Theater Fest celebrates Spokane’s diverse performing arts community

As the temperatures begin to cool and the leaves begin to change color, many performing arts organizations begin to ramp up in preparation for the beginning of their season. But with so many organizations to choose from in town with theater, music, voice, dance, improv, art and more, it can be difficult to catch everything that’s going on.

Enter Theater Fest, an afternoon of mini performances from performing arts organizations here organized by Spokane Arts, the Downtown Spokane Partnership and the Spokane Symphony.

Theater Fest came to be after Lynda Sanders, former marketing director of the Spokane Symphony, approached the Downtown Spokane Partnership about bringing an art-walk-like event for theater companies she experienced in Houston to Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

Elisabeth Hooker, marketing and programming director of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said the organization was onboard right away, as was Spokane Arts. About 800 people attended the inaugural Theater Fest, which was at the Fox.

“It was really exciting for some of our more amateur performing groups to have a chance to perform on a professional stage … it really brought out the whole family,” she said. “It gave not only a preview to audiences of what’s available in Spokane but a preview to ‘this is what a career might look like for me if I want to pursue this professionally … also, Spokane is a community that will allow me to explore that opportunity.’ ”

The event also was a success from the standpoint of participating performance organizations who had the opportunity to learn more about and network with fellow organizations. This year, Theater Fest, now in its second year, features showcases at the Fox from 1-4 p.m. and the Bing Crosby Theater from 2-5 p.m. on Sunday.

Patrons are welcome to come and go between both venues as they please. Theater Fest is free; no tickets or registration are required.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to offer more performances and include a larger range of cultural activities, as well, because Spokane has an underpromoted performing arts community,” Hooker said.

“We really want to highlight not just theater but anything that happens on the stage. How can we help our citizens and visitors understand that we have a really vibrant and talented performing arts culture here in Spokane?”

The Fox mainstage will be hosted by radio host/playwright/actor Molly Allen.

Spokane Ballet Studio will kick things off at the Fox at 1 p.m. with a preview of “The Nutcracker,” followed by performances from Spokane String Quartet (1:35 p.m.), Vytal Movement Dance Company (1:55 p.m.), Spokane Civic Theatre previewing “Matilda: the Musical” (2:15 p.m.), Cimarron Tribal Belly Dancers (2:35 p.m.) and Inland Northwest Opera previewing “Madame Butterfly” (2:55 p.m.).

Spokane Civic Theatre will again preview “Matilda” at 3:15 p.m., and a to-be-announced showcase will close the afternoon at the Fox at 3:35 p.m.

Comedian Deece Casillas will host showcases at the Bing. The Spokane Falls Community College drama department will begin the afternoon at the Bing with a participatory acting workshop at 2:15 p.m.

Gonzaga University’s dance department will preview its upcoming season at 2:40 p.m., followed by showcases from SFCC (3 p.m.), improv team Seagull Sloths (3:20 p.m.), Spokane Taiko (3:40 p.m.), Stage Left Theatre previewing “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot” (4 p.m.) and Quiero Flamenco (4:20 p.m.).

The afternoon will close at 4:40 p.m. with a showcase from a to-be-announced organization.

“We had some feedback last year that we hadn’t cast our net as wide as was possible, so we really made an effort this year to connect with and reach out to as many performing groups as might have an interest in participating in Theater Fest …,” Hooker said.

“We did our best to make space for everyone that was interested in being here. As the event grows, we hope to see those submissions to participate grow and grow and hopefully add more stages.” During Theater Fest, the lobbies of both venues also will feature activities and performances.

In the Fox, Theater Fest attendees can meet many of the performers, stop by a photo booth and enter to win a package that includes a stay at the Davenport Tower, a pair of Spokane Civic Theatre tickets, a pair of Best of Broadway tickets, two tickets to the Lucky You Lounge and more.

There will be a coloring activity for children, one-day special ticket offers and discounts and the opportunity for self-guided tours of the Fox.

In the Fox’s North Gallery, the Spokane String Quartet will perform at 2:20 p.m., and there is an improv session with Seagull Sloths. The Blue Door Theater will be around with ticket offers and to help people register for classes.

In the South Gallery, Inland Northwest Opera will host a 30-minute voice lesson beginning at 1:35 p.m. At 3:30 p.m., Cimarron Tribal Belly Dancers will host a belly dancing lesson.

In the lobby of the Bing, there will be a mask-making activity led by members of the Whitworth University theater department.

Those at the Bing will have a chance to enter the drawing for the Davenport stay and tickets package and take advantage of one-day ticket offers and discounts.

Looking ahead, Hooker and the Theater Fest team could see adding more educational opportunities to the event, maybe one day turning Theater Fest into a weekend-long convention.

The main goal, she said, is to foster support for the performing arts while also exciting young people about exploring the performing arts of dance, music and theater.

The Theater Fest team also wants to “hang [their] hat on the fact that Spokane is a really talented town.”

“How do we celebrate that and grow that so that we are expanding what we’re known for beyond the Bloomsdays and the Hoopfests?” Hooker said. “Let’s take a look at the artistic side of what we’ve got going on and make sure we have a community that supports those people that want to be artists.”


Article by Azaria Podplesky of The Spokesman-Review