Celebrating the arts

Taiko Charleston will demonstrate Japanese drumming at the North Charleston Arts Festival.

It's great when the family can get out, enjoy the arts and do it all for free.

That's why the North Charleston Arts Festival, which runs through Saturday, is such a great way to get familiar with the arts. You can dip your toe in the stream without getting deluged by the ticket price.

That's not to say there are not some great ticketed events, too. Once you are in the swing of the festival, you probably will want to try a few of them.

The nine-day festival started Friday and has a full schedule today and throughout the coming week.

Since it's impossible to write about all of them, here are a few events that might pique your interest.

Today at the North Charleston Convention Center, there are four stages of various events, exhibitions of fine art and photography, the S.C. Palmetto Hands Fine Crafts, which are crafts of every medium, and the Tri-County Youth Art. You also can go to the Lowcountry Gem and Mineral Show and the Village Antiques & Collectibles Show. For the kids, there are activities at the Creation Station and Box City, and plenty of roving entertainers.

Even if you do nothing else at the festival, this is a great way to spend the afternoon. There are so many things to see that you can't cover it very quickly. And it is a way to see some local up-and-coming arts groups that are doing some of their first performances, as well as more seasoned veterans. Take the kids for some family time.

There is another performance at 3 p.m. today that requires tickets, but you get more for your money. At the Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston Chamber Opera is presenting an afternoon of opera and art. Scott Joplin, familiar to many because of his ragtime theme used for the movie “The Sting,” wrote an opera called “Treemonisha,” and the opera company will present excerpts from this as well as from several other black composers.

The performance is set against the Gibbes exhibit “Places for the Spirit: Traditional African-American Gardens of the South,” so the ambience will be perfect for this intimate concert. Afterward, stroll through the galleries and look at the Mary Whyte exhibition that is also running. The price is $25 for nonmembers of the Gibbes.

On Monday, there will be a presentation of Mo' Motown Magic 1:30-2:30 p.m. at the Felix C. Davis Community Center in Park Circle. And, yes, it is a free adventure through the Motown archives.

On Tuesday, there is a Children's Puppet Show 10:30-11:30 a.m. at the Cooper River Memorial Library. Audiences will get a chance to see a traveling salesman transform his sample case into a stage and bring magical characters to life.

On Wednesday, there is an art walk around the Olde Village area of North Charleston, and businesses, restaurants and salons will be turned into galleries showing local artists. It will be a street party 5-8 p.m. And, it's free.

On Thursday, there will is an interactive Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre starting at 7 p.m. at the Montague Terrace at the North Charleston Coliseum. The premise is that a Southern gentleman named Ashley Alston is hosting a surprise party, and the Actors' Theatre of South Carolina is in the mix. So is Chief Detective Rhett Rutledge, who will enlist members of the audience to solve the dastardly deed.

You need to purchase these tickets by Monday at 740-5847. They are $37 each.

The grand finale of the festival is 6-9 p.m. Saturday at North Charleston Riverfront Park and will feature a number of great groups. One standout is the Joseph R. Pye Elementary African Drum & Dance Ensemble. They promise to be a lot of fun. Then there are the youth poets from the Speak Freely Foundation, which helps at-risk students.

Two other highlights of the evening are the Flamenco Soltado Music and Dance Ensemble and Taiko Charleston, which will demonstrate the musical art form of Japanese Taiko drumming.

Both will end the North Charleston festival on a high note. Bring a picnic and sit out looking across the river. What a great way to spend one of our spring evenings.

Outside the festival, there is another set of performances that promises to be unpredictable. Starting Thursday and running through next Sunday, Charleston Acting Studio's Theatre Outside the Box series will present “SHORTS: Fun-Size Theatre.” This is 90 minutes of short plays, each running about 10 minutes.

About half of them are world premieres written by local playwrights. In addition to being a fun night at the theater, “SHORTS” is a way to create more opportunities for local playwrights, directors, actors and technicians.

It will feature the talents of 15 local actors: from seasoned veterans to graduates of the Charleston Acting Studio's Adult Acting Workshops who will be making their stage debuts. The plays start at 8 p.m. each night, and the theater is at Midtown/Sheri Grace Productions, 915 Folly Road at Camp Road (behind Walgreens, next to Family Dollar). The price is $10.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557 or sharvin@postandcourier.com.