On Thursday, Viswas Chitnis will play a three-hour set of classical Indian music at Chapel Hill's The Mint. Then he'll slip around the corner to Nightlight and trade his sitar for a keyboard, joining a vivacious cadre of performers raising holiday spirits around the common thread that bonds them all: Raleigh's Enloe High School, their alma mater.
All Enloe Performer Night, as organized by alumna and Nightlight owner Alexis Mastromichalis, aims to be equal parts reunion and showcase for students who attended the Raleigh magnet school.
"A lot of really amazing people come out of Enloe," says Mastromichalis. "Since I run this performing arts space, around the holidays it seemed appropriate to have a homecoming for people who don't live here."
Last year's inaugural showcase started as a simple lineup of acts but eventually devolved into a supportive open mic and bloomed into a bustling dance party. This year, the hope is to repeat the success in turnout and amp up the variety of the performances—an aim made possible due to the talent pool of the school's alumni network. Enloe's magnet designation allows it to draw students from across Wake County municipalities to take part in its art-focused curriculum and both its Gifted and Talented and International Baccalaureate programs.
"It's a great school because everybody, whether you're a scientist or a geek, is required to have an arts focus. It was a very challenging school, but it really pushed people," explains Mastromichalis, who studied dance. She credits the rigors to some amalgamation of curriculum design and faculty merit. "I know that if I didn't have that education at Enloe and that push to be focused on the arts, I probably would have a corporate job and not be running a freaky art space."
As it was, teachers encouraged her to apply for dance scholarships as a senior, and she went on to George Washington University, where she studied dance and international affairs. The double punch of her arts training and business acumen turned out to be perhaps the perfect cross for an arts business owner.
But Mastromichalis' expansive vision for Nightlight, as it's evolved, has had everything to do with those critical high school years. Since taking over Nightlight in 2007, she has worked to make it a boundless, contemporary performance space with a diverse range of programming—music and dance, but also art nights, old-time music shows and community benefits.
"I think I was really lucky that I grew up where it wasn't just music and visual arts. It was screen-printing or dance or installations. I think that experience, for me, it kind of created a standard, created a bar to always excel beyond," says Mastromichalis.
And whether or not Mastromichalis is the only "freaky art space"-owning alumna, she is definitely in good company with people who have taken the creativity encouraged in their formative years and let it blossom into lifelong pursuits. That list includes everyone from out-music star Chuck Johnson to Randy Jones, the original cowboy for the Village People. This year, All Enloe Night will feature Chitnis' pop-rock collective Bad Mr. Viswas, soundscapes from David van Dokkum, an electro/ old school '80s R&B set from Breniecia Reuben aka DJ Luxe Posh, and dance and film contributions. The lineup's a microcosm of that legacy.
"It wasn't that these people would not have been good artists had they gone to other schools," says Chitnis. "But what a nice thing it was to be around other like-minded people at that age. It was galvanizing." His own career path is an example of that: Chitnis wasn't very serious about music at the time, but because of the talent pool in which he found himself, he and a few friends started a band. That group, though never very widely received, featured a few people, like Nathan Asher (formerly of The Infantry) and Jay Cartwright (of Lemming Malloy), who've also continued pursuing music after Enloe.
"The coolest thing has been to see people I thought were very good then, and see how much they've grown as artists since that time," says Chitnis. "I never in my wildest dreams would've thought [at that time that] I'd get to do this for a living, I'd get to perform for so many people a week who really enjoy it and have this life. It's like a bizarre fairy tale, and a lot of my friends have similar bizarre fairy tales."