The past year was a tumultuous one in many respects, but there was a lot to celebrate in the local arts scene.
Stars Theatre Restaurant opened the year on a high note as Mary Poppins took flight. Bakersfield Community Theatre launched its 89th season and closes the year aiming to knock out its heritage debt (just over $2,600 left as of press time). And it was a melodious year for The Empty Space, which presented five musicals including the first local production of “Rock of Ages” and the musical version of its holiday classic “Hurry Up, Santa!”
But it was really the theater that ventured beyond the traditional stage that made a splash in 2016. Three limited-run shows proved that with the right group, dedicated cast and innovative crew, anything is possible.
In August, Jennifer Sampson brought “Eurydice” to the Bakersfield Museum of Art for the first Theatre in the Gallery event. The play, a reimagining of the Greek myth of Orpheus, was a good fit within the walls of the 60-year-old institution for two sold-out shows between exhibitions. The museum’s board was so happy it invited Sampson back for Shakespeare in the Garden in April.
Longtime local educator June Gaede was able to bring her “bucket list show” to life in September with “Macbeth” at The Woman’s Club of Bakersfield. The show, bringing together talent from all of the area theaters, was led by Ken Burdick in the title role as the doomed Scotsman. The successful two-day run, which raised funds for the club, was a fitting tribute to Gaede, who passed away earlier this month.
And Temple Beth El embraced a new tradition, mounting a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in its common room in November. The fundraiser packed them in — literally — for two sold-out shows. I’ve been in close quarters in an audience (Empty Space, I’m looking at you) but in this instance the sense of togetherness was welcoming. Being seated near props that were pulled and used on stage as needed really made you feel like a part of the community.
In addition to supporting local theaters in the coming year, it would be wonderful to have more out-of-the-box shows, which seems to draw many who might not be season ticket holders.
Another great example of art out in the community was this fall’s public art project “Driven By Art.” In recognition of its 60th year, the Bakersfield Museum of Art enlisted 33 artists to paint and embellish small fiberglass trucks that were put on display throughout downtown Bakersfield.
The trucks will remain up until Jan. 6 so catch them while you still can. Based on the response — at least on social media — it seems Bakersfield is receptive to enjoying more art in the wild. So perhaps a similar effort can be put into the works in another part of town.
Having covered First Friday for years, it was exciting to see some more changes come to the monthly downtown gathering. With the new Moderngigi Gallery opening down 18th Street and Mi Peru owner Javier Bautista starting up a block party at K and L streets near his restaurant, the festivities extended beyond the downtown arts district. The addition of food trucks to the scene also added to the action.
I’m not alone in my love of food trucks, so here’s hoping that they continue to find a place downtown, both at bigger events and just for the usual downtown lunch crowd.
And speaking of food, it was a treat to interview celebrity chef Simon Majumdar. Although he was headed to our rival Fresno for the annual food expo in July, he praised the entire valley for its abundant contribution to food culture.
“This is a really great part of the country and it doesn’t get the love that it deserves.” Well said.
I’m not usually on the music beat, but when a chance to interview an unlikely music star came up, I volunteered. It didn’t hurt that Kiefer Sutherland already excelled in another field (acting) but he was all about the music before his February show at the Crystal Palace.
Like Majumdar, he spoke with respect for the area, in this case the rich musical history of the Bakersfield Sound. In fact, he had to put in a little work to book the show.
“Bakersfield is the first place I wanted to play but it’s really hard to get a gig there.”
The annual Dancing at the Stars is an entertaining fundraiser, bringing out unlikely hoofers in support of local theater.
Looking back, it was especially thrilling to see future Police Chief Lyle Martin glide to victory. It wasn’t too surprising either, knowing that he even rehearsed his steps behind a closed office door during breaks. That sort of dedication serves you well, no matter the task.
Having no aptitude for teaching, it was nice to speak with educators who excelled at the craft. For five years, Hank Washington and his South High team triumphed in the congressional art competition. This year’s victory was particularly sweet for Washington, who retired after 42 years. An award-winning painter himself, he said he would enjoy the free time to travel with his wife and focus on his art.
And June Gaede, who taught for nearly 60 years, knew that lessons could be found anywhere.
She brought her vast wisdom of Shakespeare to her final production of “Macbeth” and those who took part and those who watched were all the richer for it.