June 07--NEW HAVEN -- It may sound like hype to call this year's International Festival of Arts and Ideas the best yet, so we won't go quite that far. But it promises to be a fun, heady and entertaining two weeks that begins June 14 and runs through June 28.
This city is arguably the state's cultural capital, so the festival is something of a June exclamation point -- an intense focus of talent and art arranged by festival executive director Mary Lou Aleskie and staff -- as well as an early summer echo of yearlong pursuits in and out of the city's prestigious institution of Yale.
So what's on tap for starters? Well, if you like classy and proper, there's the Governor's Arts Awards presentation and opening ceremony and panel discussion at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Yale University Art Gallery on Chapel Street. This year's recipients are Tim Prentice, kinetic sculptor of West Cornwall; Christopher Plummer, veteran actor of Weston; and Luanne Rice, best-selling author of Old Lyme, the festival has announced.
For goofy and fun, there's the noon and 5 p.m. performance on the New Haven Green by circus theater group Compagnie Barolsolo with "Ile O" (also on Sunday), whose gig involves two clowns, a pool of water, some musical props and a climbing pole.
Many events during the festival are free (see calendar at artidea.org), including Saturday night's opening night show on the Green with Lalah Hathaway and Ruben Studdard (where the guv's arts awards will be recapped and arts patrons honored in front of thousands of people). Sunday night's show includes Martha Redbone Roots Project with Cry You One on the Green (both shows begin at 7 p.m.)
But there are paid events kicking off the fest, too. Cellist Erik Friedlander will perform "Block Ice & Propane: Taking Trips to Amerca," featuring his homey and haunting music to images taken by his photographer father Lee (1 p.m. Saturday at Iseman Theater on Chapel Street, $35-$55). Think Ken Burns film music, which he has done.
The Yale Institute for Music Theatre offers rare insight into the creative process with open rehearsal readings of plays in workshop at the Yale School of Drama at Off Broadway Theater, 41 Broadway ($20). The two new plays are "Afterland," music and lyrics by Benjamin Velez and book and lyrics by Kathryn Hathaway; and "Clouds are Pillows for the Moon," with music by Tidtaya Sinutoke and book and lyrics by Ty Defoe,
And then there's Lemon Andersen's gritty and gripping "County of Kings" at 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday ($35-$55).
Growing up poor in Brooklyn, Andersen as a teen experienced the successive deaths of his stepfather, father and mother from complications of heroin abuse and AIDS. He became involved in serious crime (selling crack, stealing car parts) and spent three years in Rikers until hip-hop, poetry and acting -- nurtured by mentors -- resulted in his successful stage shows, appearances on HBO's "Def Jam Poetry" and parts in movies such as "The Soloist" and "Sucker Free City."
"'County of Kings' is a staged memoir ... a story of growing up in the '80s and '90s in New York," Andersen said at Arts & Ideas offices recently. "It's really a story about a mother's son, and you'll see the journey that leads this child through the first act with his mother, and then he loses her, to the second act and now the choices he has to make in his life without her."
Like other performers who bring top-notch art to the festival, Tony Award-winning Andersen said he has to train and work at honing his abilities and impact.
"I'm a trained writer. I'm a trained performer. ... I do vocal lessons; I physically train at the gym for endurance," he said. "Raw talent? I threw that out the window a long time ago. The authenticity comes out. I am this person. I am from this world, that's it. (But) I'm with a director and developer leading to the show. Every time we do 'County of Kings' we take two weeks off before the show (from other work) and train for the show."
Two other big theater productions, Elevator Repair Service's "Arguendo" (about Supreme Court oral arguments over a case about erotic dancers, June 18-22) and "The Events" (about the aftermath of traumatic events, June 24-28) should also have people talking and thinking.
Good theater does what all good art does: leaves you with a glow of understanding, stimulation, intellectual pleasure and maybe enlightenment. The festival's theme this year is transformation and tradition, which could describe a lot of what goes on in this old New England city distinguished by Yale University.
The ideas portion of the festival, all free, will hit those notes with the likes of "Jack Hitt: From Electric Car to Obsolete Highways" at 3 p.m. Sunday in Yale University Art Gallery, "On the Waterfront: Responses to Our Embattled Waterways" at 12:30 p.m.June 17 at Burke Auditorium in Yale's Kroon Hall and "Thinking About Sports" with Frank Deford, Elizabeth Alexander, Mike Pesca and New Haven'sNicholas Dawidoff.
Some artists, too, will get to delve into their work and their roots. At 5:30 p.m.June 17 on the same night she will headline a show called Southern Comfort at Morse Recital Hall, jazz violinist Regina Carter will discuss "Down Home: The Musical Heritage of the American South" at the Yale Center for British Art.
There are three dynamic and ticketed dance shows, including the local Adele Myers and Dancers, a ticketed evening with Irish folk group The Gloaming and a free Green concert featuring La Santa Cecilia with Nation Beat. Country singer Brandy Clark with Bronze Radio Return should be another popular Green concert on June 22.
But the diversity and breadth of the festival are apparent in its busy calendar filled with bike tours, gallery tours, film showings, a weekday pizza fest on the Green, acrobats, a daytime family stage and local music groups playing the Green.
The June 24 ideas event at the Yale Center for British Art, by the way, is "Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter." You might add "experience a world-class arts festival" to the list. Your summer school assignment is: Watch, take part, discuss.
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