Spring Arts Preview

By David Fellerath

In Raleigh, this spring will be the season of William Shakespeare. His well-burnished image will get a fresh round of polishing around the world, with celebrations scheduled to converge around April 23rd, the 400th anniversary of his death.
    The Bard of Avon will be the subject of play marathons, dance celebrations, and a historical exhibit. But why the fuss in Raleigh over the son of a glove maker in the English Midlands who set off for London in his early 20s, wrote three dozen plays and a couple hundred poems in the course of the next 25 years, then returned to his hometown a rich man?
    After all, Shakespeare never set foot on North Carolina soil. But neither did the capital city’s namesake, Walter Raleigh, who was born a few years earlier than the playwright, and died, by the executioner’s blade, a few years after Shakespeare’s death.
    In their day, Walter was much more famous than William, but Shakespeare’s work outlasted both of these Renaissance men. And one of Shakespeare’s final plays links him with Raleigh and his most important preoccupation: settling the New World.
    Raleigh’s Roanoke colony was lost around the time Shakespeare was getting started in London. Two decades later, when Shakespeare was renowned and Raleigh was in the Tower, another New World expedition went awry at the island of Bermuda, 650 miles off the coast of North Carolina. People lived to tell the tale, and Shakespeare used this 17th-century episode of Lost as the inspiration for his final masterpiece, The Tempest.
    Two of the key Shakespeare tributes will occur at the North Carolina Museum of History. Beginning April 23rd, the date of Shakespeare’s death (and traditionally, his birth), theater companies from around the state will converge on the museum for the Shakespeare Marathon, in which all 38 of Shakespeare’s plays will be read aloud, around the clock. Yes, around the clock – so if you’re keen to see local family-friendly troupe Raleigh Little Theatre read Shakespeare’s least family-friendly play, Titus Andronicus, you’ll have to show up at 3am on April 24th.
    The marathon was the brainchild of Jerome Davis, artistic director of Burning Coal Theatre. He approached the museum after he learned that that institution would be the North Carolina host for this summer’s US tour of the First Folio. The First Folio is the first published edition of Shakespeare’s collected works, and a copy belonging to the Folger Shakespeare Library will be on view from May 7th-May 30th. (The Folger owns 82 of the 233 known surviving copies.)
    Davis offers three reasons for Shakespeare’s enduring popularity: “First, there’s the sheer breadth of his canon,” says Davis, as compared to the relatively narrow output of most other playwrights, living and dead. “Then there’s the iambic pentameter, which is the rhythm of the human heartbeat.”
    And finally, Davis cites Harold Bloom’s influential argument that Shakespeare invented the human. “Shakespeare talked about the human experience in a way that no one had before.”
    Meanwhile, the Carolina Ballet is going to town on Shakespeare, too, with no fewer than four Shakespeare-inspired productions occurring between February and May, including a brand new interpretation of Macbeth. “There’s only one other Macbeth,” says Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss. “I’m hoping this one will be the definitive version,” Weiss says.”We’ve had music composed [by J. Mark Scearce] and we have all-original costumes.”
    For a raw serving of theatrical Shakespeare, our best advice is to wait till summer, when Honest Pint Theatre will mount Hamlet, with company founder and artistic director David Henderson playing the great Dane.

Festivals, Parades and More
St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Thursday this year, and this poses a quandary for a community that enjoys the green beer but does not have deep bonds with the Easter Rising, Cú Chulainn and The Auld Sod. For the actually Irish, March 17th is as inviolable as the Fourth of July. But in Raleigh, St. Patrick’s Day will either be March 12th, when a St. Patrick’s Day parade is tentatively scheduled for downtown, or March 13th, when Glenwood South tentatively has this penciled in for your appointment to drink in that district’s pubs.
    In Cary on April 9th, indulge in our two most important foodstuffs at Koka Booth Amphitheatre for the Beer and Bacon Festival. boothamphitheatre.com
    Earth Day is April 22nd, but the biggest Earth Day festivity on the books will take place April 30th in Cary, as part of the 23rd Spring Daze Arts and Crafts Festival. Running all day at Fred G. Bond Park, the event will feature crafts, food, music, children’s activities and more crafts. It runs from 9am-5pm.

