(Costa Mesa, CA) January, 2014 – Every season, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts produces a plethora of diverse shows: musicals, operas, chamber and jazz music, ballet, and even a rock concert or two: shock-rock legend Alice Cooper performed in the main Segerstrom Hall this past November to glowing reviews. But Center President Terry Dwyer believes in thinking, and working, outside of the box. The most recent example of this methodology is his pride and joy: The Off Center Festival. This exciting festival is celebrating its third year of eclectic music and dance performances, as well as contemporary theater.
“We want each festival to be an artistic adventure,” he says. “Sometimes pure entertainment, sometimes challenging – maybe even provocative - but always offering experiences that uniquely explore the most topical issues of the day.”
And this year is no exception when it comes to new, dynamic talent. For the first time, the festival will host its first Party on the Plaza (POP), a festival party on the Main Arts Plaza which is free to the public. The artists who will perform during this party include the critically acclaimed, crowd-pleasing Culture Clash (who will also perform their latest work “Keep Culture and Clash On” at Founders Hall during the festival), as well as the musical talents of East LA native Little Willie G. and the Latin alternative band, La Santa Cecilia. Several popular food trucks will also be available, enhancing the overall festival ambience even more.
The year-round process in choosing the artists for the festival is a very meticulous one for Executive Vice President Judy Morr and festival programming consultant Mark Russell, who is also the artistic director of the Under the Radar Festival in New York. Courtesy of their watchful eyes and strong networking contacts, both Morr and Russell have been successful in discovering the best when it comes to a balanced program of exciting and eclectic entertainment for the Off Center Festival.
“The best festival performances reflect the passions and experiences of the artists scheduled and, we hope, similarly will elicit uniquely personal and oftentimes strong responses from our audiences,” Dwyer says. “Presenting our Off Center artists in the center’s smaller venues further enhances the intimacy of those experiences and often also the intensity of the attendance experience.”
The intimacy of the Segerstrom venues include the Samueli Theater—which can seat up to 500 people, the 250 seat capacity of Founders Hall, and the 270 seat Studio Performance Space located at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. One artist who will appear in this adaptable space is Phil Soltanoff. His show, “LA Party,” is a comic/dramatic story about a vegan who goes to a party in L.A. and has a bender by experimenting with all sorts of mind-altering substances. But as Soltanoff points out, what makes the performance piece stand out is his unique approach to the material, using multiple, different forms of technological media.
“‘LA Party’ makes use of something I like to call video puppetry—it takes six of us to create one video image of a human being—and the audience watches us create this the whole time,” he says. “The concept is quite simple: The performance is a one man show with no man, only a video image created by the six of us in real time.”
Although Soltanoff has never been to the Segerstrom before, his experiences so far with the staff have been impressive and he is excited to debut his show in Costa Mesa. “The Segerstrom has been very professional,” he says. “I’ve done a great deal of touring in Europe and it reminds me of the some of the venues I’ve visited there. We’re just glad to be here. A big thank you to the Segerstrom!”
Other theatrical performances to feature at the Off Center Festival include Sekou Sundaiata’s show “blessing the boats: the remix”—which deals with a man’s personal story regarding the emotional and physical challenges of facing kidney failure, Edgar Oliver will perform his biographical “Helen & Edgar,” and Rinde Eckert’s “Becoming Unusual…The Education of an Eclectic” will combine music, dramatic monologues, lectures and video presentations.
But the drama of the festival will be well-balanced with music, starting with the two-piece Australian band (by way of Berlin’s underground rock scene) Die Roten Punkte, which is often described as a combination of The B-52s meets Kraftwerk and early Ramones. And towards the end of the festival will be Gilbert Castellanos and his jazz quintet. The talented trumpeter—who has worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, and many others—will mark the first time that jazz will be featured as part of the festival.
In the past, artists who have debuted at the festival have experienced unanticipated positive response from the audience turnout. One example occurred when Reggie Watts evolved from the intimate space of Founder’s Hall during his first appearance at the festival to the larger Concert Hall the next year in order to compensate for the high demand of tickets. “The Car Plays” on the Arts Plaza also had a long waiting list for tickets. And Dwyer believes that the demand for quality entertainment will continue to grow for this year’s festival as well, especially when audiences will have the opportunity to meet the artists after the performances.
“There’s pure entertainment, social and political commentary and moving stories of real life dramas,” he stresses. “We ask that our audiences come expecting the unexpected, and hope and expect they will leave their festival performance entertained, thrilled and surprised. We also invite them to join us every night…to meet up with the performers in our Off Center Lounge in Leatherby’s Café Rouge to socialize, talk about the shows, and just to have a good time at the Center.”
Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, fiction writer, editor, and voice over artist.
The 3rd Annual Off Center Festival runs from January 23 to February 2, 2014
Scheduled Performances (for more information about these artists, check it out here
Sekou Sundaiata’s blessing the boats: the remix: Founder’s Hall—January 23-26
POP: Party on the Plaza, featuring Culture Clash, Little Willie G. - The Original Voice of Thee Midniters, and La Santa Cecilia: The Arts Plaza—January 24
Die Roten Punkte: Super Musician: Samueli Theater—January 24-25
Edgar Oliver: Helen & Edgar: Studio Performance Space—January 24-26
Phil Soltanoff: LA Party: Studio Performance Space—January 29-31
Culture Clash: Keep Culture and Clash On: 30 Years of Revolutionary Comedy Remastered: Founder’s Hall—January 30-February 2
Rinde Eckert: Becoming Unusual…The Education of an Eclectic: Samueli Theater—January 31-February 1
Gilbert Castellanos and The New Latin Jazz Quintet: Founder’s Hall— February 1
Off Center Lounge: Leatherby’s Café Rouge---January 23-26 and January 31-February 2
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Drive,
Costa Mesa, CA 92628-2197
Photos by Eric Schwabel (Culture Clash); Humberto Howard (La Santa Cecilia) and Christine Fiedler(Die Roten Punkte)