Some theater here, a little opera there. Some dance here, a poetry reading there.
Festivalgoers will get a taste of all of that and more on five stages at the new Summit StageFest in Highland Square on Saturday. West Market Street will be blocked off between Portage Path and Casterton for this new daylong celebration, which, in addition to live performances, also will feature more than 100 visual artists, crafters, food vendors and other exhibitors lining the street in the heart of the Highland Square business district.
The free festival, which will run rain or shine from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., will offer a rich mix of local artists that also includes puppetry, improvisational comedy, barbershop quartets and a live radio drama.
The tagline for the arts celebration is “All the Square’s a Stage.” The new event was the brainchild of longtime arts supporter Jane Bond, who reached out to Akron-area theaters about participating in a festival and received an immediate, huge response.
“The idea here is audience development, to get people to look at the theater as a viable option for their entertainment dollars and to expose them to really the magic of live theater, because it’s not like anything else,’’ Bond said. “It’s not like movies. It’s not like anything electronic.”
She created the nonprofit Partners for Theater Inc. with a board to organize the new festival, aided by the expertise of Ron Higgins and Mark Smith, who have organized the Art in the Square and Porch Rokr festivals in Highland Square.
The result is a festival featuring 30 theaters and performance groups. Most are from Summit County but at least two hail from Cleveland: Cleveland Opera Theater, which will perform Opera for All, and Cleveland Opera, which will perform an excerpt from La Boheme.
The cool thing is, multiple performances will be happening simultaneously. Festivalgoers can choose from among offerings as diverse as the ballet and folk dance of Stabrova Youth Ballet to Elliott and Kristoffer Carter’s cover of Green Day’s American Idiot.
“The range of performances is just amazing,” Bond said.
Organizers worked to provide a mix of established theaters, such as Weathervane Playhouse and Ohio Shakespeare, along with some newer or lower-profile groups, which include Gum-Dip Theatre and Dynamics Community Theater of Tallmadge. Gum-Dip, which creates shows focusing on Rust Belt communities, will perform Nepali Applause, featuring Nepali dance and performance arts; Dynamics will perform the show Oz.
Festivalgoers will receive a program and map that lists every show on every stage. Town crier/local actor Tom Stephan also will announce performances hourly.
The event includes children’s activities, including a mask-making workshop with theater educator Wendy Duke at 11 a.m. at Mustard Seed Market and drop-in acting workshops from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. inside the Highland Square Branch Library. Illusion Factory will offer improvisation and movement workshops on two outdoor stages at 11 a.m.
Student showcases will be a part of the event, including an act by Theatre on the Spectrum (the performance arm of the Center for Applied Drama and Autism) as well as A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts.
For more kids’ fare, audiences can check out Magical Theatre Company’s Pinocchio, the Illusion Factory’s The Little Mermaid, Magic Mike’s magic show and Punch & Judy, Gingerbread Man and Prince James by Jim Volkert’s Puppets.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Nairobi Trio will perform the adults-only The Wild Goose at 5 p.m. inside Square Bar. Tayler Carano will offer live music in Ray’s Pub.
Looking for some laughs? Mustache Pete will do stand-up comedy and Just Go With It Improv will offer both a show and a workshop.
For folks who enjoy interactive theater, Getting Away with Murder will perform a mystery, and Wandering Aesthetics will offer Jumping Off Page, in which the narrator tells a story while audience members act it out on the spot.
Shakespeare will have a presence with two performances of Rubber City Theatre’s King Lear and two greenshows by Ohio Shakespeare Festival. And one mustn’t forget an 11 a.m. poetry showcase by Lake Effect Poetry.
Audiences can get a sneak peek at Weathervane’s Hairspray musical, check out other work by Western Reserve Playhouse and Antic Theatre, and take in the Derbytown Men’s Chorus Barbershop Quartet.
The entertainment list goes on with improv performances by Neos Dance Theatre, a sideshow by the Indestructible Popeye, and the Sunset Boulevard radio show by Rubber City Radio Players. Audiences can see the Akron-centric, locally created musical Goosetown: The Devil’s Milk Trilogy, Part 2 by New World Performance Lab on the Blackfriars Theater stage.
Bond said the Akron theater festival is unique because it’s all condensed into one neighborhood with simultaneous performances by multiple companies in one day. Festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland take place in hundreds of venues all around the city over a period of weeks.
There are five stages: one across from Walgreen’s at West Market and Portage Path, two on side streets, one in the parking lot between Chipotle and the library, and one on West Market in front of the American Legion.
“We have a really unusual sampling of the types of theaters that are in our community. We are really a theater-rich community but most people just don’t know it,’’ she said. “What I want this festival to be is a festival of discovery.”
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.