While our changing leaves may not be as colorful as back east, Phoenix has one unique signifier of fall that comes back every year, right on time: PoeFest.
Every October, suspense fans from around the Valley gather to hear classic Edgar Allan Poe stories recited in decidedly dramatic fashion by local actors at the storied, and probably haunted, Hotel San Carlos. This year marks the sixth showing of the local event, which features dramatic recitations of classic Edgar Allan Poe stories such as “The Raven,” “The Red Mask of Death,” and the “Tell-Tale Heart.”
Perfect for Poe fans, literature nerds, and adventurous first dates, PoeFest is the creepy brainchild of the Arizona Curriculum Theater (ACT), an educational charity that works in Valley schools to help students learn in new ways with the help of performance. From literature and history, to more traditionally staid subjects like math and science, ACT brings new life to standard subjects and attempts to make education more fun.
James David Porter, the founder and executive director of ACT, said the idea for PoeFest came about thanks to some very disappointing experiences in run-of-the-mill haunted houses.
“I longed for something different in Halloween entertainment. And the idea for PoeFest was born out of that disappointment. I had always loved the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and I had always wanted to perform “The Tell-Tale Heart” on stage,” Porter said.
The first run in October 2009 debuted in a small art space in the Grand Avenue arts district, provided by friends of Porter’s. The first show featured two classic stories, one performed by Porter himself, and a quaint six people in the audience.
“We did four shows over two weekends for the run, and by closing night we were turning people away. The show became very popular very quickly.”
By the third year, the show had outgrown the small space, so Porter began the search for a new venue: specifically, a haunted venue. He soon came across the many stories behind Downtown Phoenix’s Hotel San Carlos.
“At that historic hotel you can walk with all kinds of ghosts from the past – taking up the same space once occupied by Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, and Gene Autry,” said Porter.
“The history seeps from the walls … It sounded like a perfect place for PoeFest. So I called up the hotel, had a meeting with General Manager Angela Hentz, and she agreed to let us try out one weekend inside the Ghost Lounge. It was such a success that we moved into the Hotel for our entire run the following year.”
After six years, Porter says his nightly audiences are a mixture of diehard fans and newbies looking for a thrill.
“PoeFest is also a fundraiser for our company, and I think our audience really digs that they are not just getting some great Halloween theater, but they are also helping our literacy and arts programs in Arizona schools and libraries. Our audiences care deeply about keeping the arts in schools, and so it’s a win-win for them.”
Phoenix resident and first-time PoeFest attendee Danielle Stephens said she found the format unconventional, but completely enthralling.
“PoeFest was a refreshing look at our favorite stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. I loved it!”
Porter started ACT after his work with the Southwest Shakespeare Company and taking part in their education outreach program in area schools.
“We just thought, ‘Why stop at Shakespeare? Why not do Poe, Emily Dickinson, historical reenactments, interactive story-telling, teach math through music, science through dance?’ I read a report that said the arts had declined more than 40 percent in Arizona schools, and there was all of this emphasis on curriculum – and so it was natural to find a way to connect the arts and the curriculum together. Why not use the arts to teach the curriculum? Two birds with one stone, as they say.”
ACT has brought the arts to more than 100 Arizona schools and libraries from Bisbee to Flagstaff, and have matched private donors to 37 schools in underserved or underfunded areas, schools that could not ordinarily afford professional artists or who have lost their funding for arts programs.
“What better way to learn about the Salem witchcraft trials, for instance, than to take part in a historically-accurate reenactment of the examination of an accused Salem witch?”
Porter hopes to continue traveling to schools across the valley and developing their programs to better serve teachers in classrooms. By continuing PoeFest, they are able to reach out to a new audience, share the goals of ACT, and inspire community support for their efforts.
In PoeFest, however, Porter hopes to finally provide a cure for the common haunted house by creating an Edgar Allan Poe-themed haunted asylum, in which each room features a different story or poem.
“Poe wrote many of his stories and poems as first person narratives, so the transition to the stage was quite natural. His stories sound like the confessions of the kinds of madmen that haunt my own nightmares. I don’t think there could be a more perfect marriage between the stage and classic literature.”
