2016-09-01 / Features

Arts Preview

The Exhibits, Performances and Concerts Coming to Town This Year
Maggie Anderson

“Spring Awakening” by Susan Graham“Spring Awakening” by Susan Graham

For a town with a population of 40,000, State College has an inordinate amount of arts culture. There are, for instance, five local theater companies, and that’s not counting Penn State Centre Stage. Residents of the Centre Region are not only art savvy but hungry for the many arts opportunities this area provides. That’s why, each September, we bring you a rundown of what’s coming to stages and museums in the area. These are just some of the many art exhibits, concerts and performances that will feed our growing arts scene in the coming months.

TO SEE“After the Storm” by Gifford Beal“After the Storm” by Gifford Beal
From watercolor landscapes to abstract art, this season’s visual arts lineup will have something for everyone. The area’s many resident artists will be represented at shows like The Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania’s annual Juried Show, on display Sept. 2-11, and the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County’s October exhibit of work by the Farmland Preservation Artists. Executive Director Pat House likes to make local connections to the exhibits in the Windows Gallery, which often come from all over the world, and that led her to create the November show, which she calls a generational exhibit. It will feature the work of six local artists whose parents or grandparents were also artists. And in the new year, the museum will display the work of local painter Billy Mills, whose disability never kept him from creating.

The local connections continue in 2017 with a metallic art show in March that includes the work of Jeanne Stevens-Sollman and an April exhibit for poetry month that will pair the work of poet and Penn State Professor Emeritus Robert Lima with artwork from all over.

Portrait of William Butler Yeats by Eva Watson-Schütze.Portrait of William Butler Yeats by Eva Watson-Schütze.The Palmer Museum of Art will also showcase local work with the “Expanded Practice” show from Oct. 18 to Dec. 11. The work of the 12 faculty artists represented in the show will include pieces using new media, interactive videos, an installation in the museum’s stairway windows and an outdoor public sculpture/performance piece. “The faculty show is going to be complex, thought provoking and challenging in many ways — good ways,” says Joyce Robinson, who co-curated the show with Graeme Sullivan, the director of Penn State’s School of Visual Arts. Robinson curated two other spring exhibits — one featuring the pictorial photographs of Eva Watson-Schütze and the other of studio glass from around the world.“Collage Drawing” by Ann Tarantino“Collage Drawing” by Ann Tarantino

Also at the Palmer until Dec. 18 is a show based around a recently acquired painting, “After The Storm” by Gifford Beal. Curator Patrick McGrady explains that the painter, who was influenced by French impressionism, spent a great deal of time in Rockport, Massachusetts, and this exhibit will illustrate how that influenced his work. “It tells a story of one particular artist in one particular geographic area during a significant span of his career,” he says.

Plus, don’t forget to check out the local works at Green Drake Gallery & Arts Center as well as the Art Alliance’s new downtown gallery in the former space of the Fraser St. Gallery. A grand opening is set for Oct. 7.

From huge national acts like Kanye West (Sept. 30), Rascal Flatts (Oct. 7) and Brand New (Nov. 12) at the Bryce Jordan Center to local musicians sharing the stage for The State Theatre’s annual fundraiser show on Jan. 28, the sounds of State College cover all genres.

The classical music scene is strong, with Nittany Valley Symphony celebrating its 50th year with a gala anniversary concert March 26. The Center for the Performing Arts is bringing in acts like Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, which will explore the artists and artisans alive at the time of Bach on March 2, and Anthracite Fields, composer Julia Wolfe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work about the coal mining industry on March 30. The Penn State concert choir will perform as the chorus for this significant work.

Robert CrayRobert CrayJazz sets will come from near and far as well, with the new Jazz in the Attic series at The State Theatre continuing. “On Sept. 9 Molly Countermine will be singing jazz standards, sort of in a Billie Holiday style,” says Greg Ray, The State’s executive director. At Eisenhower Auditorium, two jazz giants, Ramsey Lewis and John Pizzarelli, will team up for a tribute to Nat King Cole on Oct. 13. Cole “really had a lot of jazz in his style and approach to interpreting songs,” says George Trudeau, director of the CPA. “That’s going to be a fabulous collaboration of two great artists.”

In the more contemporary realm, the CPA will bring in DakhaBrakha on April 4, a group that defies categorization. “The sound of them is primal and it taps into something inside of people that you maybe didn’t know was there and you certainly don’t exercise on a regular basis,” says Amy Dupain Vashaw, audience and program development director. “It just does things to people when you see them. Suffice it to say, come and see it. It is one to be experienced.”

Jake ShimabukuroJake ShimabukuroOf course, The State Theatre will be bringing more familiar acts, and some pretty big ones too. This fall is going to be concert heavy,” says Ray. “It’s probably a bigger concert season than The State Theatre has seen in a long time.” The list includes Yo La Tengo (Sept. 13), Ricky Skaggs (Sept. 15), John Mayall (Sept. 18), Bela Fleck & Victor Wooten (Oct. 13) and Robert Cray (Nov. 15).

In November, on election night, The State Theatre will host Hawaiian ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro. “What I like about Jake on election night, he has no lyrics,” says Ray. “It’s about as neutral an act as we can have. Whatever your persuasion, drown your sorrows or share in your joy, we’ve got Jake.”

Of course, the next night Henry Rollins will roll into town for his spoken word show, a veritable 180-degree turn from an instrumental ukulele show. “We think that his particular brand of comedy is going to be very poignant concerning the election,” says Ray.

To round out the fall semester, Penn State’s School of Music will put on its annual show Mosaic on Dec. 4, featuring both large and small ensembles and the school’s best soloists.

