Orange County’s New Art Scene

Courtesy of Wendy Lynch Redfern

When one thinks of new and daring theatrical productions, it is rare that the first region to come to mind would be Orange County. Festivals such as Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe have long been the Mecca of creative artistic collaboration. However, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa aims change that by bringing this artistic excitement to Orange County with its first ever Off Center Festival from Jan. 13 to 21.

This festival seeks to showcase various forms of artistic expression through eight unique pieces, all of which address a different edifice of popular art, including theatre, music, dance, comedy and spoken word. Although all performances are intriguing, a few standout pieces shed light on the theatre’s changing future in Orange County.

The festival kicks off with “Chautauqua!”, a National Theater production that mirrors a historical circuit, which travelled the United States from the late 20th to early 21st century, hoping to educating the masses through scientific lectures, popular poetry and musical expressions.

“Chautauqua!” is set in a similar instructive style as its predecessor, and was created especially for the Off Center Festival, with all its materials drawn from Orange County’s history. A unique addition to the mundane theatre scene of Southern California, “Chautauqua!” promises to entertain, instruct and intrigue. Performances run from Jan. 13 to 15.

“Lord Huron” and “Reggie Watts” are two entertainers that add different elements to the festival. The former is an up-and-coming experimental indie singer, described as combining Calypso and American folk traditions into a unique blend that has been praised for its honesty and emotion. The latter is a comedian and musician who has gained popularity for his improvisational act by opening for Conan O’Brien in 2010. These acts are one night only: Lord Huron on Jan. 13 and Reggie Watts on the 14th. Both promise to be a unique addition to Segerstrom’s repertoire.

“The Car Plays,” however, is the festival’s standout event, comprising a highly unique and wonderfully mastered viewing experience in which the audience observes five different short plays from the backseat of a car. Written by Paul Stein, this experimental theatre revamps the interaction between audience and actor through viewing art at such a close proximity. Performances are for four nights only on Jan. 14, 15, 20 and 21.

“ReEntry” and “The Word Begins” are two theatrical productions that push cultural and societal boundaries in their messages.

“ReEntry,” written by two female playwrights, addresses the hardships that war veterans experience on their return from war, specifically the War in Iraq. This piece is developed from interviews with militant combatants and their families. An intriguing experience, this show plays from Jan. 18 to 20.

“The Word Begins” addresses cultural hardships and societal themes too, but it highlights the relationship between race and humanity in the United States. This play uses acting to show two men’s quest for defining their lives and combines it with spoken word, hip-hop and comedy to create a full dimensional expression. Performances are from Jan. 19 to 21.

Another standout in the lineup is “Ten Tiny Dances,” a choreography piece in which all dances are performed on a four by four-foot stage. Truly remarkable in concept alone, this experiment redefines the relationship between space and possibility, constraining movement to a petite dimension, but enforcing maximized expression in order to keep the audience engaged. A must-see for movement lovers, “Dances” runs from Jan. 20 to 21.

The closing performance for the Festival is “Mexican Institute of Sound,” an electronic music project that combines electronic dance, hip-hop and Mexican sonidos. This specific performance keeps all the prior elements along with an ’80s British New Wave feel. The only performance is Jan 21.

Tickets for the festival are surprisingly cheap. For a single show, the price is $20; however, for four shows or more, the tickets are only $10 a piece.

Each show represents an important artistic dimension that is unique in its own right; however, if you are unable to see all of them, this critic highly recommends seeing “Chautauqua!”, “The Car Plays” and “Ten Tiny Dances.” These aforementioned performances are especially unique in their aesthetics, and they all produce a thoroughly out of the box theatrical experience.

The “Off Center Festival” is an important event for the Southern California arts scene in that it is opening up the doors for Orange County to be seen as an important contributor to new artistic developments. Becoming a part of the first “Off Center Festival” is to become a part of Southern California’s new artistic scene.