Southeast Texas Arts Council festival set for Oct. 9-10
“What do you like about Beaumont?” a friend from a different part of the country asked me. I thought for a moment and said, “I like the arts scene.”
I came to southeast Texas six years ago and almost immediately I found myself immersed in the busy life of the Golden Triangle arts organizations. As an art museum professional, I started by acquainting myself with the visual arts in the area. But it was not long before I discovered local theatres, music and dance. The place was a hotbed for all kinds of talent.
I am not the only one who thinks that way. Southeast Texas Arts Council has been promoting local arts for years. Last year, it teamed up with the Betty Greenberg Center for Performing Arts and launched “Montage,” an annual festival that showcases performing and visual arts in their infinite variety. The decision to have the festival in October was not arbitrary: it is the national arts and humanities month.
Now in its second year, “Montage” promises to be bigger and better. The festival will kick off on Friday night, Oct. 9, with the Gary Garrison Master Class at the Betty Greenberg Center for Performing Arts (more about it later). But the prime time for celebration will be Saturday, Oct. 10.
“There will be dancing, singing, street performances, flash mobs, musicians playing at street corners, kids trying out musical instruments,” says Sue Bard, SETAC executive director, says. “The most important thing about Montage is promoting knowledge and appreciation of the arts and humanities, which is our mission.”
On Saturday, the parking lot in front of the Betty Greenberg Center will be transformed into a fairy land. As the clock strikes noon, the gates will open and vendors dressed in fancy costumes will welcome the public to the “arts village.”
“We encourage all visitors to wear costumes, “ Bard says. “Think about it as a sort of a Venice Carnival, only with no particular theme. Characters from fairy tales, classic novels, comic books, video games, movies — anything goes.”
The list of the festival participants is long and impressive. It includes Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Port Arthur Little Theatre, the Art Studio, the Beaumont Art League, Ice House Museum and Cultural Center, Hardin County Museum, Beaumont Ballet Theatre, Orange Community Players, Mexican Heritage Society, and the Society for Creative Anachronism, to name a few.
“Nonprofits are not charged for their participation, “ Bard says. “This is an opportunity for them to increase visibility, promote their upcoming season, and recruit new members.
“Beaumont is an ideal setting for this kind of festival. We have all these arts organizations, many of them modest in size but unique, which need a forum. In a larger city, like Houston, everything happens on a grander scale and such an event would be lost.”
Like other festivals, “Montage” will offer “arts, eats and beats.” However, the format of the event will be unusual.
“There will be few scheduled performances,” Bard says. “Things will appear to be happening spontaneously, without warning. For example, a musician starts playing as he is moving through the crowd. When he gets to the end of the row, another musician joins him, and then another one, and soon there will be a marching band. We want people to be surprised, to expect something to happen any moment and to stay for the whole day.”
To spice things up, there will be contests and prizes. Children will have a chance to parade in their costumes on the stage; participation in this contest is free. Adults also will be offered an opportunity to show off in “Festillusion,” a theatre costume contest. Both professionals and amateurs will be competing in several categories.
A cash prize of $1,000, the Paula “Torchy” Salter Award, will be given for the best costume. A new feature this year is a special effects makeup category, with a Dinair Airbrush Studio Pro Kit as the prize.
While the merry carnival is going on on the grounds, a different kind of entertainment will be unfolding inside the theater. For all true aficionados of the art of drama, Studio 33 Theatre will be presenting one-act plays as a part of the Gary Garrison Master Class and Showcase.
“We initiated the Gary Garrison Festival in 2013,” Ashley Riley, Founder and Artistic Director of Studio 33, says. “We pride ourselves in producing original works by beginning and seasoned playwrights. At first, it was a stand-alone event, but now, for the second year in a row, we are happy to present it in conjunction with Montage.”
This year, 139 plays, from the United States and abroad, were submitted. After a blind review and rating, six plays have been selected, among them “Raghead” by Tom Coash of New Haven, Conn.; “Stage Moms #7” by Chambers Stevens of Los Angeles; and “Your Terrible Beautiful Heart” by Shannon Murdoch from Australia.
“We approached Gary Garrison, a graduate of Lamar University and today an internationally-renowned actor, playwright, director and teacher, and he gladly agreed to have this festival named after him,” Riley says.
Garrison agreed to more than giving his name to the event — he is flying to Beaumont to teach the Master Class on Friday night, Oct. 9. This is an event not to be missed — Garrison, a recipient of the 2005 Outstanding Teacher of Playwriting Award by the Association of Theatre in Higher Education, is in high demand at the most prestigious drama schools and performing centers.
“We are so excited and honored to have him in person to come and impart his wisdom upon us,” Riley says.
Garrison says he is looking forward to being part of the festival.
“I’ve been teaching playwriting (at NYU) for 30 years, and have been fortunate to be the executive director of our national organization of playwrights, the Dramatists Guild of America, for the last nine years,” he says. “Through my association with both of these institutions, one thing proves itself time and again: writers need community and the support of one another to stay healthy in their careers. I cherish any time I have the chance to sit and talk about the challenges of being a writer in this day and age because what’s good for one of us, is good for all of us.
“I’m thrilled to be part of ‘Montage’ because it brings me not only close to the family I grew up with, but the family of artists I’ve grown with over time.”
Let’s join the “Montage” organizers in their wishes that the annual arts festival of Beaumont grows and expands and becomes one of the “must see” events in Texas, which has no shortage of fun festivals.
By Elena Ivanova
ISSUE staff writer