Communique: Lumina Festival @ UNCW Offers Theatre, Opera, Music, Art

Jul 12, 2018

Die Fledermaus. Twelfth Night. Rhiannon Giddens. Peter & the Wolf. Audrey Ochoa. Virtual Reality. These are some of the offerings at UNCW's Lumina Festival of the Arts this year, running through July 29.

Kristen Brogdon is the Director of UNCW's Office of the Arts and the Director of this festival, now in its second year. Listen to Kristen above and see our extended conversation below.

Lumina kicks off at UNCW's Cultural Arts Building (CAB) on Thursday, July 12 at 5:30pm with the opening reception of Aaron Wilcox's exhibit, Swimmers. At 7:30pm, Alchemical Theatre opens Twelfth Night in the CAB's Black Box Theatre.  Twelfth Night is onstage July 12, 19, 21, 26, and 28 at 7:30pm; July 15 and 28 at 2:00pm. 

On Saturday and Sunday, July 14 & 15, 10:00am-6:00pm, there will be a street fair atmosphere on the Kenan Auditorium Lawn with Hooked on Arts.

There's a Poetry Slam at Kenan Auditorium on Friday, July 13, and a Dance Showcase featuring Gaspard on Saturday night. On Sunday, the film Damsel screens at 6:30pm. 

Opera Wilmington presents Die Fledermaus (in English) at the Main Theatre in the Cultural Arts Building for 4 performances only-Friday, 7/20 @ 7:00pm; Sunday, 7/22 @ 3:00pm; Friday, 7/27 @ 7:00pm; and Sunday, 7/29 @ 3:00pm. 

Mouths of Babes presents free performances at UNCW's Amphitheatre. See the full Theatre Schedule.

There is a great variety of extraordinary musicians performing at the festival: founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon Giddens; Jazz & Big Band with Audrey Ochoa; Pianist Barry Salwen; and the Opera Orchestra with a narrated performance of Peter & the Wolf. Find the full music schedule here. 

Gina: So this is the second year of the Lumina Festival?

Kristen: Yes.

Gina: And Kristin, were you the force behind making this happen in the first place?

Kristen: I was the coalescing force around the Lumina Festival. But the reason why the Lumina Festival was possible is because of Opera Wilmington. So because they had already been in the habit and practice of producing professional opera on a phenomenal regional scale here in Wilmington, we decided to build the Lumina festival around Opera Wilmington. So it was because Opera Wilmington was already doing this work that it was possible to build a festival and I was the one who pulled all of the different partners together to try to make it happen. So we were in conversation early on with Opera Wilmington about what else can we do--having all of these singers, your really talented orchestra costumes and sets and all of these things already in place--how can we build around this? So we knew that we wanted to have an orchestra concert to give that orchestra a chance to get out of the pit and onto the stage and shine as the stars instead of the supporting cast. And then around the same time we were approached by Chris Marino about Alchemical Theater, about also participating in helping us anchor the festival. So last year and this year, Opera Wilmington and Alchemical Theater are the anchors of the festival.

And then we decided that we also wanted to build a concert series around it. So the Opera Orchestra concert turned into a concert series that includes some jazz because there's a UNCW jazz workshop that happens during that time period in the summer anyway, and then this year we also have Rhiannon Giddens who I'm really excited to have as part of the festival. She brings a national renown and an extraordinary voice and talent for fiddle and the Banjo, but also as a greensboro native, she has that regional feel that we're trying to celebrate with Lumina as really a celebration of the arts and artists of the coastal south.

Gina: Excellent. So you just said who the anchors are and there are also other things going on that the anchors are making possible. I know we have Mouths of Babes involved and we have the art aspect of it and other things. For folks who are interested in performance arts, what kinds of offerings do you have?

Kristen: Well, we tried to build around those anchors as well. So we wanted to make sure that we had a diversity of art forms and also a diversity of culture. So one of the things that we'll find on the opening weekend is a dance showcase. And on that show we have a choreographer who's based in Durham, North Carolina. His name is Gaspard Louis. He was a member of Pilobolus Dance Theater, which is just this phenomenal physical dance company. And so he's bringing his company for the second half of the program. And I asked him to help me curate the first half of the program with local choreographers. So there are five pieces on the first half of the program by Wilmington area choreographers, chosen by myself and Gaspard  from the submissions that we got from those choreographers. And then the second half of the program will be Gaspard and his company. 

And then after the performance we have a free salsa party in the amphitheater with Wilmington Latin Dance, which is something that we did last year but we did it after a theater show. And we decided this year that the people most likely to actually dance after a performance are people who come and watch dance and get inspired to dance by what they see.

Gina: I think you're absolutely right. I always want to dance after I've watched dance, like "I'm ready to dance!"

