Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summer Traditions—with a Few New Twists

When you think of summer around Madison, a few favorite events likely come to mind. Concerts on the Square. Art Fair on the Square. American Players Theatre.

All three get their start this month and the next, with a combination of what’s made the events perpetually popular and some new twists on the traditions.

American Players Theatre

American Players Theatre offers five shows this summer, one of which started last week.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is APT’s signature production, says communications director Sara Young. The company used to do it annually, starting in its debut year of 1980, but hasn’t taken it on since 2000.

“It’s the quintessential APT experience,” Young says. “Part of it takes place in the woods and we’re in the woods. The magic people expect out of APT is heightened in it.”

And while many theater-goers know the Shakespearean comedy well, Young assures that this production is worth a watch. “You haven’t seen this Midsummer,” she says. “It’s gorgeous and fun.”

Ah, Wilderness! kicks off this week and Young promises the play by Eugene O'Neill will push the envelope further than an
y other play APT has performed has yet. Next week sees the start of Shakespeare’s Henry IV: The Making of a King, which Young describes as a coming-of-age story. In fact, she says, the entire season could be similarly characterized.

APT’s fourth and fifth shows—Widowers’ Houses by George Bernard Shaw and The Belle’s Strategem by Hannah Cowley—start in August and represent a mix of old and new. “We do a lot of Shaw out here,” Young says. And she adds that The Belle’s Strategem is the first play written by a woman that the company will perform.

Concerts on the Square

Concerts on the Square celebrates its twenty-fifth season this year, with the first of six Wednesday-evening performances taking place June 25.

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra music director and maestro Andrew Sewell says he planned the season to be memorable and special, and one that longtime Concerts lovers would enjoy. “We really wanted something that would bring everyone together,” he says.

In the Concerts on the Square tradition, a Fourth of July concert (held July 2) will be a patriotic salute to America and feature Hong-En Chen, the pianist who won the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s 2008 Young Artist Concerto Competition.

Guest artists are highlights of the season, and several are newcomers to Concerts on the Square, says Sewell. Trumpeter Ryan Anthony will be featured in July 9’s Sound the Trumpet concert, while Philadelphia violin and bass trio Time for Three performs at the String Fusion concert on July 23.

Sewell says the final concert of the season, July 30’s Our Town, will serve as the ultimate anniversary celebration. The concert will feature mezzo soprano Kitt Foss, soprano Alli Foss, Tracy Silverman on electric violin and the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Art Fair on the Square

Art Fair on the Square also celebrates an anniversary this summer: Fifty years of being the ultimate downtown outdoor arts festival, attracting roughly 500 artists and countless art lovers to the Capitol Square.

Art Fair coordinator Katie Hunter says her goal in putting on the event is to make it seem fresh each year. There are surely some changes in store this season.

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art made the Art Fair application process almost entirely digital this year. That attracted not only more applicants—more than 1,500 as compared to 1,300 in 2007—but also new ones. Hunter estimates that one-third of artists who will participate in Art Fair on the Square July 12 and 13 are newcomers.

The digital process also contributed to the Art Fair’s effort to go green. Hunter says the event is ramping up its recycling and focusing on biodegradable products. She also posed a Go Green Challenge to participating artists, asking them to create at least one work of art using recycled of biodegradable materials. A jury will view all the eco artwork and choose a winner, who will earn free entry into next year’s fair.

“We’re trying to connect the environment and the arts,” Hunte says. “Art can be used to facilitate a lot of environmental practices.”

Art Fair also has partnered with EnAct, asking artists to decorate rain barrels that will be showcased around the Square and later auctioned off. And they’re working with the Chicago-based Working Bikes Cooperative, which takes donated bicycles and refurbishes them to be used as a power source in developing countries. The group will have a sixteen-foot bicycle-powered fountain on display.

While Art Fair could have used its anniversary season to reflect on past festivals, Hunter says the desire was to look toward the future. She hopes to make the event as environmentally friendly as possible in the years to come.

“We’re not a green event but we’re a greener event,” she says. “It will take a few years.”

Hunter encourages festival-goers to bike, bus or walk to Art Fair. Those who come in on two wheels may park their bicycles at a new bike corral on King Street.

Other changes to this year’s fair include a revamped kids area, which will include art projects led by MFA students. And a strong lineup of food vendors and live entertainment should assure Hunter’s other goal for Art Fair: that anyone, art lover or not, can attend the event and have a great time.

Photos top to bottom are courtesy of American Players Theatre, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

COMING UP: A few events and performances to check out this week.

Tomorrow, Stage Q begins its annual two-week playfest, Queer Shorts 3, which celebrates LGBT theater and its actors, directors and playwrights at the Bartell Theatre. The Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society starts its summer program, Same Carriage, Fresh Horses, on Friday. Performances change weekly and take place at venues throughout the Madison area.

Saturday marks the annual Juneteenth Day Celebration honoring the African American emancipation. The event is held in Penn Park.

And on Monday is Concert on the Green, the Madison Symphony Orchestra outdoor summer concert and picnic at Bishops Bay Country Club in Middleton.

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