If you go:
Where: The Ghost Lounge at the Hotel San Carlos, 202 N. Central, downtown Phoenix
When: October 17 & 18, 24 & 25, Oct 31* & Nov 1 at 8:00 – 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: (for each individual night) $25 – general admission; $20 – students, seniors and military; Festival passes (good for all dates) are available for $38. Buy online.
*Special performances of “The Raven” will be presented on Halloween Night, Oct. 31, 2014 every twenty minutes from 7:30pm-9:30pm at Rosson House Museum, 113 N 6th St Phoenix, AZ. No seating is available, standing room only. (“The Raven” explores adult themes. This show is not recommended for very young children. Parental discretion is advised. Children under 13 will not be admitted without an adult.)
Diversity with local relevance is a prime goal for nonprofit arts organizations, and Arizona Opera hopes to pique interest in its forthcoming mariachi opera and expand multicultural outreach with this week’s Hispanic Heritage Festival.
“The whole purpose of the Festival,” says Arizona Opera Education Manager Joshua Borths, “is to bring together the Hispanic audiences who haven’t necessarily been to the opera before, and expose our opera audiences to this incredible world of mariachi music and cultural richness.”
The Festival begins with Monday’s panel discussion on immigration and the arts at Arizona Opera Center, kicking off a week of events leading up to the weekend’s season-opening performances of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon). Along with moderator Daniel Buckley — a composer, journalist, historian, documentary filmmaker, photographer, and Governor’s Arts Award winner — the roster of illustrious participants includes playwright, journalist, and policy strategist James Garcia and Arizona State University Vice Provost and Professor of History Eduardo Pagán. The third member of the panel is Shoshana Tancer, a highly respected immigration attorney and professor emeritus at Thunderbird School of Global Management. Tancer’s background comprises extensive work in Latin America as well as longtime advocacy for the arts.
“It’s kind of funny because someone said, ‘Yeah, a member of your Opera board should be on that panel,’” says Borths. “I started talking to her [Tancer] and learning more about her life … understanding arts, and understanding all of the complex issues that surround immigration.” He adds, “We’re lucky to have her involved. It’s a really interesting, diverse group of people.”
Tuesday night offers a lecture-demonstration on mariachi history and conventions by retired ASU musicology professor Richard Haefer and his ensemble Mariachi Corazon de Phoenix. The Opera Center transforms itself into a mercado for the Cultural Exchange on October 8, becoming a marketplace. “We’re going to have food trucks, throw open the garage doors,” says Borths. “Mariachi is booked from 6-9, local arts and crafts, and even a guest appearance by Alan Ponce, the runner-up on La Voz, The Voice in Mexico.”
Hundreds of schoolchildren will converge on Symphony Hall Thursday evening to attend the mariachi opera’s final dress rehearsal on Student Night, and Saturday afternoon the Festival concludes its Phoenix events with a showcase of Hispanic art at the Opera Center — “We’ll have some fine art projects and we’ll be showing some Hispanic films,” explains Borths. Opera-goers will also find local mariachi groups playing outside Symphony Hall before each performance, along with the option of informal pre- and post-show lectures.
The Festival’s centerpiece, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, premiered at Houston Grand Opera in 2010 and continued on to the venerable Théâtre du Châtelet of Paris. The opera was created by director and writer Leonard Foglia and José “Pepe” Martínez, who served as music director for Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán from 1975 until his retirement earlier this year. The music reflects Martínez’s signature of rapid violin ricochets and the mariachi styles of ranchera and boleros. Martínez was also influenced by his appreciation for Beethoven and for the 20th-century classical Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo, who wrote the famously rhythmic Huapango and the opera La mulata de Córdoba.
Martínez and Foglia wove 15 songs into a brisk, emotionally potent 80-minute opera without intermission, using flashbacks to tell a multi-generational story of immigration between Mexico and America. They also use the metaphor of monarch butterfly migration, says Mariachi Vargas violinist José “Pepe” Martínez Perez, Jr., the composer’s son. Speaking through interpreter and assistant manager Ivan Leony, he continues, “They travel for a better situation, a better place, like the butterflies … a lot of them die. That’s like the immigrants … some of them make it; some of them don’t.” Leony adds, “Of course our group has never been — and probably will never be — political. We do it because of the music.”
