A Festival Enthusiast shares the joys of the Festival

by Kate McEvoy
Festival Enthusiast and active participant

The 2009 Festival is only 5 days away. I can hardly wait. I'm sure that you feel the same.

What a sense of anticipation is aroused by the Festival. Yes, the area around the Green has lulled somewhat now that Yale has released its campus for the summer. Temple Street, again flowing through, is pretty serene. Concert halls are still, and the Long Wharf Theater will soon be resting in an interval from its regular season.

But all around, there are both traces of Festivals past, and a gathering of energies toward the next. So soon it will spring alive and amplify all that is engaged, thoughtful and purely fun about New Haven. That is, both the everyday New Haven that we know and love, and also something much more.

The Festival is so many things at once. Inspiring. Provocative. Novel. Participatory. Just so many ways to be a part of it, from the most laid back in listening, to joining in on the act in dance, song or verse. Mavis Staples. Circus. Robert Pinsky and the Favorite Poem Project. Ivanov. An incredible dance line-up. Little plate restaurant tours; sushi that will defy convention with the mesmerizing Bun Lai. And so many free events!

In years past, the Festival has given me moments in which disbelief has been so purely suspended as to be magical. Gargoyles silhouetted against the night sky, clambering down the Yale tower at College and Elm, spooking adults by pursuing them down the street! The vaudeville, whimsy and pathos of Aurelia's Oratorio, during which a person of tender years to my left sighed in awe when Aurelia Thierree "knit" the outline of a man out of yards and yards of lace. Cell, which invited the intrepid to follow along as a quiet, wry voice on the telephone led one a personal and unexpected tour of the Chapel district.

The Festival has also brought new learning through dialogue. What an experience it was for me, a Connecticut-born person of Swiss and Irish descent, to sit in last year on a very intimate discussion of what it means to be Muslim in today's world. A panel that included not only high profile academics, but the very local and totally myth-busting Mubarakah Ibrahim, who leads a dawn fitness boot camp group with which I used to sweat out many a July and August morning. A discussion during which I sat next to a young woman from an Arab country who works for Bayer, someone I had the happy experience of running into a few weeks later at the Criterion. Unexpected connections!

Not least, the Festival has brought us experiences from far beyond our usual perceptual shores. Sophocles' Antigone, with beautiful spare new verse by Seamas Heaney. Russian and Irish theater companies. The surreal and challenging Doors, in which stunningly athletic dance movement alternated with an almost dizzy humor. This year, I can't wait to see Mark Morris' choreography juxtaposed with Henry Purcell's opera score in Dido & Aeneas.

How the Festival attracts and engages people! World experts. Advocates. Superstars. Acrobats and dancers. Local notables. Children. Sometimes the world experts are themselves amazingly local (think Harold Koh!). Sometimes it's our friends and neighbors who are featured (Alex Johnston on educational disparity, Irm Wessell talking about the Holocaust). Often, it's friends whom we see behind the scenes as well as in the audience.

The Festival draws us out, and reminds us how small a community we really are. On the last night of one of my favorite Festivals past, an entire Green full of people, some with hips that knew how to do it, others just giving it a try, learning the steps of the salsa. And then last year, people coming together to pray in the churches on the Green on a sultry day, then spilling out for a beautifully participatory dance that brought out people of all abilities and ages, wheeling, parading, and carrying flags and high spirits.

Hurrah for those visionary three: Roz Meyer, Anne Calabresi, and Jean Handley, who could somehow see all of this coming into being. And for Mary Lou and the remarkable staff.

Why be part of it? Because art and shared experiences matter very deeply. Because it's right here on our doorstep. And because you will never again see the likes of it!

Why be part of it? I say, how can you resist?