All the Peninsula's a stage during the Carmel Performing Arts Festival.
Thursday, October 5, 2000
The fourth annual Carmel Performing Arts Festival promises to be the most exciting yet as local and touring artists converge on the Monterey Peninsula for two and a half weeks of music, dance, theater, and kids shows throughout Carmel, Monterey, Carmel Valley and Salinas.
"You can see as much theater as you could in Denver, Chicago or New York, and of the same quality," says Robin McKee, the festival''s producing artistic director.
The festival integrates shows that are already being produced by area theater companies--like the Pacific Repertory Theater''s production of Two Gentlemen of Verona--with performances by guest artists such as internationally known storyteller Diane Ferlatte and recording artist and vibraphone player Terri Gibbs, who was the musical director of "The Steve Allen Show" during the 1960s. Some freebies are also scheduled, including "strolling performers" who will wander the streets of Carmel and Carmel Valley, singing and playing music for passersby.
The festival grew out of McKee''s efforts to create a professional niche for herself in the local theater community. Her undertaking was also driven by a more altruistic purpose: She felt regional artists "should really have the opportunity to perform in front of a supportive local audience. There''s Performance Carmel [at Sunset Center] that brings in well-recognized groups, but there wasn''t really a mechanism to bring smaller types of shows."
Over the past couple of years, the festival has grown to accommodate local performing arts organizations by spanning several weeks to give companies with weekend performances enough time to be visible to festival goers. McKee says that some local companies, like Unicorn Theater, which is presenting Whistler and Wilde at Cherry Hall, "adjusted their season to fit into the window of time of the festival--which we love! We have more local organizations this year than we did last year." McKee says that small independent local companies are included in the festival''s package "to support and subsidize performers not affiliated with our organization, to give them the opportunity to dream a little, and so that they don''t have to do their own PR." These companies'' information appears on the Carmel Performing Arts Festival promotional materials and Website.
The festival is also gaining recognition for its Tix4Kids program, which was started in 1998 and "just exploded," according to McKee. The education outreach program provides at-risk youth and their caregivers with transportation and tickets to an event by asking community members to donate $20. This year, 500 children and their chaperones will be able to attend performances by Diane Ferlatte and Velocity Circus, among others, thanks to the public''s donations. "I really think that it''s life-changing for the kids," says McKee, who stresses that "just buying a ticket to come enjoy yourself is a very critical donation."
At least one adult involved with the festival is looking forward to a life-changing experience of his own. San Francisco attorney Francis Toldi, who grew up in Carmel, will have a chance to revisit his roots when he performs with the Coro Hispano de San Francisco in its presentation of "Musica Criolla: Sacred and Secular Choral Masterworks from Latin America" at the Carmel Mission on Oct. 15.
"Coming to the Mission is just a dream," says Toldi, who has been involved with the Bay Area group for many years. In its 21st year, the Coro boasts an ensemble of professional and amateur vocalists and instrumentalists who perform folk and classic choral selections from Latin America, Spain and Portugal.
Toldi hopes to help educate the North American public to the vast array of styles and rhythms of Latin music. "Even with folk music, most people will think of mariachis. People have no idea how much more there is." He adds, "I have always wanted to perform in Carmel--when I was a kid I would go put my ear to the crack in the door at the Sunset Center during the Bach festival."
Another facet of Latin American culture is being represented at the Western Stage in Salinas, where the world premiere of local playwright Harvey Landa''s adaptation of the John Steinbeck screenplay Viva Zapata! runs through Oct. 15.
"At Western Stage, we''ve been doing East of Eden, Cannery Row and other adaptations of Steinbeck''s work," says Landa, who also wrote the adaptation of Steinbeck''s Travels With Charley: In Search of America, which was produced by Western Stage in 1998. "In this process, it came up that the Steinbeck estate gave us rights to Viva Zapata! "
Viva Zapata! is the story of the life and tragic death in 1919 of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. Landa says, "It''s a wonderful story. It''s a story of a person who literally dedicated his life to help neighbors and friends. And somewhat reluctantly, too."
The 1952 film directed by Elia Kazan garnered Marlon Brando an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and Anthony Quinn a Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of Zapata''s brother. The biggest challenge in adapting the film to the stage, laughs Landa, was the question of, "Well, what do you do with 500 to 600 horses? We focus on the story of the individual person''s conflict, and take away the emphasis of the scenery. Of course, you can''t change the milieu; everything boils in that cauldron. What''s lost is panorama, and the great scope of various political parties. But we''re trying to show the private hell that somebody goes through."
Western Stage managing director Alan Harrison says he is looking forward to bringing the Carmel festival''s audience to Salinas. "We already draw over half of our audience from the Peninsula. We''re hoping to get more people to drive over Highway 68 to see us." Harrison adds, "We just received a proclamation from the city [of Salinas] as the flagship theater company for Monterey County. As a regional asset, we want to serve our community."
A sense of community is just one of the themes dear to storyteller Diane Ferlatte, who will share some of her favorite ghost stories in the Tix4Kids selection, "Haunted Bayou," which she will perform at the Carmel Ballet Academy on Oct. 19 and 20.
Ferlatte says she "adapts old stories that already exist from folklore" and sees her role as that of a preservationist of folk history and culture. "But these stories aren''t scary or gory," Ferlatte assures, "they''re just about the spiritual world, the ghostly world. A lot of my stories, including ghost stories, have a lot of humor in them."
During a phone interview, Ferlatte offered a personal preview of one of the stories from "Haunted Bayou." Even over the telephone, Ferlatte is a master of her medium. She has an amazing gift for setting and manipulating mood and tone and evoking emotion. She uses her rich voice to portray different characters, breaking into song and chants, her voice rising to a shriek and sinking to a whisper, creating suspense with her breath, timing and commanding presence.
Whether you fancy an evening of Shakespeare, an early morning performance piece accompanied by a continental breakfast, or the wild antics of Velocity Circus, you''re sure to find something to suit your performing-arts palate at this year''s festival.
"We kind of take the Monterey Peninsula and make it cosmopolitan from an artistic point of view," McKee says. "Whatever you see, it may not be your cup of tea, but it is something that is very well done."
For tickets or schedule information, contact the Carmel Performing Arts Festival Box Office at 624-1692 or visit www.carmelfest.org.