Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp



Art for everybody at Piccolo Spoleto

Posted 5/27/2011 10:25:00 AM

Piccolo Spoleto’s name means “Little Spoleto” in Italian, but looking over the brochure for this year’s program you’ll soon realize that this festival is anything but small. With a program that includes more than 700 different film, dance, music, visual, literary and performing arts, Piccolo Spoleto offers a dizzying array of events to choose from.

With so much going on during the 17-day festival there’s a palpable excitement on the streets of Charleston. As festival director, Ellen Dressler Moryl says, “There’s a real electricity in the air.”

The festival began in 1979 as a complement to the international scope of Charleston’s Spoleto Festival and as a showcase for Charleston’s talented and highly trained local artists. Today Piccolo Spoleto focuses primarily on artists and arts groups from the Southeast United States.

The “little” festival also was designed to offer something for everybody, no matter their age, interests or even the size of their pocketbooks. “There’s something for everyone in the world, practically,” Moryl says.

Who are you traveling with this spring? Chances are, there’s something at Piccolo Spoleto that will bring a smile to their face.

Tiny Tots

If you are visiting Charleston with little ones you might be worried about them wriggling through one of big Spoleto’s ballets or melting down during an opera aria. Luckily, Piccolo Spoleto is a family-friendly funfest for pint-sized travelers.

“We are very, very careful to offer a wide variety of programs for kids,” Moryl says.

Piccolo Spoleto kicks off its kids programming Saturday (May 28) with the Children’s Festival on Marion Square, featuring “One World, Many Stories.” The day will be filled with storytelling, dance groups, and puppetry from around the world. There also will be crafts, face painting and a petting zoo, so even the youngest art lover will find something to love. Not to miss: the incomparable Seed and Feed Marching Abominable.  This Georgia-based, all-volunteer band has become a Spoleto favorite, delighting kids wild and wacky costumes and high-energy music.

The Charleston Public Library also has a variety of theater, dance and music events that offer kids an entry point into different cultures and the world of high art. Taiko Charleston will introduce kids to the ancient Japanese art of taiko drumming. It is just the kind of exciting, attention-grabbing event that holds kids’ interest while exposing them to a new culture. Meanwhile, your kids might not be ready to sit through The Magic Flute, but you can give them a taste of opera with the College of Charleston Opera’s production of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, an operatic offering made especially for young and sometimes fidgety music lovers.

Stress Bunnies

If you are finding yourself a bit frazzled, you might think about attending one of Piccolo Spoleto’s concerts at Mepkin Abbey. The abbey is home to a working community of Trappist monks and is perhaps the most tranquil place in the Charleston area.

The two concerts will feature some of Charleston’s best classical musicians and will be performed in the Abbey Church. Just walking to the church through the abbey’s beautiful grounds alone will probably lower your blood pressure, and the church’s perfect acoustics are sure to make the music soar.

Afterwards, you’ll get a chance to see more of Mepkin’s natural beauty as you enjoy a reception in the gardens overlooking the Cooper River.

The two Mepkin Abbey concerts are on May 30 and June 10. Tickets are $36.

Beach Bums

Some people don’t consider it a vacation unless there is sand between their toes. Sun worshippers can still dabble in art at Piccolo Spoleto’s Sand Sculpting Competition Saturday (May 28.)

The event will run from 9 a.m. to noon on Front Beach on the Isle of Palms. Artists in three different age groups will compete to see who can come up with the most creative sand sculptures. Although traditional sand castles are allowed, of course, last year’s creations included a giant hot dog and a Mr. Potato Head! Some of the sand sculptors are professional artists. You won’t believe what they can create out of sand in just a few hours and you won’t want to believe that it will all be washed away at high tide.

Click here if you want to participate in the competition. Of course, you can just observe the artists at work while you soak in some rays.

Drama Queens

Charleston is a theater-lover’s heaven during Piccolo Spoleto, presenting award-winning plays, one-person shows and offbeat drama all with attractive ticket prices. Another bonus of Piccolo Spoleto programming is that many of the theatrical presentations are scheduled in the afternoons and late at night when Spoleto Festival theaters are dark, allowing visitors to maximize their theater-going during their stay in the Holy City.

Many of the local theaters – such as Charleston Acting Studio, Pure Theatre, Footlight Players Theatre and Village Playhouse – have several plays in the festival. The Stelle di Domani or “Stars of Tomorrow” provides a showcase for local theater students, and the Piccolo Fringe Festival presents a plethora of shows from companies throughout the Southeast and beyond.

Sports Nuts

Does this sound familiar? You bring your husband to a concert, only to find him ducking behind his program to surreptitiously check the scores on his smart phone. If the answer is yes, why not check out Piccolo’s concert Athletes to Artists at the Citadel.

This concert, which Moryl calls both “amazing” and “almost a curiosity,” features two unlikely classical musicians.

Dr. Tony Cicoria was a football lineman for the Citadel in the 1970s who was working as an orthopedic surgeon in New York State when he was struck by lightning in 1994. The incident left him with a sudden desire to listen to (and to play) piano music. After learning to play he has become an acclaimed concert pianist and composer.

Joining him in this concert is Morris Robinson, a world-renowned operatic bass who has graced the stage of the Metropolitan Opera and opera houses around the world. He, like Cicoria, also is a Citadel grad and a first-team All-Southern Conference standout.

Tickets to this June 5 event range from $16-$51.

Starving Artists

Part of what distinguishes Piccolo Spoleto from the Spoleto Festival is its mission to provide low-cost arts programming.

“A lot of what we do is affordable – or admission-free,” Director Moryl points out.

Free events at Piccolo Spoleto include art exhibitions, staged readings of plays, films, children’s events, craft fairs and more.

Of particular interest are some of the free concerts that are offered as part of the festival.

On June 2 from 5-7 p.m., the City of Charleston Housing Authority presents A Touch of Jazz, featuring well-known jazz artist Oscar Rivers and the children of the Jake’s Music Program, a local camp for aspiring kid musicians.

Movie lovers will love Sunset Serenade, the annual Piccolo Spoleto pops concert by the Charleston Symphony. This year the program will feature soundtracks from films like Schindler’s List and West Side Story and a performance by the Charleston Ballet Theatre.

Finally, the Festival Finale offers one last free event, Motown Madness, on June 11. The concert will feature songs from the best of Motown: Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, the Four Tops, The Supremes and more.

If you go…

Piccolo Spoleto starts today (May 27) and runs through June 12, concurrently with its “big sister,” The Spoleto Festival. Click here for a complete calendar and to buy tickets.