Arizona Opera’s production of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna features the original cast including Mariachi Vargas, which was founded in 1898 and gained even wider recognition by releasing a popular album with Linda Ronstadt — it’s one of more than 200 recordings from the venerable Mexico City-based ensemble.
“The piece is scored for mariachi and vocalists,” says Arizona Opera General Director Ryan Taylor, “so the band appears onstage and serves as orchestra and chorus, and then the vocalists and dance troupe tell the story in operatic fashion in front of them, so they’re all onstage all the time.”
“There are opera singers who have spent time studying the technique of mariachi vocalists because they have such stamina and such power in their delivery,” Taylor continues, “and there are also mariachi vocalists who have looked to the way that the original musical theater and opera singers performed … without amplification.” He adds, “They’ve really sort of fed off of one another in their development in a cool kind of way.”
Pepe Jr. will lead the upcoming performances somewhat like a concertmaster leading a chamber orchestra, with the trumpets, violins, and rhythm section of Mariachi Vargas arrayed across the back of the stage. Dancers perform downstage with the soloists, including classically trained baritones Octavio Moreno and Brian Shircliffe, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte, soprano Brittany Wheeler, and tenor David Guzman. Spare, minimal sets and lighting suggest vast desert landscapes interspersed with a few indoor scenes.
“Since of course it talks about the undocumented immigrants crossing over,” says Pepe Jr., “it’s very touching and you see a lot of people teary and sad as they leave the performance hall with an open heart, but also fascinated with how the story of an immigrant family could be such a good opera.”
If you go:
Hispanic Heritage Festival (all listed events take place in downtown Phoenix):
- The Borders of Understanding
- Mon., Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. at Arizona Opera Center, 1636 N. Central Ave.
- Three-person panel participates in guided conversation about immigration and the arts
- Mariachi: The Passion and Pulse of a People
- The Cultural Exchange
- Student Night at the Opera
- Connecting the Dots: A Demonstration of Hispanic Art
- Sat., Oct. 11, 12 p.m.-2 p.m. at Arizona Opera Center
- Watch old movies from Mexico and participate in Hispanic art projects and demonstrations
by José “Pepe” Martínez and Leonard Foglia
(sung in Spanish and English with English supertitles)
- Symphony Hall, 75 N. Second St., downtown Phoenix:
- Fri., Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sat., Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sun., Oct. 12 at 2 p.m.
- Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., Tucson
- Sat., Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sun., Oct. 19 at 2 p.m.
- All performances feature:
- Local mariachi performances outside the venue
- Informal lectures before and after each performance
The enduring tradition of Oktoberfest just goes to show that the Germans knew how to throw a great party. The Arizona Center for Germanic Cultures will continue their party-throwing tradition this Saturday in Hance Park. What began as a massive wedding celebration for the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen carries on 200 years later as an annual celebration of all things deliciously Deutschland. Of course, Oktoberfest isn’t just an excuse to pull your favorite lederhosen out of mothballs. It a great opportunity to learn a bit about a key part of the event and something the Germans do exceedingly well: make beer!
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, beers acquire their flavor from different varieties of hops, barley and wheat. Hops are a type of vine with flowers that are used in the process of brewing.
Soil chemistry and nutrients are critical to the taste of hops, as well as the taste of grapes used for winemaking. Loose soils are ideal since they provide the necessary level of water drainage.
Filtration is also a key part of the process. Mother Nature knows this and thus provides a natural filter in the form of a mineral called Diatomite. Diatomaceous earth, as it’s also know, is often used in farming for grain storage as a natural insecticide and an anti-caking agent.
Now that you’re in on a few of the brewers’ secrets, you can enjoy the fruits and grains of their labor and raise a stein to Ludwig and Therese at the Old World Phoenix Oktoberfest on Saturday October 4th at Margaret T. Hance Park. The celebration starts at noon with a ceremonial keg-tapping and carries on til 9pm. Look for rides, music, dancing, authentic German food and beer – lots of beer.
If you go:
What: Phoenix Oktoberfest Festival
When: Saturday, October 4, 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Where: Margaret T. Hance Park, 1202 N. 3rd Street (entrance to festival is off of East Moreland Street)
Admission: $10 per adult, under 21 is free. To pre-purchase your tickets.
After several years of conservative programming and lean budgets, Arizona Opera launches Arizona Bold, a new artistic initiative of innovative operas with a corresponding four-year $5 million capital campaign.