Kristen: Me too. I can't believe that that didn't occur to us last year. But this year we were like, you know what, we're going to put all the dance on one night and we're going to get people all revved up with what they see in the theater and then we're going to give them a chance to release all that good energy out in the amphitheater.

Gina: That's great. And what night is that?

Kristen: That is Saturday night, July 14th.

Gina: And at 7:30?

Kristen: 7:30 at Keenan Auditorium.

Gina: And then also this weekend, Twelfth Night is opening from Alchemical Theater.

Kristen: Yes. Twelfth night is opening on the twelfth and that will be a new venue for us this year. They will be in the SRO theater, which is in the cultural arts building at UNCW and it's a black box and that has allowed them to be really flexible with how they're using the space. They're going to be doing it as they call "promenade seating" so that people will have a chance to, to walk around and interact with the set and with the actors while the performance is going on. So we're doing general admission promenade seating and then for people who would prefer to just be stationary during the performance, we'll also have some VIP reserved seats.  So there's something for however people want to experience the work.

Gina: And also theatrically we have the Mouths of Babes and they're doing some kind of experimental stuff as well.

Kristen: They are. So Mouths of Babes is a new theater company really based in the idea of creating opportunities for teens to both write theater and act in theater. So they'll be doing four different programs for us, three of which are original theater that's written and co-directed by the students themselves. And then they also wanted to do something a little bit more classical as a good experience for the students. We decided to program with them a Greek play instead of Shakespeare on the classical end to compliment what Alchemical is doing. So they will be doing Iphigenia.

Gina: There's also a poetry slam?

Kristen: There is. So that's another one of the diversity of art form things that we had figured out last year and it was so successful in collaboration with the Black Arts Alliance and with Coast 97.3. So it's performance poetry. It's a poetry jam and it's similar to some of the events that they do at the Cameron Art Museum and elsewhere around town. But it takes on a different quality being in Kenan Auditorium, and the artists were so excited to be in Kenan last year. So we really let the Black Arts Alliance and the Coast 97 folks pick the artists and then we're their cohosts for it. But one of the fun things about Lumina is getting a chance to work with so many different arts organizations around Wilmington. I think one of the reasons that it worked so well last year and we're hoping it'll work again this year is because it really is collaborative and it's of and about Wilmington.

Gina: Then of course, we have to mention Die Fledermaus, which is what the opera is putting on.

Kristen: Yes. It's their fifth anniversary this year. And so they're throwing a big party and Die Fledermaus really kind of incorporates that idea of, you know, sort of champagne and missed connections and there's a stolen watch and you know probably more about it than I do being a member of the cast.

Gina: I do. There's Gina in a fat suit. Sorry, don’t spit that water out.

Kristen: I will not spit the water on your microphone.

Kristen: So for people who need to know, a fledermaus mouse is a bat.

Gina: That's right. A fledermaus is a bat.

Kristen: There's your opera trivia for the day.

Gina: Through the whole festival there is the art exhibit.

Kristen: Yes. We worked with the Art and Art History Department this year to single out a faculty member to do a single person show as part of the festival and as their summer exhibit. So Aaron Wilcox has an exhibit that is called "Swimmers" and what he has done is put together a combination ceramics exhibit and kind of archeological faux history lesson. It's very interesting the way that he has created objects that sort of fit into part of Chinese history and archeological history. So some of the things that are a part of the historical aspect of the show are completely true and some of them are things that he has created and are completely imagined. So it will be fun for viewers to go through that exhibit with the knowledge that some of it comes from Aaron's imagination and some of it is rooted in history.

Gina: Cucalorus is even involved.

Kristen: They are. We couldn't have an arts festival in Wilmington without including film and so last year we did outdoor film screenings, both of which were on days where we had horrible weather. So this year we decided to try to figure out something more creative. Everybody has an outdoor film screenings. So we worked with the folks at Cucalorus. They are having an artist residency during the time that the festival is going on with some artists who are working in virtual reality, which is such a cool thing right now and so we are having a virtual reality workshop. It will be happening on Sunday the 15th at 4:00 in Kenan Auditorium on the stage, so people will be able to come onstage and sit in spinning chairs and put on their VR headsets and see some of the work that these VR artists have made and the artists will be there to talk with people about how it happens and to explain a little bit more about VR, which I think will be really hands on and participatory and should be fun for people. 

And then Cucalorus also helped us select a film to screen and it's one of the big films from Sundance this year. But the interesting thing that I learned about the film festival world is that, you know, Sundance happens in the winter and by the time November rolls around with Cucalorus, all those films are already too stale to show at another film festival. So it's fun for us to give Cucalorus a chance to show those films in Wilmington in a little bit more of a timely way. So the film that we're showing is called "Damsel" and it stars Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska and it is this crazy western that has all of the visual hallmarks of Westerns and it has all of the Western tropes, but it's not a typical Western in any other way. So it's a little bit of a dark comedy. The "Damsel" of the title is not by any means in distress and she does not need anybody to save her. And it's funny and strange and everything that you would expect from Cucalorus.

