Robert Faires reports his recent binge of arts festivals programming.
Feasting on Fests
The number of festivals that have erupted around town in recent years is no longer a joke. Austin hosts so many fests annually now that the populace is in danger of death by cultural exhaustion. In just the past month, we've had the FronteraFest Short Fringe and Long Fringe, Mi Casa Es Su Teatro, Dancefest, and the openings of the Mid-Winter Festival of Early Music and Playfest. It's too much at once, I feared. The audience will be burned out.
Then, last Saturday, I confronted my fears and went to three different festivals in one day. Sounds extreme, I know, but it turned out to be a pleasure. To my delight, I learned that these events aren't hurting for audiences and that the folks who are going are as enthusastic as any local audiences I've encountered -- some more so. On top of that, the quality of the art was of such a high caliber that it made me genuinely eager to see more. Here's the day in brief:
At noon, I was at the Hideout on Congress to catch my fifth Long Fringe project: A Macbeth, a work-in-progress production by the State Theater Company School of Acting. The 75-minute adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy eliminated all the frills to give us a swift, dark account of the Scottish lord's bloody rise and fall. Director Guy Roberts kept this version focused tightly on the murderous couple who drive the play, and Steve Shearer and Babs George responded with lusty portrayals of the Macbeths, revealing their naked ambition and a chillingly visceral madness. The direction was so tight and the cast of eight so strong that it felt as if all 60 audience members were leaning forward and holding their breaths together. This show further enhances Roberts' rep for staging Shakespeare and I look forward to full run of the show at the State. (For a full review by Robi Polgar, see this issue's Exhibitionism page.)
At 5pm, I was over at the Dougherty Arts Center to catch the first show of Playfest 2000: Liu, the Dragon King, from the Second Youth Family Repertory Theater. I can't recall ever having seen the DAC Theatre so full. The show they had come to see surely justified a packed house. Brian Gaston's adaptation of this old Chinese folk tale was a charmer -- intelligent, rich in lively characters, and bright with humor -- and boasted some impressive puppetry: delicately featured half-size human figures dressed in rich robes, and a glorious dragon, his flaming golden head as tall as a man, all elegantly manipulated by a corps of black-garbed puppeteers. Simply enchanting.
At 8pm, I was over at First English Lutheran Church for my first taste of the Mid-Winter fest produced by the Texas Early Music Project. For this second-week recital, KUT morning show host John Aielli and UT School of Music professor of piano Nancy Garrett were joining forces to present the Schubert song cycle Die schöne Müllerin. I had no prior knowledge of the work, but that didn't matter. The instant it began, I was caught up in the music, which carries one along like a paper boat in a spring stream, and the enthusiasm of the performers. Garrett had her grand fortepiano burbling like a brook, and Aielli poured forth his miller's joys and sorrows with an infectious brio. These two old hands came across as youngsters reveling in the glories of nature in spring.
By 10pm, I was ready to go home, but I was still terrifically energized by all that I'd seen. It made me reassess my feelings about all those damn festivals. I've seen the light. Bring 'em on.