Two remarkably successful “Million Dollar May” fundraising projects not only brought in income but also raised the company’s international profile, encouraging participation from dozens of new donors across all 50 states, Canada, Austria and Japan along with AZ Opera staff, supporting organizations, and trustees. This response led to even better news: although the new campaign was only recently announced, it’s already raised more than $2 million.
As for programming, Arizona Bold includes two canon-expanding operas each season, encouraging community engagement with each production and also refreshing the tired palates of longtime operagoers with regionally appropriate fare in Phoenix and Tucson.
Plans include Florencia en el Amazonas by Mexican composer Daniel Catán, Frida & Diego by Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz, the comic operetta Arizona Lady by Emmerich Kálmán, and the long-awaited world premiere of Riders of the Purple Sage, written by Arizona’s Craig Bohmler with Steven Mark Kohn and based on the eponymous novel by Zane Grey.
Several upcoming operas resonate with current issues — take for example Dead Man Walking by Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally, which focuses on capital punishment, or the wartime story of Silent Night by Mark Campbell and Kevin Puts (who wrote a commissioned work for The Phoenix Symphony and Hermann Michael in 2001 titled Inspiring Beethoven).
The current season promises equally appropriate material beginning October 10-12 with Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon), billed as the world’s first mariachi opera. “It’s an amazing blend…and a terrific story about sense of place and belonging and romance,” says Arizona Opera General Director Ryan Taylor. “It hits all the high points.”
The opera’s Arizona performances feature the original cast including Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, a 116-year-old ensemble. Cruzar la Cara de la Luna was written as a collaboration between director and writer Leonard Foglia and José “Pepe” Martínez, who served as music director for Mariachi Vargas from 1975 until his retirement earlier this year. Expect songs in Spanish and English with English supertitles projected above the stage, and a multi-generational story of immigration told by dancers and soloists through flashbacks.
Taylor explains, “The Hispanic population here in Arizona is such an integral part of our society that…we really wanted to legitimize the piece and call attention to its validity in the repertoire…so we decided to launch the season with it — we felt like it was a great new way to be a little bold.”
Those who love sweeping Romantic orchestral music will find full satisfaction in November’s emotionally wrenching Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi — a classic production from Utah Opera — and the first performances of 2015: a brand new production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s passionate Eugene Onegin, both featuring the talents of Arizona Opera’s excellent orchestra.
Rigoletto’s tragic tale of a father’s struggle between love for his daughter and a quest for vengeance stars Italian-American baritone Michael Corvino in the title role. “I can tell you we chose him because he made all of us cry in his audition,” says Ryan with a laugh. “I was riveted and it was…haunting and beautiful…[he] has a certain tambour in the voice that is ideal for this kind of repertoire.”
Alexander Pushkin wrote the original story of Eugene Onegin, a sort of coming-of-age romance directed by Tara Faircloth, who was responsible for last season’s popular and engaging H.M.S. Pinafore. Taylor hopes to involve Arizona’s Eastern European residents, he says. “There’s actually a decent-size Slavic and Russian and Serbian population here…and that’s part of our goal: to start producing repertoire that matters to different sets of communities within our borders.”
Consider the intersection of multi-layered Masonic imagery and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Classical style in The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) in February and March, with a new production by the Metropolitan Opera’s Dan Regazzi. The opera promises sparkling performances from Arizona Opera Marion Roose Pullin Opera Studio alumnus David Margulis in the tenor role of Tamino and a jaw-dropping Queen of the Night aria from soprano Lindsay Russell.
“If there’s operatic singing that [is] sort of superhuman, it comes in Magic Flute,” Taylor says. “You’ll hear the highest and lowest notes written for artists and regularly performed today in this piece, and it’s a fantasy fairy tale.”
The season ends with the fabled nine high Cs of Gaetano Donizetti’s lighthearted The Daughter of the Regiment (La fille du régiment), which was excellently previewed at Arizona Opera’s recent “Town Hall” presentation by tenor David Portillo. Those heart-stopping high notes will ring even more beautifully when Portillo sings them in April. “That’s the reason that you do Daughter of the Regiment, right?” says Taylor with a laugh.
