young children to live theatre.

“The kid shows at Beef & Boards are such a cool experience,” said Smith. “There is nothing like performing to an audience of children and getting to see them and their big smiles afterward. They are living the story in the audience right along with us actors on stage.”

“I love when a parent tells me that the show they just saw was that child’s first,” she added. “I will be part of a memory they will have the rest of their life.”

For reservations to either show, call the Beef & Boards Box Office at 872-9664. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays. For more information, including show schedule, visit

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