Gina: And then you also have things going on that are for children. And some of the stuff we've already spoken about would be great for children. But the Seahawk FAM [Family Arts Matinees] Series is a part of this festival as well.

Kristen: It is. So we started our FAM programs for the summer last month, but there are three of them that are a part of the festival. Two of them are sensory friendly. And what that means is that we have tailored the performance experience so that it's a little bit less overwhelming for people who have any kind of sensory issues. So the lights are on a little bit. We have the sound turned down a little bit. There are no surprises. And we also make sure that everybody is aware that it's okay if people in the audience make a little bit of noise or need to get up and move around. We have a safe space in the lobby. So there's a storyteller named Donna Washington who's doing a sensory friendly performance and we also have a theater ensemble called Make Trouble. They are doing a summer intensive that's happening on campus and they'll be doing a version of Romeo and Juliet. So that's our summer FAM teen edition and then actually this Thursday we also have Mr Scooter, who does Kid Hop. He's very well known from his appearances at the library and he'll be on  Kenan Stage, too.

Gina: Mr. Scooter, he's so fun.

Kristen: Another thing that we have that will be great for families is a concert with the Opera Wilmington Orchestra, so we're excited to feature them onstage in the Beckwith Recital Hall and the centerpiece of their program will be Peter and the Wolf with a narrator who we know very well named Gina. And so we're hoping that that will be a fun performance for families and for people of all generations. The other works on the program will be from Johann Strauss, both junior and senior. So some dance pieces. There's a polka, there's a march, and there's a waltz that are also on that program,

Gina: Which people of all ages will appreciate. A great introduction to young people to live classical music.

Kristen: Yes. Learning about all of those orchestral instruments and getting a chance to hear motifs and learn about how classical music works. I think it'll be really nice.

A number of the members of the Opera Orchestra are UNCW faculty or people from Wilmington, but they also hire people from Raleigh, from the North Carolina Symphony, from other universities that are in the state who wouldn't normally during the school year have a chance to perform here. But the Opera Orchestra is really the cream of the crop of North Carolina musicians.

Kristen: That's what incredible orchestra musicians can do. They can come in and play everything in one rehearsal and we'd have a show.

Gina: And amazing pianist, Barry Salwen.

Kristen: Yes. So we also have two of what we're calling prelude concerts. We wanted to try out the idea of having an hour long concert, one before the opera and one before the twelfth night performance where if people want to add something onto their experience, they can also come to a concert. So Barry Salwen is doing one of these and he was so brilliant in the program that he came up with. He thought about Die Fledermaus and you want it to be inspired by the rest of the programming of the festival. And he looked at waltzes across geography and across time and he's put together this beautiful program, an hour long of waltzes from Vienna, from the Americas and from lots of different places and looking at that over time. So he has actually said that he hopes that people will be dancing in the aisles at Kenan Auditorium, which is okay with me.

Gina: I want to do it. I want to dance in the aisles.

Kristen:[laughing] You can come dance with me.

Gina: Kristen, what is this festival all about? I mean, what are you trying to do as the director of this festival?

Kristen: Really the festival is about celebrating the art and artists of the coastal south. So for us it's about having Wilmington reflected onstage in all of its glory and it's also about bringing in other regional artists who are really phenomenal who deserve a place in the spotlight as well. And putting all of that together creates a certain kind of special sauce over the course of two and a half weeks. So one of the things that we're trying to do is enliven the campus during the summertime. Most of the students are gone and it gives us kind of a blank canvas to really paint in any way that we want to. So we're inviting Wilmington and the surrounding communities to come to campus and enjoy these art forms. We are also trying to create a community of artists during this time.

So one of the things that we do is we give Lumina badges to all of the artists who perform and they are good for free rush tickets to any of the other festival performances that are happening. And the reason that we do that is because we hope that artists will see each other's performances and that it will inspire some cross disciplinary collaboration. So what would make us really happy is if something at this year's festival sparks a performance that can happen next year at Lumina.

Gina: And also, for the public a lot of these events are free.

Kristen: It was year one and we looked back and we said, "what do we wish that there was more of?" and we wanted a little bit more of a block party feeling. And so that's part of the reason why we have Hooked on Arts, which is an outdoor art fair that's happening on Saturday and Sunday of the opening weekend with art vendors and food trucks and a musical instrument "petting zoo" and a bounce house for the kids.  So that will give us a little bit more of that festival feeling that is beyond just a series of events all linked together. And then we wanted to make the festival even more accessible. And so we added a lot of free events this year. Hooked on Arts is one of those. The Mouths of Babes performances are all free. The Salsa Party is free. The virtual reality workshop with Cucalorus is free. And so we wanted to do free events and a lot of different art forms so that we could really have this sense of it being accessible and available to everybody who wants to participate.