Arts and Culture

Shani Gilchrist



Headed to Spoleto? Some tips from a seasoned veteran

Posted 5/29/2013 4:43:00 PM

I’ve been completely out of sorts this week because it is the first time in about 12 years that I haven’t attended the opening week of Charleston’s Spoleto Festival USA. Family and work obligations piled into the end of May, so I’ve been spending a good chunk of each day pining away for the festive atmosphere that permeates the Lowcountry’s sultry air at this time of year. I’m holding out hope to slip down there toward the end, but in the meantime, I’ll have to live vicariously through those of you who are already there or en route.

If this is your first time visiting Charleston during the Spoleto fortnight, here are some tips for enjoying your time there:

* Take your bicycle. Downtown Charleston is full of one-way streets, narrow arteries that are actually roads and pedestrian traffic. Right now, car and foot traffic is heavier than at any time of the year, but last year my husband and I took our bikes down. We stayed at the Charleston Place Hotel and left our wheels in the bell stand closet. Whenever we were ready to go to a performance or party, we called down and our bikes would be waiting when we stepped off of the elevator. We would arrive wherever we needed to be within 5 minutes. If you’re flying in, Affordabike rentals is conveniently located on King Street, and your hotel concierge can certainly suggest some additional shops.

* Don’t be late. Plan to arrive at your performance 15 – 30 minutes early to get situated and acclimate yourself to what’s about to happen. Plus, getting seated early affords time for people-watching, which is at high season right now!

* Keep an open mind. Many Spoleto performances border on the experimental, drawing upon new ideas and old. Three years ago Heather Buck performed in “Proserpina,” Wolfgang Rihm’s operatic interpretation of Goethe’s epic story of the abduction and banishment of the goddess of spring. The performance was considered “modern opera,” meaning that it did not contain the classic elements of chorus and orchestra that many might expect. The entire performance was sung by Buck alone, often with little musical accompaniment and ranges that were unusual in arrangement. It was breathtaking, and shed a new light on the growth of modern operatic performances in the U.S. The entire audience was captivated, and I still hear talk of the performance years later.

This year, director Steven Berkoff will direct the American debut of “Oedipus,” of which London’s Lyn Gardner of The Guardian says: “Right away, you know that this is going to be an utterly distinctive evening, both visually and in its declamatory style. I kid you not: there are times when it appears everybody might be about to break into a dance from Zorba the Greek. The amazing thing is that you wouldn’t really mind if they did.” Berkoff borrows images from both the Renaissance and from modern art, making for a show that will stick with you for a long time after you see it.

* Dress lightly. The May and June summer sun can sneak up without you realizing it as you stroll the Charleston streets. If there happens to be a refreshing breeze passing through, you might be surprised to find that you have sunburn later on. Light breezy materials (linen shirts and pants, long maxi skirts, etc.) and sunscreen are recommended.

* Don’t forget about Piccolo Spoleto. The smaller, craftier littler sister of Spoleto can sometimes get overshadowed by the flash and splash of the international festival. This is where you will find arts and crafts, literary events, exhibitions and more local music of all genres.

There are two Piccolo events that I’m particularly interested in. One is part of the Piccolo Spoleto Literary Festival. S.C. native John Avlon, a columnist with Newsweek and The Daily Beast, will discuss his book, “Deadline Artists: Scandals, Tragedies and Triumphs” at the Charleston Library Society at 3 p.m. June 1. The other is “Sweet,” a free visual arts exhibit presented by Artist on Fire. More than 12 artists have submitted work that celebrates the good things in life. The exhibit is at Citadel Square Baptist Church through June 7.

* Look for specials. Everyone likes a great deal. Get on Spoleto’s email list and you can receive notice of specials, like two tickets for the price of one in all sections at the Angelique Kidjo concert today at TD Arena.

* Bring your appetite. I’ve traveled to many places and eaten in many restaurants, and I always hold the caliber of food presented up to that of South Carolina, especially Charleston. The Holy City has some of the best restaurants in the world, and this is the perfect time to take advantage of having them all within walking or biking distance of your daily activities. If you’re in the mood for French, check out La Fourchette. Eclectic gourmet with a Southern twist? There’s Charleston Grill, Husk, Fish and many others. There is something for everyone here.

* Most importantly have fun!

 For more information about the Spoleto Festival, please visit