If you go:
- Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon) by José “Pepe” Martínez and Leonard Foglia (sung in Spanish and English with English supertitles)
- Oct. 10 at 7:30PM
Oct. 11 at 7:30PM
Oct. 12 at 2PM
- Oct. 10 at 7:30PM
- Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi (sung in Italian with English supertitles)
- Nov. 14 at 7:30PM
Nov. 15 at 7:30PM
Nov. 16 at 2PM
- Nov. 14 at 7:30PM
- Eugene Onegin by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (sung in Russian with English supertitles)
- Feb. 6 at 7:30PM
Feb. 7 at 7:30PM
Feb. 8 at 2PM
- Feb. 6 at 7:30PM
- The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte)by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (sung in German with English supertitles)
- Feb. 27 at 7:30PM
Feb. 28 at 7:30PM
Mar. 1 at 2PM
- Feb. 27 at 7:30PM
- The Daughter of the Regiment (La fille du régiment) by Gaetano Donizetti (sung in Italian with English supertitles)
- Apr. 10 at 7:30PM
Apr. 11 at 7:30PM
Apr. 12 at 2PM
- Apr. 10 at 7:30PM
Find more information at azopera.org or call 602-266-7464.
Every year Ballet Arizona gives audiences a family-friendly treat with Ballet Under the Stars, a series of free outdoor performances in Valley parks ending at Steele Indian School Park on Saturday, September 27 at 7PM.
“It’s an extraordinary gift to give Arizona,” says Ballet Arizona Artistic Director Ib Andersen, “that we’re doing this program for free. Nobody does what we do.”
The repertoire includes two classics by American ballet iconoclast George Balanchine, beginning with last season’s Walpurgisnacht from Charles Gounod’s opera Faust. Creating an otherworldly atmosphere, Walpurgisnacht refers to revelry celebrating the souls of the dead and a gathering of witches, although the ballet itself isn’t meant to depict a specific event, “except I would say the last movement,” adds Andersen, “when the women let their hair down and they go sort of bananas.”
Brazilian dancer Nayon Iovino, who’s been with Ballet Arizona since 2012, choreographed the evening’s second work for its performances this past May. “I do think that Nayon has talent,” says Andersen, “and this ballet that he did … is a good one.”
Iovino’s creation uses several pieces of music, ranging from an excerpt from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to more modern tunes. The dancers wear simple costumes of jeans and shirts, without pointe shoes.
Ballet Under the Stars concludes with the 1954 work Western Symphony, featuring well-loved music by American composer Hershy Kay on traditional folk-song themes including “Red River Valley,” “Good Night, Ladies,” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” Says Andersen, “It’s cowboys and cowgirls, you know?”
Enthusiastically received by audiences last spring at the Orpheum Theatre, Western Symphony uses the natural landscape as its entirely appropriate backdrop this weekend, showcasing nearly 40 performers. “It’s the biggest ballet we’ve ever done in terms of numbers,” explains Andersen. “We’ve had ballets where we had more people on stage, but not all of them dancing at the same time.”
Bring blankets or lawn chairs, friends, and family to enjoy Ballet Arizona’s invaluable gift to the Valley.
If you go:
- All remaining Ballet Under the Stars performances begin at 7PM
- Fri., Sep. 26 at Estrella Lakeside Amphitheater in Goodyear
- Sat., Sep. 27 at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix — UPDATE: this performance has been cancelled due to a forecast of inclement weather.
- Ballet Arizona’s Open House is Sat., Oct. 5 from 12PM-4PM
- at 2835 E. Washington St., Phoenix
- tour the Ballet AZ studios, meet faculty, enter drawings for ticket giveaways, or try free classes in ballet, jazz and modern dance, yoga and Zumba
- Find all the details on Ballet AZ’s upcoming season, including:
- Swan Lake (Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2014 with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall)
- Dancers’ Choice (Nov. 15, 2015 at Ballet AZ’s Dorrance Theatre)
- The Nutcracker Festival (Nov. 16, 2015 at Ballet AZ’s Dorrance Theatre)
- The Nutcracker (Dec. 12-28, 2014 with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall)
- Napoli (Feb. 12-15, 2015 with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall)
- Today’s Masters (Mar. 26-29, 2015 at the Orpheum Theatre)
- All Balanchine (Apr. 30-May 3, 2015 at Symphony Hall)