With Spoleto 2006 officially in the rear-view mirror, it’s worth observing once again that there’s a hell of a lot more to festival season than just what happens on stage, as anyone who followed this blog regularly surely noticed. It’s no accident that Spoleto founder Gian Carlo Menotti jammed the whole thing into 17 days; he wanted Charlestonians to live the festival for two weeks, not just pop into and out of a show as they might any other day of the year.
So for three years now I’ve reported on the festival by blogging my daily experiences during each one, allowing for constant coverage, rather than just weekly overviews. Sure, it makes for a brutal schedule, but it’s allowed the City Paper to cover the entire event in a manner closer to the way people actually experience Spoleto and Piccolo — from the street, in the lobbies, at parties and open-air concerts, in the restaurants and clubs.
The best way, therefore, to truly grasp Spoleto Festival USA 2006 would be to read the Spoletobuzz Blog from its beginning on May 1 to its fevered end last weekend, with regular dips into the 12 audio podcasts I recorded with festival artists and lots of side-trips into Ida Becker’s Spoleto Scene blog. But I’ve dug up some highlights from the blur of curtain calls (40-plus total) and elbow-rubbing from the past three weeks. What follows, therefore, is a thoroughly arbitrary, entirely subjective look at a few of the things I found most worth remembering about Spoleto festival season 2006. —Patrick Sharbaugh
BEST SUBVERSIVE SWIPE
STRANGEST PREMIERE OF A NEW MUSICAL WORK YOU’LL NEVER, EVER HEAR AGAIN
A highlight of Spoleto’s Opening Ceremony was a weird musical performance that consisted of 13 cars with speakers on their roofs performing a new work, Car-illon Fanfare, created by minimalist composer Philip Glass in honor of the festival’s 30th anniversary. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on during the performance: a dozen tricked-out BMW’s looped around each other in front of the crowd while harpsichord music played from them. Board president Eric Friberg suggested that the work “shows the many sides of Spoleto.” Maybe. The most common sentiment was that it showed the many sides of festival sponsor BMW.
MOST VISUALLY ARRESTING IMAGE IN A PERFORMANCE
For me, it wasn’t the giant bloody duck in Bill T. Jones’ Blind Date. Nor was it the four-minute tongue-in-teeth action of the two dancers in ASzURe and Artists’ Lascilo Perdere. It wasn’t the beautiful staging and costumes of either of the two operas, Don Giovanni and Roméo et Juliette — though they were both wondrous to behold. It was in Ong Keng Sen’s Geisha, whose spareness audiences found mostly unenthralling. But in the opening scene, actress Karen Kandel arose out of what we’d thought had been a pile of white sheets in the middle of the all-white stage and slowly drew the train of the dress she wore — which covered the square stage completely — toward her in massive folds as she recited her monologue. It was a hell of an image.
MOST BOINKABLE ARTISTS
There were plenty of hotties to be found underneath the big tent in Ansonborough Field at Circus Flora’s short run of performances there during the festival’s opening weekend, but it had to do more with the temperature inside the tent than high cheekbones. The phrase “like a sauna in here” gets tossed about a lot, but the only way the Circus Flora tent could have been any more like a sauna at noon on the first Saturday was if there’d been a pile of rocks in a corner. Audience members were dropping like flies (one did, anyway), and even the mosquitoes were panting.
The Post and Courier’s new Spoleto overview critic, Joshua Rosenblum, is a composer, conductor, and lyricist whose classical music chops are well established. But in its lengthy description of his artistic background, the paper omitted one tiny detail: Rosenblum is also the creator, producer, and musical talent behind the current Off-Broadway hit Bush is Bad: The Musical Cure for the Blue State Blues, a satiric Tom Leher-style savaging of the Bush administration. Why would the P&C raise high the flag for Rosenblum’s other composing credits, which all closed long ago, and not even mention the current run of a hot-ticket anti-Bush musical which he created? Gosh, we’re stumped.
MOST WELCOME NEW TREND, IF IT’S REAL
Theatre 99’s Piccolo Fringe was the 800-lb gorilla in this year’s theatre program. There was other stuff going on elsewhere, to be sure: PURE Theatre’s two shows, the CofC’s three-show Stelle di Domani series, Art Forms and Theatre Concepts and Robert Ivey at Footlight, Sheri Grace Wenger’s big music theatre series at Charleston Music Hall. But covering both Theatre 99 and the American Theater, the Have Nots!’ Piccolo Fringe loomed over everything else like a laugh-shaped thunderhead. With 11 national-level comedy acts from as far away as L.A., Vancouver, Chicago, and New York, it was damn near impossible not to find something worth busting a gut on. Highlights for this festival-goer included Rode Hard and Put Away Wet, Upright Citizens Brigade, We Used To Go Out (hands down the funniest thing in this year’s festival), and the brilliant Improvised Shakespeare Company — who, word has it, will likely be returning in January for the 4th Charleston Comedy Festival.
BEST USE OF A MATTRESS
MOST COLORFUL PERFORMANCE
It’d take a more astute observer than me to determine if this goes to neotraditional Indian Dance Troupe Nrityagram at Emmett Robinson Theatre or Sara Baras Ballet Flamenco at the Gaillard, so I’ll call it a tie. In both cases, the dancers were a kaleidoscopic swirl of energy, color, and grace, and the live accompaniment for each was as huge a part of the show as the dancing. I pity the poor fool who missed either one.
MOST ANNOYING PAIN IN THE ASS
BIGGEST SPOLETO CONTROVERSY