Let the beautiful madness of Spoleto Festival USA and Piccolo Spoleto begin!
Every year, Charleston swells in size as masses of arts lovers come to town. Heck, even Charlestonians who rarely peek their heads out start making appearances.
These 17 days, May 25 through June 10, always end up being an exhilarating roller-coaster ride through the performing arts, and they’ve outdone themselves this year, as I’ve never seen more on the roster.
It’s going to be physically impossible to experience it all, or even mention it all, but it’s well worth the effort, so we’ll give it a shot.
Spoleto Festival USA Spoleto Festival USA has a full schedule of nationally and internationally known acts to wow even the most sophisticated of patrons.
At the top on my list for theater is “The Animals and Children Took to the Streets.” They had me at clown white and bizarre projected animations.
Under the physical theater genre, “Leo” and “Traces” look super rad and will likely make you want to exercise afterward.
The Spoleto Orchestra will perform works by Radiohead in “Orchestra Uncaged,” and that is getting a resounding applause from the younger patrons.
Other “must-sees” in the music category would be ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro, singer k.d. lang and gospel songstress Mavis Staples. The Rebirth Brass Band will rock the Cistern at the College of Charleston. And for the Festival Finale at Middleton Place, Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole will bring a little zydeco flavor.
Also of note, Spoleto and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art have teamed up to bring “Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto,” an entire exhibit made (very meticulously) of salt. Yes, salt.
Piccolo Spoleto Piccolo Spoleto, which translates to “little” Spoleto, often has been called the international festival’s little brother. I’m not so sure if that title will work this year.
I picked up the Piccolo brochure thinking I’d breeze through it. Ha! Quite the opposite as there’s so much going on. But it makes me really proud to see just how much local talent we have here.
Some absolute musts The “Sunset Serenade” will open the festivities at sunset Friday with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra performing “Porgy and Bess” on the stairs of the Customhouse.
Of course, Marion Square is busy, busy, busy every day with all the artists painting and selling works for the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition. On the weekends, the square gets even busier with the Farmers’ Market vendors and performers.
The Piccolo Spoleto Finale at Hampton Park this year will feature the Lemira Percussion Ensemble followed by the internationally famous reggae group The Meditations. Closing out the festival will be Motownmadness playing with the CSO.
Theater Threshold Repertory Theatre will present “Dinner With Friends,” a comedy about modern-day relationships, or more appropriately, the end of them.
“Braindrops: Mindreading, Magic, and iPads” (also at Threshold) is a play that poses the questions: “Are we handing our brains over to technology? Can an iPad read your mind, predict the future, or contact the dead?”
At the Footlight Theatre, cozy up to “Perfectly Normal People,” who happen to be really loud Italians living in Queens.
At Pure Theatre, catch a showing of “Red,” an award-winning play about visual artist Mark Rothko. Find out what happens after Rothko lands the biggest commission in the history of modern art.
Things will get a little scoundrelly at the Powder Magazine, as local actor, playwright and producer Rodney Lee Rogers becomes “The Gentleman Pirate.” This interactive theater event re-enacts much of the life of real pirate Stede Bonnet.
A little off the peninsula, and totally worth the short drive, is the Charleston Acting Studio, which will be showing “Greater Tuna.” This well-known play is about the 20 people who are the only inhabitants of a small town called Tuna, located in Texas. Two actors will perform all the roles. Should be interesting!
In love with Charleston icon Philip Simmons? Learn all about his life and celebrate what would have been his 100th birthday as author and actor Michael Evans re-enacts his life at “Fired Up and Focused.”
Writer and performer David Lee Nelson is back this year with his new solo show, “The Elephant in My Closet,” a politically inspired piece about “coming out” to his Republican father.
Piccolo Fringe Ah, yes, at the Fringe, where things get a little stranger and a lot riskier.
Here’s one a few folks I know may need: “The Complete History of Charleston for Morons.”
Another one with a choice title, “Reformed ...” (OK, so that’s only half the title — it is a family publication after all – but I’ll give you a hint that the second word means “promiscuous or immoral women”). This one looks interesting as it’s described as a combination of “an accordion, a ukulele, and two Southern belles who’ve washed away their sins but forgot to rinse out their mouths.”
And who doesn’t love “Star Wars”? Check out “One-Man Star Wars,” a longtime favorite.
As if those titles weren’t enough, let’s add “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche” and “Big Dicktionary, Doppelganger & Cats Hugging Cats”
The names alone will fill seats.
Blues Those of you who have lived here for a while may remember Momma’s Blues Palace. Well, Momma’s back this year for Piccolo. Catch Momma and the Redemption Band at Mad River.
Drink Small, the legendary “Blues Doctor From Bishopville,” also will play Mad River.