This year, it seems like you’ll be able to see live theater almost any week you like. The CPA will bring in big productions of 42nd Street (Jan. 17), Once (Jan. 31), Pippin (March 21), Rent (April 6) and Annie (April 18).

“Our role is to bring the bigger productions through Eisenhower,” says Trudeau. “We also look at what’s going on down at The State with their focus on indie artists, so they fill that role in our community, which is fabulous. We complement, not compete with, each other.”

That also allows room for newer companies like FUSE Productions, led by Richard Biever, to produce even more different kinds of shows. This year, FUSE will put on Assassins (Sept. 27-Oct. 1), Cabaret (Spring 2017) and Camelot (June 22-25). “We decided this year that the power of these three musicals was worth doing, especially in this political climate,” says Biever. “This is kind of an upsetting election for a lot of people, so even if the material is difficult, to be able to go to the theater and think through things by watching other people do that is really helpful and powerful.”

Penn State’s Centre Stage will do a similar show in the spring. Barbecue, which will run March 21-April 1, is a play about “a celebrity who takes the life of this dysfunctional family and makes a film out of it and stars in it,” says Dan Carter, director of The School of Theatre. “You alternate back and forth between the real family and the movie. It’s very funny and poignant. It’s not patterned after any one person, but it’s reminiscent of people who are in the news.”

The rest of their season includes a newer play Be More Chill (Oct. 4-15), Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti (Oct. 24-30), Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (Nov. 14-Dec. 3), American Idiot (Feb. 14-25) and Light in the Piazza (April 4-15). Carter echoes Trudeau’s feelings about the local theater scene: “The local theaters have given us a certain kind of freedom. We’re probably not going to do My Fair Lady, but it’s great that My Fair Lady is being seen. It gives us a chance to be a little more adventuresome and at the same time give our students a variety of experiences.”

And there’s even more variety to be had. Local educational theater company Tempest Productions is entering its 21st season, and director Cynthia Mazzant is staying true to her original mission.

“We wanted to be more a process-Balé Folclórico da Bahia. Photo by Vinicius Lima.Balé Folclórico da Bahia. Photo by Vinicius Lima.oriented company,” she says. “We wanted to focus on the rehearsal process and on finding universal themes and how do we take some of the process, especially with language that may not be familiar, and make it more accessible?”

She does that through shows like Poe: Deep Into That Darkness, which will weave spoken word, film, dance and other performance into one Edgar Allen Poe-themed show on Nov. 18 at The State Theatre. Tempest’s other shows also work to present existing words in a new, theatrical context.

The longest running company in State College is putting on its 61st season. In October, State College Community Theatre will present The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a musical comedy based on Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel of the same name.

The Next Stage, the resident company of The Attic at The State Theatre, will produce three small-cast plays by major playwrights: Arthur Miller’s The Archbishop’s Ceiling (Nov. 10-20), David Hare’s The Breath of Life (April 20-30) and Timothy Findley’s Elizabeth Rex (July 20-30).

In October, The State Theatre will bring back Love and Light Productions for what is becoming an annual Halloween performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “We thought it was a great addition to our season,” says Ray. “We love the fact that it’s being brought to us by a local theater group.” And it’s one that has, like the others, a unique take, with a live punk rock band that provides the music for the show.

The State will host another local group, TanzTheater André Koslowski, for a new dance theater work on Sept. 10. Choreographer Koslowski typically debuts new work during Arts Fest, but Ray is excited to have this during the fall semester.

“This is the kind of thing you find in New York City and major urban areas,” he says. “It’s cutting edge. We love that we can present that. Not only are they a great local company, but they’re doing challenging work that gives you an opportunity to see something that is not what you traditionally think of with what’s offered in Central Pennsylvania.”

More dance shows will grace the stage at Eisenhower this season, including Pilobolus on Oct. 18, Brazilian group Balé Folclórico da Bahia on Feb. 14 and Jessica Lang Dance on April 12. “Jessica Lang is a relatively new company,” says Vashaw. “They will be doing a mixed rep series of works including this piece called ‘Tesseracts of Time,’ which is a collaboration with quite a hot architect, Steven Holl, that’s a dance in four sections — over, under, in and on.”

Before that large-scale performance in the spring, you can see local dance instructor and dancer Sarah Mason perform as Lady Grey in a late night cabaret-style show in The Attic at The State Theatre Sept. 24 and Oct. 15.

“She’s phenomenal,” says Ray, who adds, “The Attic is our experimental venue. It’s our place to try out fun, local performances with talented people.”

There’s one special event this fall that will bring all types of artists in the community together. The State Theatre will be celebrating its 10th anniversary (of its current form) on Dec. 3.

Zeropoint Big Band. Photo by Meadow Lane Photography.Zeropoint Big Band. Photo by Meadow Lane Photography.

“The crown jewel of our season is the gala,” says Ray. “The theme for the show is ‘decades.’ We’ve been around for 10 years; we’re going to celebrate each decade The State Theatre has been open, starting in the 1930s and going through the 2000s.” Rick Hirsch’s Zeropoint Big Band will be the main entertainment for the evening, with a variety of performers — musicians, dancers, actors and more — joining them on stage throughout the show.

“This is our opportunity to say thank you,” says Ray. “This community has really supported The State Theatre and believed in the vision of it. We just want to invite everyone to celebrate. Not every town this size has a performing arts center like this. It’s something to be proud of.” •SCM

For More Information

Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania

Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County

Bryce Jordan Center

Center for the Performing Arts

FUSE Productions

Green Drake Gallery & Arts Center

Love and Light Productions

Nittany Valley Symphony

The Next Stage Theatre Company

The Palmer Museum of Art

Penn State Centre Stage

State College Community Theatre

The State Theatre

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