All the world on stage
New International theater festival in California offers audiences a window on foreign cultures – and shared stories.
Ventura County, Calif.
Just north of the Los Angeles county line the air feels, well, different. It's the same ocean breeze blowing in, but the atmosphere of the lush hills of L.A.'s northern neighbor seems more relaxed than the hurly-burly of Tinseltown. It's a perfect setting for creative ferment, say organizers of the Rubicon International Theatre Festival (RITF), which opened July 12 and runs through July 27. The only true global stagefest in the United States (others such as South Carolina's Spoleto include music and art), this preview season offers four US premières and works from Ireland, South Africa, Israel, and Ivory Coast.Skip to next paragraph
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"It's way past time," says Edgar Rosenblum, executive director of RITF, who adds, "Given the urgent need for people to understand one another from culture to culture, theater has an important role to play in telling those stories."
The brainchild of festival director Linda Purl, the idea for an annual global gathering of top theater talent was born three years ago during "BeckettFest," the 10-year-old Rubicon Theatre's celebration of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. "We saw so many connections and synchronicities being made from all the talent in one place at one time that it just made sense to take it one step further," says Ms. Purl. Theater is about live connections between audiences and performers, but also among the artists themselves, she adds. While it is true that traveling productions from foreign countries are not new, the festival format provides that sort of creative soup in a way a single traveling production cannot.
The festival features a range of themes and storytelling techniques from the wordless mimicry of former Cirque du Soleil artist Julien Cottereau to the solo works of Irish actor Conor Lovett and Israeli-American Ami Dayan and the song stylings of London cabaret singer Giselle Wolf. "We are all international," says Ms. Wolf, whose Russian father emigrated to Cuba and married her Lithuanian mother. She put together a program, she says, to emphasize this diversity. Her act weaves together a Broadway medley, a Yiddish lullaby, ballads from Edith Piaf, the Mexican love song "Besame Mucho," and the Cockney torch song "As Long as He Needs Me."
A designated trustee of the festival, Wolf acknowledges that the setting, nearly an hour north of downtown Los Angeles, may seem an unlikely detour for the global traveler, but she compares it to the internationally renowned Edinburgh Festival. "When it first started," she says, "it was a small, little festival, and now it draws people from all over the world."