June 10, 2012

Performing Arts Festival to blow the lid off the Arts District

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

If you live in Portland, you might want to plan to stay in town the last three days of June and the first day of July. If you live out of town, think about coming to Portland for a visit.

Eepybird, a.k.a the Coke & Mentos guys, are in Portland's Monument Square on June 28.

Courtesy photo


WHEN: June 28 to July 1

WHERE: Various locations throughout Portland

INFO: portlandfestival.org

The inaugural Portland Performing Arts Festival, scheduled for June 28 to July 1, is shaping up to be a pretty cool event. The official schedule includes eight ticketed performances of classical music, jazz, dance and theater, but the related Portland Festival Fringe offers another three dozen events presented by Maine artists and arts organizations over the same four days.

Some are free, some not. Many are inside, safe from weather concerns. But a lot will happen on the streets and sidewalks.

As a result, Portland should be hopping pretty good. It's a great way to start summer.

The idea is to transform the city's Arts District into what chief organizer Kara Larson describes as "a hotbed of creative activity."

The festival will showcase Portland's creativity in formal and informal ways. There are plenty of pre-planned events around which people can build a schedule, but also lots of semi-spontaneous opportunities for pop-up entertainment.

"We obviously want to sell tickets, but the larger idea is to get people to come in and pick a few things they might want to do and then let serendipity take over. There are going to be things going on all over the place," Larson said.

Some of the highlights include:

A performance by the duo Eepybird, better known as the Coke & Mentos guys. Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz will perform their soda-and-candy experiment in Monument Square at 6 p.m. June 28, creating a geyser by combining Mentos candies with the popular soft drink.

Grobe and Voltz take their science experiment to an extreme, using hundreds of bottles of Coke and thousands of Mentos. They have performed their experiment all over the globe, appeared on TV many times, and received lots of recognition, including winning Webby awards and garnering Emmy nominations.

But aside for their early backyard experiments up at their home base in Buckfield, these guys have yet to stage a formal performance in Maine, noted Larson. The Monument Square event is way overdue -- and a brilliant kick-off to the festival both in spirit and practice. It should be a lot of fun, and it's free.

On June 30, Maine resident and Pilobolus dance company co-founder Alison Chase will unveil a new dance piece at Merrill Auditorium. The performance is co-sponsored by Portland Ovations.

In another Maine twist, the Celebration Barn Ensemble premieres its comedy "Thumbs Up," which takes a look at Maine's unique qualities and characters. This will be June 30 and July 1 at Portland High School.

The common thread among those three events are the Maine ties. Each presenter lives and works in Maine, and each is known widely across geographic boundaries. Their presence makes this festival very Maine-centric.

There are lots of other headlining events -- a concert by Grammy Award-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin, a classical piano concert curated by the Portland Conservatory, a jazz concert by guitarist Doug Wamble and his ensemble, to name a few.

Portland Ballet will perform a site-specific work in the front window of the Portland Public Library, and Naked Shakespeare will present "All's Well On the Waterfront," an interactive adaptation at the Portland Company complex on the waterfront.

Larson is loosely modeling this festival on the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C., which she has attended many times. The Charleston event is huge and nationally known. It spreads out over 17 days, and draws visitors from across the country.

The Portland festival is obviously much more modest. But this is a first-year event, and Larson knows it is wise to smart small and build gradually. She is working with a budget of $180,000, which includes money generated by ticket sales. If this year's event succeeds, next year's will be bigger, and the festival will slowly grow.

The important thing, she said, is that the festival has a good spirit. The city should feel alive, and she hopes people go home at night talking about what they saw, what they experienced and what they want to see and experience the next day.

"We want to create a buzz," she said.

The fact is, Portland is a bustling arts mecca. We're a small city, but we have a big reputation. If it is well executed, the Portland Performing Arts Festival will give us a good way to express our creativity to a wide audience.


Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:


Twitter: pphbkeyes


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