The pop music scene will be comparatively muted this spring. Red Hat Amphitheater has exactly one show on the books in all of March and April: It’s Gavin DeGraw, a noted interpreter of moments from the films and TV shows of the Carolina coast such as Safe Haven and One Tree Hill. Maybe you’ll see Nicholas Sparks in attendance! redhatamphitheater.com
    Also turning down the volume this spring is The Ritz Raleigh, which will go dark beginning in late April for unexplained renovations. Among the notable shows before the hiatus: New Jersey hip-hop artist Fetty Wap (March 17th) and jam band Umphrey’s McGee (April 7th and 8th). ritzraleigh.com
    On the classical side of things, the NC Opera’s big spring production is a mounting of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. This fully staged production will feature Joo Won Kang in the title role, along with Cecelia Hall. Two performances only: April 1st and 3rd. ncopera.org
    In addition to its traditional offerings, the NC Symphony has a couple of curve balls. On March 3rd, the “Strings at Kings” series continues with a string quartet program featuring John Luther Adams’ Wind in High Places and George Crumb’s Cello Sonata. This is a great deal at $8/$11. kingsbarcade.com
    On April 2nd, the Symphony will team up with Five for Fighting for a joint show. This one’s at Meymandi Concert Hall. ncsymphony.org

When not planning Shakespeare marathons, Burning Coal’s big spring offering is a rarely performed cult show called Spoonface Steinberg. The play’s name may not ring any bells, but here are a few tidbits to know: The play’s author is Lee Hall, who wrote this tale a few years before his career-making breakout screenplay, Billy Elliot. Spoonface Steinberg seems to lay it on a little thick – it’s about a Jewish autistic girl who is dying of cancer – but when it premiered on BBC Radio in 1997, it became a sensation. One of the twists of Burning Coal’s production: each night, a “different member of the community will ‘play’ Spoonface.” Under Davis’ direction, the show also will feature live performances of songs associated with Maria Callas.
    Over in Fairmount, Raleigh Little Theatre has two children’s shows this spring: Miss Nelson is Missing (March 11th-27th) and Charlotte’s Web (April 8th-17th). raleighlittletheatre.org
    Near the NC State campus and Pullen Park, the redoubtable Theatre in the Park’s big show is a revival of The Elephant Man. No cast had been announced at press time for this Bernard Pomerance play, which premiered in 1977, but it is to be directed by Ira David Wood III. theatreinthepark.com
    Broadway Series South presents a slim spring season with an April 9th appearance by “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan, and a “local” production titled The Realish Housewives of Raleigh, a show that’s being touted as a “reality train wreck that’ll leave you laughing ‘til you cry your false eyelashes off.” Despite the local reference in the show’s title, it is a touring production that inserts the host city wherever it lands. It may be a hilarious crashing of trains, but don’t expect too many locally sourced rib-tickles about your Boylan besties and North Hills frenemies. It runs April 19th-24th. dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south
    For a far more somber – and local – experience, consider catching an original work by the Justice Theater Project titled Still Life: An Exploration into a Killing State, North Carolina. That title is about as blunt an expression of the show’s premise as you can get, and it signals the seriousness of the production’s intent. Deb Royals directs her own script about the use of the death penalty in the Old North State, and it runs one weekend only, April 28th-May 1st. thejusticetheaterproject.org