The Lowcountry Blues Cruise series also sounds fun. Hop aboard the Carolina Queen and listen to Wanda Johnson and Shrimp City Slim as you tour Charleston Harbor.
Jazz This year, there’ll be a new series called Jazz at the Hippodrome. Check out local favorites such as Ann Caldwell, the Joe Clarke Big Band and my personal fave, the Lonnie Hamilton Quintet featuring Quiana Parler. If you’ve never heard Parler, you need to change that right away.
Similar to the Blues Cruises previously mentioned, there will be some harbor cruises happening, too. Oscar Rivers will jam on the piano accompanied by his quartet and the New South Jazzmen, will be cranking out some New Orleans Dixieland.
More music For classical music lovers, there are tons of Baroque-inspired pieces this year. Expect lots of Vivaldi. The Splendors of the Baroque seems to encapsulates a lot of music if you can only make it to one show.
Mediterranean Odyssey also sounds intriguing. If you’re a fan of Bartok, check out Belmont Camerata, part of the Spotlight Concert Series. The Sunset Serenade that kicks off the festival also is part of this series.
Ever visit the monks at Mepkin Abbey? This is one of the most stunning places in the Lowcountry. Check out the Nancy D. Hawk Memorial Day Concert on the peaceful, majestic grounds.
Being a big fan of gospel music, the “The Great Migration: 1915-1930 African-American Southern Exodus” performed by the CSO Gospel Choirs sounds powerful.
Dance Love ballet? There’s plenty of it for you to enjoy. Celebrating its 25th year, Charleston Ballet Theatre will present Jill Eathorne Bahr’s “The Firebird,” a futuristic ballet about two warring tribes and an unexpected romance. The Robert Ivey Ballet will do a classical piece called “Le Corsair Pas de Deux.”
In the nonballet world, check out the Muses of Modern Dance and the Gathering Wild Dance Company. The latter will perform a selection of pieces inspired by the music of Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix.
Visual arts If you know anything about art that has made an impact on Charleston and the Lowcountry, you’ve heard the names Mary Whyte and Jonathan Green. Join them as they discuss their creative processes and how they capture the essence of the individuals they paint. “Illuminating the Spirit” will take place at the Gibbes Museum of Art, where Whyte has a show of her work.
When Sara and Alex Radin of Artist on Fire first started the visual art exhibit at Citadel Square Baptist Church near Marion Square, I don’t think they knew just how much of an impact they would have. This year’s exhibit, “Night & Day: The Sun Always Rises,” is a multimedia exhibit that explores the constants in our lives. It is certainly true: Whatever may happen or not happen, the sun will always rise. The exhibit will include photography, film, installation art, sculpture, mixed media and painting accompanied by live music.
Last year, I found the most amazing sculpture at this little crafts fair, just off the beaten path near Marion Square. Go just a little farther down to Wragg Square off Meeting Street, and you’ll find a park full of treasures at the Outdoor Crafts Fair. Whereas most of the artists in the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition are painters, this area features more three-dimensional works. Expect to see lots of clay, wood, textiles, leather and unusual pieces.
Visit Dock Street Theatre this season for visual art in addition to the performing arts schedule. The exhibit “Sacred Windows” is a collection of 13 acrylic paintings “inspired by 12 houses of worship on the Charleston peninsula,” said the artist, Carol Ezell-Gilson.
For the first time, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum and Piccolo have partnered to host an exhibit, “Art and Music in Times of War,” aboard the aircraft carrier Yorktown. The exhibit will include original paintings, prints, photography, vintage posters and ship/aircraft models, all of which were pieces inspired by times of war.
Curated by well-known local artist Hirona Matsuda, “A Long Time Ago ...” is a collection of works showing at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park that are all about storytelling. There will be painting, sculpture, paper-cutting, collage, and pen and ink drawings. Expect to see works by Lisa Abernathy, Becca Barnet, Seth Corts, Baird Hoffmire, Michelle Jewell, Xin Lu, Lisa Shimko, Liz Vaughan and Trever Webster.
Literary If you’re a book buff, you probably already know about the Charleston Library Society and all its amazing programs. In case you don’t, the Library Society has been around since 1748.
This Piccolo season, expect to see, hear or read things from Curtis Worthington, Dr. Walter Edgar, David L. Holmes, Nicholas Basbanes, Sallie Krawcheck and Marshall Chapman.
Special event Filmmaker Justin Nathanson and musician Andrew Walker have been hard at work on their new project, “Charleston, a Love Letter.” Nathanson has spent months capturing the essence of Charleston, and why we’re all so in love with this place, with his video camera. Walker composed the music to go with the film. As the film plays on the large screen at the Hippodrome, Walker and his band, Entropy Ensemble, will be in front of the screen playing the film’s score live. With these two talented folks collaborating, I have no doubt the end product will be stunning.