BY ERIC MULHOLLAND, June 28, 2013
“[An arts festival] helps a city to express itself. … It lets it come into its own.” — David Binder
The quote above is attributed to Tony award winning producer, David Binder. In his recent *TED talk in Edinburgh, Scotland he shared his views on how the ‘arts festival revolution’ is transforming community art; people in communities around the world are taking art into the street. It’s changing the way we look at how art is delivered, viewed, and appreciated. It blurs the line between artist and audience and invites a kind of participation that is fresh and alive.
This got me thinking about the arts in my community, about theatre arts in particular. And since this is a blog about theatre, I felt it appropriate to wax reflective about my craft.
There seems to be an emergence of live theatre companies on Whidbey Island and most of them are housed on the same block in Langley – a sort of off, off…way off “Broadway”. But instead of bright lights and mega screens assaulting you with advertising 24 hours a day, we have a handful of escaped domestic bunny rabbits nibbling at clover and a charming collection of old buildings that greet you as you drive into town. Not to be tricked by their quaint exterior, there are some interesting things happening in those old places.
There are currently three theatre groups on Camano Avenue: Outcast Productions, Whidbey Island Dance Theatre and Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA). And now, this summer Langley middle school will welcome two more theatre groups to its campus; Whidbey Children’s Theater (WCT) in the auditorium and Island Shakespeare Festival (ISF) in a large circus tent on the back playing field. That’s a total of five theatre groups producing shows for the community in one city block! It seems a theatre revolution might be brewing on South Whidbey.
Some may think this will cause a saturation of theatre in the community and therefore will diminish the efforts of individual companies. But I feel more closely aligned with Binder’s view. If arts festivals help ‘cities express themselves’ as he supposes, then I fully support the move toward more theatre. Theatre is a great tool for storytelling and self-expression. And if you think it’s only for those ‘actor types’, then you haven’t given theatre much of a chance. Many of these companies have open auditions and offer classes for actors of all levels. It’s an invitation to get into the act.
And what of this idea of the ‘new arts festival’? For many years I have been an advocate of creating a theatre festival in Langley. In fact, when I was the artistic director at WCT several years ago, I spearheaded the creation of a summer theatre festival. It was a joint collaboration with WICA’s youth program and WCT’s, and by all outward measures it was a success. After the festival closed, I moved abroad and that first foray toward creating a lasting theatre festival did not continue. (Perhaps the name “Whidbey Theatre Festival” and its acronym sealed its fate!)
Fortunately, taking up the baton is the Island Shakespeare Festival. In my view, it is the closest thing we have to a theatre festival on South Whidbey. ISF not only serves the local community, but it attracts hundreds of visitors from off-island to come and see shows and, starting this year, to participate in classic theatre training for youth and adults. It aims to act locally by building skills through education for young people and adults, inviting them into the creative process and it hopefully will attract more people from afar to enjoy, engage and get inspired.
The best part about the productions at ISF is that they are free! Theatre-in-the-park for the whole family given as a gift by a local theatre company performed in a vintage circus tent that opens up to nature on fine days and keeps people dry on wet days. Audiences are invited to immerse themselves in live story – to get inspired by art surrounded by natural beauty and its Shakespeare, making it all the more alluring and romantic.
*View David Binder’s TED talk at www.ted.com.
Eric Mulholland is an actor, teacher and writer living on Whidbey Island.
Upcoming theater events on and off the island:
- “Passengers” by Sam Bobrick – Woodinville Repertory Theatre; June 7 to 29. http://www.woodinvillerep.org/
- “The Wizard of Oz,” – Whidbey Children’s Theater; June 28 to July 14. http://www.whidbeychildrenstheater.org
- “Chicago,” Book by Fred Ebb & Bob Fosse – Village Theatre; July 5 to 28, Everett Performing Arts Center. http://www.villagetheatre.org/
- “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” by Eric Blau & Mort Shuman, based on Jacques Brel’s lyrics and commentary, Music by Jacques Brel – Outcast Productions; July 19 to Aug. 3. http://www.outcastproductions.net/
- “Much Ado About Nothing,” by William Shakespeare – Island Shakespeare Festival; Aug. 3 to Sept. 15; shows start at 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday; Admission is free!
Check the website for summer classes for youths. http://www.islandshakespearefest.org/