Visual Art
Over at CAM Raleigh, the spring will be dominated by an occupation of sorts. Phil America: Failure of the American Dream is another trailer load of reality in the midst of the remodeled industrial spaces of the Warehouse District.
    America, who characterizes himself as “an artist from California, a vegan, an activist, a teacher, a brother and to some a criminal,” spent one month living in a homeless encampment in San Jose and the vicinity of Silicon Valley. His time embedded in the camp yielded Failure of the American Dream, a set of photos and videos. It opened at CAM on January 31st, and will remain on view until May 8th.
     This isn’t America’s first foray into poverty immersion. A few years ago he spent a month living among the poor in a custom-built hovel in Bangkok, Thailand. Afterward, the shanty was relocated to a Bangkok art gallery and given the title Slum Vacation. It also attracted the skeptical attention of art critic Jonathan Jones, who wrote for The Guardian that America’s show was “a self-portrait of the artist having an exotic adventure.” Undeterred, America repeated the stunt in California for “Failure,” and also found time to discuss his work in a presentation at TEDxSacramento.
    In Raleigh, the culmination of Failure of the American Dream occurs from May 4th-8th, when America himself will live in the installation and discuss his projects with museum visitors. camraleigh.org.
    At the North Carolina Museum of Art, they’re coming off the big success of the MC Escher show, which drew 116,565 visitors in 14 weeks to make it the most successful exhibit since the 2011 Rembrandt show. This spring, the big spring attraction seems to take a cue – consciously or unconsciously – from last fall’s Bill Thelen-curated drawing exhibition at CAM Raleigh. This one is a group show called Marks of Genius: 100 Extraordinary Drawings from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. From the Middle Ages to the present, this show will display the varieties of pencil, ink and pastel images produced by artists ranging from Guercino and Carracci to Kollwitz and Schiele to Matisse and Lichtenstein. The subject matter ranges from studies of mythological scenes, to still lifes and nudes, to book illustrations. The ticketed show opens March 19th and runs through June 19th. ncartmuseum.org
    Running concurrently with this drawing show is American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals. Hassam was a 19th- and 20th-century Impressionist from Boston who exerted sizable influence during his lifetime, only to go into eclipse for half a century. His reputation now revived, his oil paintings executed over three decades off the New England coast will be the subject of a solo show that the museum organized jointly with the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.
    In April, a new photography exhibit devoted to Wilson, NC lensman Burk Uzzle opens in the NCMA’s Julian T. Baker Jr. Photography Galleries. Uzzle is most celebrated for the magical shot he took of a bedraggled young couple at Woodstock, the image that would grace the concert soundtrack album cover and serve as a signature relic of that generation. But Uzzle, who started at The News & Observer when he was 17, and who was only 31 when he got that Woodstock snap, took many, many other photos, and a choice selection will be on view from April 16th-September 25th. (Uzzle’s work is simultaneously being celebrated at Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum and Durham’s Nasher Museum of Art; each institution is focusing on a different aspect of Uzzle’s career.) ncartmuseum.org/exhibitions

The Carolina Ballet commemorates the 400th anniversary of the Bard of Avon’s death with an unprecedented season of Shakespeare, Shakespeare and more Shakespeare. After a February reprise of their popular Valentine’s show, Love Speaks, which draws from the sonnets and the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, the Ballet will present Tempest Fantasy, based on Paul Moravec’s 2004 Pulitzer-winning score. Robert Weiss supplies original choreography to this tale of Prospero, Caliban and the “stuff that dreams are made of.” It runs from March 3rd-20th at Fletcher Opera Theater. carolinaballet.com
    Things really kick into gear in April, with a world premiere of Macbeth. There’s probably not another play in the Shakespeare canon that calls to mind such vivid tableaux for dance. From the witches at the beginning, to Lady Macbeth sleepwalking with bloody hands, to the banquet with Banquo’s ghost, to the day when the Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, the play is laden with possibility, with terrifying scenes and movement. Macbeth runs from April 14th-17th in Memorial Auditorium before resurfacing at Durham’s DPAC on April 30th and May 1st.
    Over at NC State, Contra-Tiempo Urban Latin Dance Theatre (pictured above) performs on April 9th. This Los Angeles-based troupe specializes in a unique fusion of salsa, Afro-Cuban and hip-hop forms to create bold, vibrant shows. live.arts.ncsu.edu
    If you’re in the mood to watch dance in two dimensions, head to the NCMA on Friday nights to catch one of the Winter Film Series titles. Curated by Laura Boyes, the latter part of the season is devoted to dance films: Strictly Ballroom (March 11th), Shall We Dance (March 18th), Cuban Fury (March 25th), and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (April 1st). ncartmuseum.org/calendar/type/films
    Whatever you do this spring, you’ll likely be brushing up on your Shakespeare.